Monday, May 24, 2010

Heaven Can Wait No Longer

Metaphorically, that is. Yesterday afternoon, the show closed in Hagerstown.

Historically, my blog entry about the final show is less about the particulars of the show, and more about the fact that it is over. More of a look back. This one will be no exception, though I will say I felt almost as good about my performance as I did on Saturday. About 90% to that level, I would say. So I got to close on the second best performance I gave.

I found the worry bead, but stuck with the washer for the performance though.

This production, as I have said, seemed quite fast all things considered, though once we got to performing it seems a little slower in some ways. When I think that opening night was a mere ten days ago it's a little hard to fathom. It got fast at the end though for a different reason. There was no strike. I had been preparing to help strike the set and clean the entire theater after the curtain come down, but much to my surprise I was told that other than picking up out personal property, the cast had not striking responsibilities. This is the only company that I have been a part of that does business like that. It actually felt weird to leave the building the last time with the set still in tact. (It will be taken down later in the week.)

The cast party was also a short and sweet affair. I have been to some cast parties that lasted hours. This one was just under 90 minutes. But fun. We gave fake awards to each other, mocked each other, and congratulated each other. We even played "Heaven Can Wait" trivia, which was fun, though I only got one right. No matter. It was the show that was the thing.

Most shows improve a bit the second weekend when compared to the first, but I think Heaven Can Wait was one of the most obvious examples of this trend. The four shows on the second weekend were worlds above the three shows of opening weekend.

Which is one reason why, in the end, I have opted not to address the sensitive issues I mentioned a few days ago here on the blog. I realize that I said I would after the show was over, but by and large the issues, both from a personal and a professional standpoint were corrected. I of course would have preferred that they never happened at all, and I maintain the did not have to. But I cannot in good conscience mention the issues when so much energy was put into correcting them, eventually. So I will just leave it at this: I am relieved and gratified to know we got passed them, even if we did so too late for my tastes. That business is well concluded.

As for other things, this final show was strange for a few reasons. To begin with, as I have said a million times before here, my last exit from the show is (was...) a good 20 minutes before the final curtain. My final line was just over a half an hour before same. So I had more time to gear down, and come in for a landing with the realization that it was all over. I spend most of that time picking up my trash from the green room, getting a head start on what I thought would be strike.

Sometimes when the end of a show comes, you feel that you have done exactly what you set out to do, and that makes it easier to accept its ending. I put Heaven Can Wait in that category. I came off stage the last time knowing that I had put everything into "Tony" that I possibly could have done. I was satisfied with the overall improvement that was obvious in the entire cast in a short amount of time. And I enjoyed most of the crowds that we had. I felt it was a good place to conclude. I agree that it would have been nice to have a third weekend, because we were all just starting to hit a stride with things as it closed. But I do not regret what happened.

More importantly perhaps even than the show, was the fact that I not only introduced myself to a whole new company, (which I plan to be involved in plenty of times again in the future), but I made new friends. That doesn't always happen in a show, especially with someone as difficult to get to know and understand as I tend to be at first approach. I feel good about having a few more theatre people in my life now.

Plus, there is plenty of time to get to know some of these people more. In the past I tried to say a million things in my "final" cast email, (which I sent last night), but now I realize, in the age of Facebook, we can all take our time and get to know each other gradually. Not just by being in shows again together, (which I am sure will happen in the future), but outside of theatre as well. I've never been part of a new company in the Facebook era hopefully it will help me keep in touch with some of these great actors and people now that the show is over.

So, to those involved in the show that may be reading this, once again, thank you. I will see you soon. On or off stage. I'm glad I auditioned.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


I really should be in bed. I will be soon. I normally don't blog right afterward, and I have been going on four hours sleep the last day. But It was important to me to write about Saturday's performance now, so it wouldn't have to be combined with some half-assed post tomorrow.

Simply put, tonight was my personal best night. Thus far, Friday night was the best night for the show overall in regards to consistent quality, but tonight without a doubt was my pinnacle. I never say never, but I feel it is unlikely to be reached again with only one more performance.

Things were different from the very beginning, in a rather innocuous way, or so it seemed. The worry bead I have been using for the character while on stage, just as a flourish, was missing today. I had gotten too used to fiddling with something during certain moments, so I scoured the green room and back stage, hoping to find a quarter or some other coin. I never did, if you can believe that.

I did however find a box of small washers in the shop. So I grabbed one of those a few minutes before I went out the first time. I didn't use it during my first entrance, but I did spend time getting used to how it felt in my hand before I went out. It should come as no surprise that it fit differently in my hand than did the worry bead. So I had to do different things with it. And those different things seemed to fit right in with "Tony". Not quite a tick, but certainly a consistent habit. Right away, walking around with it adjusted some small mannerisms in my performance, which in turn realigned a few things. By the time I got out on stage the adjustment was noticeable. Much like before, (as mentioned in recent blog entries) the skeleton of the character remained the same, but the outward expression of same changed.

It was that small change that led to bigger moments throughout the play. A bit more of a rough edge without dropping the polished look I have been working from nearly the very beginning. It left him more open to responses to other characters and situations.

By the time my first scene ended, I suddenly knew that I had struck a perfect rhythm with the character and the performance. I kept to myself between scenes even more than usual, and after my first costume change I convinced myself that it was going to be my night. And I suddenly wasn't as nervous as I had been, and felt much more secure in what was happening than before. "In the zone" as they say.

My longest segment in the play, which lasts about 10 minutes of stage time I would say, take place between myself and the lead character. Just us two for a while. It has been my favorite scene to do for a while, and tonight it was flawless. Part of that is of course due to the great performance of the actor playing against me. But part of it was the new focus I felt. Lines come out smoother, with better pacing. New ideas for gesticulations came to me at a moments notice. Subtle vocal inflections showed up when they were most useful. All props behaved as planned. Everything. The scene was as close to "effortless" and natural as an actor should get.

And through it all, the washer I had grabbed at random played a large part in the visuals.

Even my least favorite scene, (oddly, my shortest one) felt totally natural tonight. I did change one thing off the cuff. I sat on the edge of the couch when I normally stand. I did it because a sight gag is at full force during that moment, and I just seemed to be extraneous during that moment. So I figured the way to be the most invisible while that was going on was to just sit on the couch and read my newspaper. So I did. I think it worked. Everything worked, really.

One thing about the scene though, somehow I lost the washer during intermission. I looked for a while, though it had been in a pocket and I couldn't for the life of me figure out where it had gone to. But I didn't want to inflate the evening into a superstition about a specific washer. I knew the longer I looked for that one, the more likely it would become emblazoned with a false aura. So I just went and grabbed an identical washer and used that throughout act 2.

The oddest part is that through all of this, I was the more tired than I have been at any other point in the run. As I mentioned, I only had 4 hours of sleep last night, and a nap attempt mid-afternoon failed. I wonder if the fatigue had something to do with it. Maybe I was too tired for some of my unknown inhibitions. Or maybe because I was tired I had to concentrate extra hard to get everything right.

But no, I don't think either of those two things were the main cause. Contributors perhaps. But I like to think the biggest reason is the mysterious nature of hitting a stride at a certain moment. (Sadly with only one night left.)

I was drained and hot after the show today, more than usual. I had to lay down. But, all was well in the end. Nights like this make it worth it to an actor.

As do good audiences. Which we had tonight. Not a full house, but a big one. Not as responsive as last night, but responsive enough. No complaints on that front, save for the fact I can't seem to get any of my friends to be members of the audiences, much to my chagrin.

Which seems a good place to end this account. When next I blog here, "Heaven Can Wait" will itself be departed.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pinnacle of "Heaven"

In the last entry, I described my desire that the quality of our performances be added to a larger, responsive crowd in the future.

Last night I got my wish. It was bar none the best presentation of the show that we have yet given. Audience was huge and responsive. Cues were being hit. The lines were being snapped off with nearly peak efficiency all the way around for a tighter production.

Every single person involved in last night as a right to be proud of what we accomplished.

Laughs came at some expected moments, and at some unexpected ones. (I think somebody must have been making a face behind me during one scene, as laughter ensues after I spoke a thoroughly unfunny line.) And this audience was particularly fond of "Max Levine", though as I said, everyone was on their game.

My character, of course, is not really that funny. However there were a few lines that got some laughs, just out of a morbid sense of twisted humor, I suppose. (The man is a murderer after all.) I continued the trajectory I established last night of making him more outwardly affected by the proceedings. I took pains to not go much further than I did on Thursday, as one can adjust things too much, too quickly. But the overall result is one of which I am quite proud, if I do say so myself. Everything about what I did just seemed to run a smooth but energetic course the entire evening. )Which may be why it seemed to go faster in the first half than ever before.)

One thing I did play up with my character's antagonism with the previously mentioned "Max". That actor has from the beginning played Max as someone who cannot stand Tony, and lately I have been playing into that more as part of my enhanced performance. It does help out a bit, to have a character like mine have something to play off of directly when he is not dealing with "Joe" (the lead part.)

Also for some reason, last night was the physically hottest night for me on stage, I think. Perhaps it was due to a combination of so many people in the house, and the extra energy being burned on this top notch performance.

The director relayed a message to the cast to "have fun with the curtain call". So we did.

This curtain call never has been, thankfully, an in-character affair. I do not generally approve of curtain calls that require actors to bow "in character". In theory it is saving the 4th wall, but to me after the final curtain, the fourth wall is history. So I have enjoyed the informal nature of our final bows as a cast.

Last night it was kicked up another notch. I decided to bring the gun that I use during the play on stage during the curtain call. When I walked out with my group to bow, I pulled a 007; I spun towards the audience, and threw my hand back, pointing the gun towards the house, (but not at anybody particularly of course.) The way 007 does at the beginning of the older films. (Like Thunderball) I think I got a few laughs. If not from the audience, certainly from the cast. (Though one of the cast mates thought I was pissed off at first, when I walked out.)

Afterward, some of us went out to eat. "Joe" mentioned a fear of my blogging about some of the conversations going on during that event...but since that was after the play I don't suppose it technically belongs here on the blog. For now...

Two more nights. Some think we peaked last night. There is of course no way to be certain of this until the show is over. But if we cannot really top last night, I think that we should be able to match it at least one more time. It is Saturday, afterall. Historically, more shows I have been in have peaked on the second Saturday than any other day. (Though I am told Playmakers shows often do best on Fridays.)

None of my friends have come to see me in this production.

Hopefully, a lot of other people will though.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thursday Night

I don't often perform for an audience on a Thursday night. The community companies for which I act generally only perform during weekends. Some of them make an exception for popular musicals, which will often open on a Thursday. But as far as I can recall I haven't been in a straight show on a Thursday before.

Predictably, if was a small audience. We were cautioned as much before hand. I guess 25 people. But I was surprised by how responsive they were. I don't mean to suggest they were uproarious, but quite frankly they not only laughed at more things than I would have expected, they laughed at a few things that none of the other larger audiences have found funny to date.

At least I can say so about the scenes in which I appeared. My understanding is that there were some mistakes in other scenes, but for my own part, the show actually felt fresher and more energetic than at any previous point during the run. If the quality of those scenes could have been matched with a larger responsive crowd that would have been really something. However, we have three more performances to experience just that.

And I think that we can. Some of the concerns I had last weekend have been addressed and corrected in a most satisfactory manner. And the quality of the show increased as a result. There is a good chance that we will continue on that path. I have no reason to conclude at this time that we will not.

One reason it felt fresher was that I played Tony in a slightly different way last night. The skeletal structure of the character, if you will, is still the same. Refined, cold, calculating. Brilliant in his own way. Detached. But I tweaked some outer characteristics a bit. I allowed a bit less stoicism and a bit more outward bewilderment at the odd situation to be visible. A few more odd stares. Grimaces. Sighing and such. It made him feel a bit more affected by what was happening around him, even if mentally he still remained detached for the most part. If the freer, more kinetic feel of some of those scenes has anything to do with these new choices I made, I am glad I made them, and I will hold on to them for the rest of the run if I can.

Audience response helped a great deal, though. So here's hoping there is more of that tonight.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Un Ensayo de Líneas, Más el Tacos.

According to BabelFish, that title means, "A Rehearsal of Lines, Plus Tacos." I have no idea how accurate the translation is, but nonetheless that is where I was tonight for a few hours.

The director of Heaven Can Wait hosted about half of the cast at her place, to enjoy tacos, and afterward to run through the lines of the play. Just to keep them fresh in our minds between weekends. Though it was informal, (and at times flat out wild) I am glad we went over the lines. But more importantly I am glad we all had fun doing so. As a result, I feel quite relaxed leading into the second weekend, Which is always good.

I'm not saying that no nerves will return on Thursday, as I am sure they probably will. But being able to semi-socialize outside of the formality of a regular rehearsal always helps. It helped after opening night. It helped tonight.

And there is talk of doing karaoke after the show on Thursday. So we may end up being the most relaxed cast in history by the time all of this is over.

In earnest, I enjoy second weekends more than first weekends 99.9% of the time. First weekends come right on the ass end of a whole week's worth of technical rehearsal. It can be draining. Plus the nerves of doing it right the very first time. But by the time the second, (and in some cases the third) weekend rolls around, everyone has had some time off to become a bit more relaxed, and some of the bumps are ironed out. It just often seems to be more fun, with more energy in seconds weekends.

I think people are also extra keen on getting it right on final weekends because the clock is running down on the entire production, and they want to make sure they hit it square on at least once. (I still cannot believe how fast this production has gone. In mere days, it will be history.)

But that is for the future. Right now, I am happy to have some time off, but also happy to be headed into that usually superior second weekend. Plus, we get an extra show on Thursday. Most of the theatres I visit regularly only do that for musicals, but I like doing at least seven shows.

So, here's to second weekend success.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Matinee #1, and a Tough Decision

I am facing a bit of a dilemma, loyal blog readers. Actually, it is more of a timing issue than anything else. Nonetheless, I haven't faced this situation with this blog before.

I promised from the very beginning I would be candid about the things that I encountered throughout my theatrical experiences. Not vindictive nor bitter, if it could be prevented, but honest. That is still my commitment.

However, there has been a consistent issue throughout this production that hasn't been remedied. It is a major issue that I don't foresee going away before the end of the run. For the first time, the potential for personality politics is at odds with my commitment to talk about my experiences and opinions in a frank manner here on Always Off Book.

I have already ignored those conflicts to an extent, and my instinct is to do so now, and post what I think, and how I feel about things as I normally do. And believe me, if the only thing at stake were what people personally thought of me, I would proceed as normal. I can't change what people think of me, even if they are mistaken. If someone chooses to think less of me for expressing a minority opinion on something that I love, they will have to take a number.

But I have it on good authority that my expressing certain opinions on certain things at this time could have a deleterious effect on certain scenes, due to the nature of some of the off stage personalities of cast mates involved. I can't prove it, but I can't take the risk either. Therefore, given the trying nature of these unique circumstances, I have determined that my blogging  could affect the overall quality of the remaining performances. I am too committed to this craft to allow others to take out their personal disdain for me on the scenes in which my character appears. Ergo, I have very reluctantly decided to save some of my blogging until after the show has closed. I will try to give a very broad overall assessment of each of the remaining performances until then.

That being stated, I will say briefly that despite some major problems in Sunday's performance, I felt my personal performance was the best I have yet delivered in this run. As on Saturday, not all of the changes and flourishes I added would be visible on the outside. But I felt more at ease with some of the inward  motivations that I have been meaning to play with. Hopefully I will have even more of a chance to do so in the four remaining performances.

One comment must be made about the actions of one of my cast mates on Sunday. Her last minute decision to enter a scene in which she was not written to appear, in order to deliver lines for a missing performer was one of the finest, bravest saves I have experienced in my ten years as an actor. I commended her in person, and I commend her now.

Tomorrow is a line run through/dinner at a private residence. Not everyone will be attending, but I think the concept is a good idea.

Saturday Night Show

Our second performance of "Heaven Can Wait" went much better than the first. There were no major mistakes that I noticed, and only a handful of insignificant, easily covered tiny mistakes. It was the best run through of the entire show we've had thus far.

With opening jitters, and major mistakes behind me, I felt more at ease and confident in overall success as I prepared for the show for an hour or so before curtain. I went over in my head possible solutions to cover the miscue that occurred on Opening Night, in case it were to happen again. I actually come up with a far less awkward response to it than what I had come up with on my feet on Friday night. I even rehearsed the possibility in my head a few times.

But thankfully, that moment never came. The scene in question, (which is my very first scene) came and went smoothly. I felt noticeably better after leaving the stage at the end of that scene. It all started to feel like it was running on track.

As a result, I felt more at ease with my performance, and was able to add a few tiny flourishes (not literal ones.) Cast mates may or may not have even noticed thus extra nuance, but I did these things more for me, and the feeling of a rich inner character life that I like to create on stage, more so than I did it to be noticed or congratulated. I hadn't been able to do much of that during tech week as I normally do, and opening night has already been discussed. So on Saturday I got creative. It was quite liberating.

Unfortunately, the audience, though large (about two-thirds capacity again) was not very responsive. Certainly not in comparison to Friday night's crowd. Judging by their comments during the meet and greet in the lobby afterward, they did in fact enjoy the show very much. They just waited until the show was over to be vocal in their expression of such sentiments.

It felt in some ways as though Opening Night had been our final dress rehearsal, with an audience. Saturday was when things appeared to coalesce into something. I didn't go out to celebrate after the show as I had the previous night, but I nonetheless was in a celebratory mood. I had done virtually everything I had planned to do. All of my goals were achieved for the scenes I appeared in, and I made improvements in several places in which I wanted to improve. I left the theatre that night ready to slip into a polished routine for the rest of the run.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Opening Night: Heaven Can Wait

The die is cast. The Rubicon is crossed. Use whatever old expression for it you like, but opening night is behind us, and "Heaven Can Wait" is now officially underway at the Academy Theatre.

It was odd not having my entrance for 20 minutes. I have mentioned before that I've never entered a show that late in the action before. It sort of threw off my preparation rituals, and had my nerves in a different place than I am used to. It wasn't horrible, but I think I would have preferred to enter sooner, all things being equal.

On the other hand, by the time I get out there, the audience is already warmed up. So maybe there are pluses as well as minuses to the situation.

As for the quality of our first performance, I will say, first and foremost that it's hard for me to judge the overall show. I don't see the whole thing. Just the scenes I am in, and a few minutes before same. But judging by those moments, and from what I hear from my cast mates, the show went quite well. Some say better than the final dress rehearsal. I am not sure I would agree with that, but each person judges the success of an individual performance differently.

One of the main reasons I can't be as satisfied as I might have been was that during the first scene a major cue was missed, and an important entrance did not take place. After a moment of silence waiting for said entrance to occur, and a (hopefully) casual glance off stage to see that the performer in question was not about to enter, I was forced to ad-lib something.

Not that I wanted to. Not that I ever really want to do that. Not to that extent. But being on stage when a cue has been missed and the action has stopped is a bit like knowing you will vomit in the near future, but you have no idea when. You hate the idea of puking, but you just want it to be over with because the time leading up to it, knowing it is going to happen, is worse than the actual act.

Sitting on the couch next to my cast mate, with two "ghost" characters who cannot interact with us behind me, I just wanted that "I have to throw up" feeling to go away. I desperately wanted to moment to be over. So I came up with the only thing I could on the moment. I called out for the character, and instructed them to do what was they needed to do.

In other words the worst kind of jarring improvisation possible. One that telegraphs to the audience...

"Attention! Somebody has missed their cue, and the actor on stage is trying to fix the problem! Please stand by."

And stand by they did, though I think I heard someone laughing. The performer in question also stood by for another few moments, until they finally arrived. But not in the manner I had hoped, because they brought with them a character I wasn't supposed to see yet.

I turned to my co-star on the couch, skipped to my final line of the scene, and proceeded to exit as normally as I could. I acknowledged the extra character, and walked off.

I'm told by others that it was a nice cover, and that is very nice of them to say. I hope it did not look as ridiculous as it felt to me when I did it. But I honestly had no clue what else I could have done.

I actually don't remember all of those moments, now that I look back. I know one of the "ghost" characters did ad-lib something, but I don't at all remember what he said. I don't remember looking at the actress next to me, though she says I did so. And finally, I remember putting two filled whiskey glasses on the prop table. I don't remember picking them up before I left.

I sent the stage hands asunder because in my nerves I said, "we skipped about five pages", when I intended to say, "we skipped about 5 lines."

Hopefully such a mistake won't happen again. There is no reason for it to, at any rate.

I confess that that incident had me a bit more shaken than I usually am for the rest of the show. That may have been one of the reasons I dropped a line about half way through the first act. Thankfully it was probably my least significant line in the whole play, having nothing to with a major plot point. But the actress on stage covered it well. Her character is ignoring my character at that point, so she never even responds to the line I dropped. I was lucky.

My nerves tapered off a bit at intermission, but I hope to not be that edgy for that long during the remaining performances.

The gunshot went well. As did all other moments in the play for me. Execution thereof anyway. The nerves I will have to work on.

The audience was lukewarm in most places, I thought. Their favorite seemed to be the actor who played "Max Levene". They didn't laugh at a few of the laugh lines, and some of the things they managed to laugh at I didn't think were supposed to be funny. They laughed at nothing I said or did. (But I have never been sure if Tony is supposed to be that funny or not.) That's an audience for you. Tonight they may laugh at totally different things. The truth is, they probably will. No matter how much acting I do, I never fail to be awed by the mystery that is an audience dynamic.

Most of us went out for some food after the show. That was fun. (And not bad food.)

In many ways I think last night was our final dress rehearsal. Or a preview show, given that about 100 people were in the audience or so. Tonight may be the first REAL performance in the sense that the opening night hurdle is behind us. Let us hope so.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Final Dress

I didn't blog about Tuesday's tech rehearsal, and for that I apologize. But as is often the case during a tech week I was a bit more tired than usual. Plus, there was nothing that made Tuesday night stand out in it's own right, save this; it went better than Monday. But then again, it would have been very troubling if it had NOT Gone better than Monday.

That being said, tonight was the best it has yet been. There was still some calling for lines, and I have to say I have never been in a company where a prompter was allowed. It's a strange feeling.

But those times were few and far between. The energy was way up in some of the scenes as compared to previous nights. I think we could have very much used Wednesday night as a rehearsal this week, but seeing as how we didn't have it, the improvement between Monday and today is noteworthy.

I have never been sure I totally buy into the notion that the better the last rehearsal, the worse the opening night, and vice-verca. I think the psychological basis of that claim lie in the fact that a flawless final rehearsal has the tendency to make a cast complacent. "We've nailed everything, so we can let our guard down," and hence problems arrive the next night. Conversely, if a cast is discouraged by a poor final rehearsal, there is a greater tendency to ease up, work extra hard, and make Opening Night a redemptive affair. But I don't think there is anything mystical to the notion, and since it is all psychological, I think the quality of the final rehearsal is not as vital as the mindset during it.

What was our mindset this evening? Cautious optimism, by the end. During the rehearsal, I think there was still enough jitters and fear of making a mistake, or embarrassment at having made one, that as a whole the show is still humble, and hence in line for a good Opening Night, should everyone keep on their toes.

I had all of my costumes tonight, though they are not all completed. Some are not quite fitted and hemmed. But unless someone is coming in between now and then, they are what they are at this point. It was the first time I ever got to run any of my costume changes, and only one of them worried me before hand. Turns out I had plenty of time. I have lots of extra time for the other changes. No problems there, assuming the timing is about the same from now on.

Some huge set pieces, in the form of exercise equipment were added to the set today. The derailed several crosses, and made some things impossible to do safely. (That is not just me saying that, a few other agreed.) So the pieces were moved to different locations between scenes, and they were far easier to work around.

I reacted tot he obstacles in character, and it was not horrendous. I am just relieved that I won't have to worry with it from now on.

I also at last got a realistic looking gun to use tonight! Not one of the theatre's guns, but one owned by a cast mate. It has made it's way on stage several times it appears. From a distance it looks very real, and it will do just fine. (Though due to a door being put in place for the first time tonight, I had to alter my angle somewhat in order to see my cue, but it worked.

But back to the energy, as I said, it was up for at least all of the scenes I was in. The pace was snappy but not rushed. Lines were coming well. More nuance to my character is developing. It will develop even more tonight I hope.

After rehearsal cast photos were taken. Several legitimate ones and several silly ones. By request I wore the loudest of the 4 suits I use for this show. Also by request I posed with one of the actresses in it. With the previously mentioned gun also. I have not seen the photo yet, but I look forward to seeing how that one turned out.

During and after the photos, almost all at once, any remaining tensions seemed to drift away. I don't mean nerves, I mean tension. More personal than performance related. I've been comfortable with everyone for a while, but as soon as the last rehearsal was concluded I could almost feel a weight lifting off all of us. As though we had all at one time given ourselves permission to have a little more fun with the show. Maybe it was because there was no more preparation work left, and all that remains now is the raison d'etre of being in a show; entertaining a crowd. Or maybe it was just me. But there was much laughter for the rest of the evening. It might not have been more than usual, but it seemed so. Everyone just seemed suddenly more at ease with one another to me.

And so, hopefully, that will carry over into Opening night, which now is less than 24 hours away. I have said it several times but it bares repeating...this has been one of the fastest productions I have been in for quite a while. So here's hoping each of the 7 performances is optimum.

So it begins...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tech Week, Night 1

Last night began tech week. Or hell week, and I think perhaps in some ways the latter term was more suitable.

Some of the reasons could not be avoided. The actress that plays opposite me in most of my scenes had problems with her out of state flight, and hence was unable to make it to the rehearsal. So I had to present my lines to that character into thin air. No actor really likes having to do it, but in community companies it happens often. That is the nature of the beast. Common, but slightly stressful.

Then there were some costume issues. I was only able to wear one suit out of the four that were waiting for me. (I have not yet tried on most of these costume pieces.) A sign attached to each requested me to not wear any pants that were not hemmed. None of the pants for the first half of the show were ready to go, so I was unable to wear a costume for those scenes, while mostly everyone else was doing so. I don't like being out of step with the rest of the cast like that, especially during tech week. But it is what it is.

The costume person arrived sometime after rehearsal started for a brief stay. Sadly, it was during a stretch of play where I am going on and off stage several times, and I had no time to try on costumes as requested. I hate to make the job of technical crews more difficult, and I try to always be as accommodating as I can be to their needs and schedules. But I am an actor first, and I couldn't risk missing a cue or holding up an entire tech rehearsal while I got fitted. I apologized, and hopefully whatever needs to be done with my suits can be done before rehearsal tonight. Either way, that caused me a bit more stress.

As did the 10 or so walk-on extras that were taking up quite a bit of space backstage during the first half of the show. Some of them made their way to the already crowded green room as well, where I personally don't think they need to be, as they have no costumes or props to worry about, and there is barely room for those of us in the regular cast. But I have no say in such matters.

The set construction is not quite finished, though most of the painting is. It's looking rather good, though as it was pointed out during notes, furniture keeps migrating. At one point I had to pick up an office chair and lift it over a couch, when normally I just slide it across the floor.

As to character issues, they are of course harder to explore when your scene partners are missing. But setting that aside I do think I managed to work some extra nuance into a few of my lines. I am enhancing the overall nature of the character's most notable traits. Hopefully without being over the top.

For one, I slicked my hair back far more so than I would in real life. Going for that whole Wall Street look. I think it matches the suits well. I also added an old gaudy ring I have had laying around for years. Used to be my father's though he never wore that hideous adornment. I had to wrap tape around the bottom several times to get it to fit my finger, but once that was done, I think it added a nice touch to Tony's overall look. He would certainly be wearing some kind of "bling" as they call it these days.

We also ran curtain call for the first time. not much to report there. Nothing fancy.

Probably the biggest news from last night was the decision to remove the live dog from the production. And not, as some of my cast mates joked, because of my allergies. The dog's owner concluded that she (the dog) seemed too confused by the surroundings. Also that with everything else that is going on, correcting said difficulties would prove too time consuming. There was some talk of bringing in a different live dog, though at this point I think using a stuffed one is probably best. We won't know for sure until tonight.

Other technical issues seemed to go all right. I haven't used the actual gun yet, and some of the light cues were apparently missed, though I myself didn't notice that. I only know it because the director said so.

The sound effect for the gun will no longer be a firing of a blank off stage. It will come from a short two-by-four being slapped quickly onto the floor off stage. We tried it last night, and it provided a suitably loud "crack". The trick will be keeping the one that is making the noise in my line of sight so I can pull the trigger at the correct time. It worked last night just fine, but that was before there was a door for me to shoot through. So that is something I hope is in place tonight as well.

Thus is where things stand with two rehearsal remaining. Or possibly three, as the option for Wednesday night being an extra night of rehearsal remains open. I personally would not mind coming in on Wednesday as well, but the director will decide that after seeing how well it goes tonight.

Saturday, May 08, 2010


Not much can be said about a cue-to-cue rehearsal, unless a very large problem occurs. Thankfully this was not the case tonight, though the rehearsal did not go without snafus here and there.

A rehearsal such as this is for the sake of the technical crew more than the actors. But we all had to be there because the very point of it all was to give the tech crew an idea of what certain moments will be like during the actual show, which of course will contain actors.

Yet this is not a technically complex play. The majority of lighting cues up either "lights up" or "lights down". Sound cues probably play a bigger part in this play than lighting cues do, but even those are not numerous.

And there are only two scene changes in the entire production, one just after the first scene, and the other just before the last scene. These were run several times without any major problems. One of the divider curtains seems to be misaligned a bit, as it won't close properly. But that doesn't appear to be difficult to fix.

The scene is changed by having what I think was a rather clever feature. Two walls in the main set fold inward to cut the set in half, with the curtain closed in front of them. They also swing out, and latch into place to make instant doorways when the main set is needed. I like that.

Speaking of curtains, the main house curtains are being used between scenes for this show. As in, they will come down between scenes while the actors get into place. To the best of my knowledge this is the first time I have been in a play that did this. In fact, most of the time the plays I have been in don't make use of house curtains at all. Maybe three times total, two of them being musicals. Even then, only right before the start of the acts. A lot of people don't use them anymore. It's kind of fun to be in a company, or at least a show, that makes full use of them for once.

The possible rehearsal for Sunday won't be happening, it seems. That leaves just three rehearsals remains for certain; Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Wednesday is a possible rehearsal if it looks like we need the extra work. I don't recall having a tech week with a day off in the middle before. That will feel a bit strange. I'd kind of like that extra day to go over things. But perhaps I won't feel that way at the end of Tuesday night.

It's hard to believe this show is almost up. It really has been one of the fastest for me.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Last Non-Tech

For all intents and purposes, last night's rehearsal was the final "regular" rehearsal. That is to say all of the other from here on out will be tech week undertakings, and of course will be a different animal altogether. (Starting with a cue-to-cue rehearsal tonight.)

We ran the second half of the show last night. Once. As I have often said, I have less to do in the second half than the first, so there isn't a whole lot of detail to share about it. A few flubs here and there while I was on stage, one may have been my fault, I am still not sure on that one. But nothing went down in flames or anything.

I did learn, based on notes that were given after rehearsal, that I have failed to properly project my character's goal in one scene. Interesting to note that the moment in question is my very last line of the play. The A.D gave notes to me about the scene and delivery, and made suggestions about how to change same, pursuant to what she thought I was trying to accomplish. Given the level of surprise when I explained what I was actually trying to accomplish in the scene, it is clear that I have failed to give an observer the correct feeling about that moment of the play.

I am the actor, and it is my responsibility to properly translate what the motivation of the moment is into something the audience can physically see or hear. Even if the character is being false, (which my character usually is) the actor himself must be true. Though I was unaware of it until last night's notes, I have failed to be true in that part of the scene. Ergo, one of my top priorities heading into the final week is to make extra sure that moment becomes what it should be. Or to at least in an accurate manner project the motivation I may be given if it ends up different from the one I am using.

Beyond this, I must be both discreet and candid about something at the same time. If possible.

Discreet, because I cannot share details of a personal, private nature. But candid because it does involve my experiences in the production, and that is the promise I keep to my readers here on the blog; to be candid about the ups and downs of my theatrical experiences.

The gist of it is this; I am guilty of quite a large misunderstanding within the production. I have, up until this point, proceeded with my work as an actor, (which I take very seriously) in a manner that I believed was acceptable to the environment in which I was working, but in actual fact was not. I based this modus operandi on what I truly thought I was observing and experiencing in this production. But those conclusions were incorrect, and hence so were my subsequent approaches to the situation.

Herein lies my difficulty in being part of a theatre company for the first time among all strangers. The fear of giving a false impression of what and who I am is always present, and I think perhaps this has occurred. As a result, I am feeling more awkward with the production now, as compared to before. As it stands, I remain unsure how to remedy that within myself.

In the final analysis, this is not a matter of right vs wrong. There are a millions ways to pursue theatre. It is one of the reasons I love it. But one still cannot put a square peg in a circular hole, and I was trying to do so. I just didn't know the hole was square when I started. I don't regret feeling the way I feel. But I do regret misunderstanding how to proceed with my feelings within the framework of a specific environment.

We open in one week's time. Much work must be done by me both on, and off stage.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A Little Bit of Everything, Good and Bad

What a cacophonous disjointed affair the first half of tonight's rehearsal turned out to be.

One of the aspects about community theatre is that people come in to make their contributions only when they can. (Though actors have the least amount of leeway in this regard.) Not to mention the fact that the community venue is often a place where multiple voluntary arts projects make their home. Ergo in almost every community theatre production there will be at least one day wherein everything and anything is happening at the exact same time, and often to the detriment of optimal rehearsal conditions. It's nobody's personal fault per se, but such days are, nonetheless, vexatious at times.

For about an hour, tonight was one of those nights.

Our director is out of state for the time being. This will be the only rehearsal she expects to miss, but whenever a director to whom a cast is accustomed cannot be present for a rehearsal, there is always a small increase in stress. At least it is so for me. The only exception to this would be a final dress rehearsal or so, wherein the stage manager is running the techie affairs, and the actors are on auto pilot. Our show has not reached auto-pilot stage, so having the director absent presented a bit of a curve ball for myself. Theatre after all thrives on consistency backstage, and innovation ON stage.

Add to this the live dog, which was present again this evening and was sick several time earlier in the day according to her master. Thankfully this illness did not present itself in the theatre during rehearsal, but the creature did seem more irritable and vocal this evening than usual. We did not get to any of the scenes in which the animal appears, so I can't speak as to how well such scenes would have gone. Perhaps that was for the best.

It did not stop with the canine. Our extras were added today. We require about a half a dozen walk on players, and they made their debut today. They have only a short presence, but that doesn't make them take up less space backstage.

Then there was someone I assumed to be the set foreman that showed up halfway through rehearsal needing to use the drill on one of our set pieces off stage. To his credit, he drilled very slowly, and worked as quietly as possible in the very cramped shop. But a small distraction nonetheless.

In addition to the foreman, our costume designer also showed up this evening. She brought with her many costumes for several of the actresses to try on. This unfortunately left the most convenient bathroom for actors off limits for about a half an hour.

So between a under-the-weather dog, fittings, drills, closed bathrooms, 4 or 5 extra actors, and a few other things, it probably won't surprise you to learn, loyal blog readers, that there was a bit more noise than I am accustomed to working with coming from off stage. Believe me, I know perfect silence is not always attainable, but for a while there all the extra static had the decibel level up higher than my comfort zone. And I concede that my performance suffered at times. I pride myself on shutting out most distractions, but noise in the wings has always been mild kryptonite to me.

One distraction that was in a way good to have, but came a little too early for me, was laughter from the house. The extras who were present, as well as our recently arrived stage manager were seeing the scenes for the very first time, and thus there were laugh lines. I don't mind them, and of course want there to be plenty of them when the time comes. I was just caught off guard by them today. (Though I think a few of the times they laughed weren't intended to be funny.)

So to repeat, a lot of distractions.

By the time we wound down the first run through of the first half though, the distractions had mostly dissipated. We received notes from the assistant director, and ran the first half again.

This second run through was worlds better. Fewer lost lines and a much snappier pace. Several of my scenes are starting to feel very natural between myself and the others on stage, and it is exciting to note.

One thing that didn't quite feel totally natural was some prop work between myself and one of the lead actors. For the first time tonight, a pair of boxing gloves were thrown at me, as the script requires. Never really knowing how they would fly, I wasn't sure either time just exactly what I should do as they hurled toward me. The first time they just sort of glazed my hand and ended up next to me. The second time I somehow managed to deflect them in such a way that they sailed behind the chair in which I was sitting. (Fearing someone would trip, I picked one up and moved it during a later scene, as it landed right in a high traffic area.) But I didn'[t lose my place despite the out of control gloves. I am proud to mention that.

While on the subject of props, I'll mention that I got a new prop today. A ledger/checkbook combination thing, for a scene in which I cut a check for a character. I also learned that I will be using an actual blanks pistol, though another one will be shot off stage for the sound effect for when I fire a shot.

I also brought a "worry bead" with me tonight. I thought it would make a snooty little extra for my character to be engaged in whilst he plots and plans.

As for the set, my hope is that they will also spike the furniture soon. It seems to migrate to different places every time we run the show. More then once actors has to nonchalantly slide entire couches out of the way in anticipation of future crosses.

Also of note, the set was painted. The large parts at any rate. I never went on Saturday to help paint, because the entire thing was finished up by two people in one shift. Trim remains to be painted though, so I supposed I will help out with that when the time comes.

I don't have a lot of nuanced performance related news to share this particular evening. As we begin our final non-tech rehearsals I am sure those things will be sharpened to a finer point this week, and I will have more artsy acting related thoughts to share than I do now. But until then I will declare the show to be off the ground now, to continue a previous plane metaphor. Or at least, nose up. The tail section will soon be in the air as well.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Backward, Yet Forward

I am going to label tonight's rehearsal as our best so far in a variety of ways. That is the forward part.

The backward part refers to the fact that we ran the second half of the show before we ran the first half. The director felt we needed the most work on the second half, and given that we did the second half last night as well, figured that the corrections would be fresh in our minds. So we started with the second half, and it does still need work. But an improvement over last night.

It's actually hard for me to say much about the second half of the show, because I do not appear much in it. Just twice. I can mention that today I had a newspaper prop from which I read in my hand for the first time. (I had always assumed at some point another actor in the scene was going to hand me his copy when it came time for that to occur. I learned the other night I was supposed to bring my own on. So I did. That scene feels pretty good to me. Good timing. One of the others in the scene came up to me tonight afterward and mentioned that he thought it felt good too. So that segment is solid.

A few more props have surfaced as well. I finally got to work with a real whiskey decanter and glasses for the scene wherein I pour two drinks. No liquid yet, but I have the instruments. I also have a brand new notepad on which to take dictation from one of the characters in our scene. I still require some check books, and, what is probably my most important prop, a pistol. I have been using a neon yellow water pistol, which I somehow doubt will be the one I have for the show itself.

We also had the live dog with us again tonight. (The dog's owner, our assistant director, thankfully has returned from a medical absence.) Her first appearance is not a problem. We are at a distance from each other. It is her second appearance that must give me pause. She sits right next to the couch I on which I sit for the scene, and also happens to be shedding at this time. For a brief moment some of the hair got on my pants because she decided to take up residence there for a few moments. I felt perhaps just an ever so slight irritation in my eyes during and after that scene, which could have been the dog, or could have been a coincidence. My instinct is that I will be all right, but the shedding does complicate things. I have a few more rehearsals of that scene to find out. I will research non-drowsy anti-histamines, just to be safe.

I got measured for costumes today after my final exit from the second half. (Which remember we were running first tonight.) I tried on a few suits. One fit near perfectly. One was tight, and one I was basically swimming in. So you had a Goldilocks and the three suits thing going on. I believe I need four suits for this show, if I read the paper correctly, due to the various days that are covered in the play. I haven't had to change costumes that many times in a play for quite some time.

The first half of the show I think went very well, and I am not the only one. Despite it being later in the evening, with fatigue starting to set in, the first half was filled with energy and some really good timing in several segments. The director repeated what she said a few rehearsals ago in regard to the first half...that it was starting to look like a show. And indeed it is. The first half is starting to feel like a show as well.

Plus, almost like clockwork as the final two weeks of the show have come upon us, many in the cast became instantly more comfortable with one another tonight. That second to last weekend of rehearsal often seems to be a watershed moment in a play. If you are not already feeling socially comfortable with your cast something about that weekend tends to make it happen. The reverse is also true. If it has not happened by then, it often will not. The good news is that for this show it seems to have happened. And as I have talked about before, quite quickly.

There is a 20 minute scene the starts off the play, and during that time about half the cast remains off stage, I being among that group. So there was plenty of time for those of us waiting for our first scenes to be cutting it up a bit with one another in the green room. By the time that scene was over I felt more comfortable with everyone in the show. I don't discount the possibility that such personal comfort led to the second part of the evening going so well on stage.

Tomorrow there are to be two shifts for painting the set. One in the morning, and one in the afternoon. The morning one just isn't going to happen for me. Not that early. But I am making every effort to get to the afternoon shift.

This has in some ways been a fast moving rehearsal process for me. One of the fastest of all my shows, in fact.  I wonder why it has seemed to go so fast. I think part of the reason is that the cast and the company seem to be rather low-key compared to some places I have worked. We of course have not reached tech week yet, which is bound to be hectic. That's just how it is. But when I think that we open in a mere 13 days, I blink a few times. Still much to do. But so much has gotten accomplished already.

Next rehearsal is on Monday.