Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Last night's rehearsal was productive for the play as a whole, but not especially so for me personally.

Everything of course needs to be rehearsed, but last night the only things I could rehearse were two skits for which I am the narrator with very few lines. One cast member has been out of town for the first two weeks of rehearsals basically. Another had to come in late, so we weren't able to run the skit in which she and I appear. And, to the best of my knowledge, there is still a role in the play that is yet to be cast. All of this happened to make me unable to go over most of my "significant" scenes, for lack of a better term.

Nonetheless, I am glad that the rehearsal got so much done for others last night. (Including running one of the skits for the very first time. It had just slipped through the cracks of everything else going on.)

I am also happy to report that at this point I am about 85-90% off book for this show. It's a different sort of thing because it is a series of skits, as opposed to one solid show. Nevertheless it is gratifying to have that out of the way for most of my lines. I am off book for the three "minor" skits I am in. Also, I am about 90% off book for one of my two larger roles. I am not at all offbook for my other larger role, and I have until tomorrow to be so. I am not sure that one is going to happen.

It's much easier for me to get off book for something when it has been rehearsed numerous times. But this larger role has only been rehearsed one time, and thus I have been unable to implant to lines into my head in the context of actually performing the skit. That's fine when you only have three lines ina  piece, but when you are the main character, it becomes a bit problematic for me. (Which is why I sometimes wonder how good I would be in the movie...)

But Wednesday will be what it will be. If I am not 100% off the book, I feel I will not be the only one who is in that predicament. That helps to ease my mind a bit.

As will having the whole cast back. It can't always be helped, but having someone away for basically the first two weeks of rehearsal is not an easy obstacle to overcome in some ways. Nor is still having a role empty. But by week's end, both of those difficulties are supposed to be solved.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Less Rhythm, More Progress

Last night was our first in depth non-musical rehearsal for the show. Which to me was a bit of a relief, because the show is not, as I have mentioned, a musical. I understand that we need to get the dance at the opening of the show down right, but dancing rehearsals, especially for those who are not trained in dance, like me, always take forever and are far less productive than a straight blocking rehearsal of the same length.

We worked on blocking Walter Mitty, which is one of my two biggest roles in A Thurber Carnival. It actually wasn't as complicated as it seemed it would be at first. I, as Mitty, really don't move around a lot during the sketch. The others in the various sequences do most of the moving in that one. I am not yet off book for it, so I didn't get as much of a feel for it as I would have liked. But that will come soon enough. I think that may be my favorite skit out of the production, though. I get the feeling it is going to be. Especially once we add all of the props and such.

Next, the group worked on "File and Forget". I haven't calculated it, but I think that one may be the longest piece in the production, I am not sure. I am not in it, but it went by fairly quickly because again, there was very little blocking involved in it.

There was more blocking involved in the next skit, "Gentleman Shoppers", in which I do appear, but only for about 60 seconds at the very start. So once again I didn't have a lot of blocking work to do. Despite that, though, it was still a highly productive evening for the entire show.

Even though we are still missing a cast member. We need an actress in her 20's. If you happen to be one and live near Shepherdstown, West Virginia, leave a comment, and I will hook you up with the right people.

My biggest task between now and the next rehearsal on Monday is to get off book as much as I can for my two biggest roles, Mr. Preble and Mitty. It will be a bit of a cramming session, but the good news is I am off book with just about everything else. I have one shorter skit to memorize. So all and all I have half of what I need offbook already.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


The choreographer ran most of rehearsal again last night, even though originally it was not supposed to be a dancing rehearsal. But given the may absences on Monday, and the fact that it seemed to take longer than anticipated to get things into some sort of order for the opening dance of A Thurber Carnival, she came back again last night.

One person that did not come back was the newest member of the cast. I neglected to mention this on the last post in light of everything else that was happening, but on Monday a new female joined the cast, and learned the complicated dance scene with us.

The next day, same female quit the show, citing work scheduling conflicts. So by the time last night rolled around we were still short on people. And the search for a replacement is on once again.

Setting that aside, we went through the prelude sort of dance as I call it several times, along with the opening scene with the one liners. We never ran any of them smoothly without interruption though. And despite the choreographers insistence that it was starting to look better, I can never really get a sense of such things when a flow is not allowed to take place. This is one of my biggest pet peeves on stage; when a scene, once set down, is not permitted to simply go from start to finish once or twice to allow the actors to get an idea for it. Instead, new ideas are thrown out in the middle of rehearing the scene. A change is made to part 3 before part 2 is even completed. And so on. I'd much prefer to get the bare essentials of a scene down pat, and then add things. Such an approach provides perspective. But that isn't the way it is for this scene, so I just have to go along with it for now. (Though that doesn't mean I will successfully accomplish everything that is added every time.)

I also do not thrive in an environment where my shortcomings are pointed out freely. I am honest about them, yes, but to have other people remind me of them all of the time makes me less eager to rehearse.

There is also a skit I am in which has a five second or so moment in which I do not appear. This moment had been choreographed and rehearsed for at least an hour total over the two nights we have run this scene. Personally, I am not sure any five seconds of stage time is worth that much choreography, but again that is not in my power to change.

What is in my power is to become offbook. I have just under a week now to do it. I am sweating a little bit about it, but the good news is that I am off book for all of the smaller scenes I am in. Not an impressive feat perhaps to some, but it comes in quite handy with rehearsing. (Especially when certain moments can take so long to rehearse.) I even found a personality developing in one of the characters I play. Last night I enjoyed doing that skit, (The Unicorn in the Garden) more than I have so far. Though I have only gone through it a few times. But it has personality now, and that goes a long way. I attribute a lot of that to the fact that everyone in it is also off book.

So, I found that part of the rehearsal more constructive to my personally than the dancing. (Which should not be surprising.) I imagine that eventually some order will come out of the dancing, but I can more clearly see progress in the straight up scenes, and I saw progress in the Unicorn scene last night.

Tonight we will block two of the scenes I am in. The first I am merely a narrator for the first few moments. I imagine I will just enter, speak, and leave. But later we will be blocking what is probably my most complex appearance in the show; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. That might take some doing. But when that one is running smoothly in a few weeks it may be my favorite skit of the production for any number of reasons. We will see.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Waltzing Uphill

There are times when it becomes a bit difficult for me to write on this blog about what I have experienced during the course of a production. I have always promised to be honest about how I am feeling and what I am experiencing while I go forth on my acting adventures. But sometimes I don't, because of a fear of politics. (Such as in my last production; Heaven Can Wait.)

I skirted the issues somewhat in that instance, intending to talk about them after the production had closed. But due to various things, the issues actually vanished between the time I posted that entry, and the time the show ended. So the point seemed moot by the time we closed that production.

Yet in that case, the run was almost over when everything went down anyway. Some of the difficulties I am currently having are taking place early in this production of A Thurber Carnival. I waited a day before I began writing the overview of last night's rehearsal, to make sure I wasn't posting anything out of anger. And while I may not feel as "hot under the collar" about some aspects of the situation, I would be lying if I said the underlying problem had gone away. It may indeed go away for the most part as time goes on. But sometimes, once damage is done, no matter how minor, it stays with you. My early indications are that there is a certain amount of at least minor damage that has been done. Not to my soul, and not to the entire production, but to, I guess, the chemistry of the whole experience. It's not debilitating, but it is noticeable, and I do wish it wasn't there.

I am not about naming names and calling people out in this blog, and that is not about to change here today. But I am keeping with my policy of honesty, by at least discussing what has gone on in a broad sense.

The broadest possible way to describe what happened is to mention that those who cannot take certain types of jokes should not, in my opinion, make them. Wit and/or sarcasm is a double edged sword, and if you are not willing to be "cut" with it, you really ought not seek to do any of your own cutting with it.

When I use it, it usually tends to be in general terms, knowing that I may be ribbed in kind for certain things I may say. (About a football team, or something like that.) But my displeasure with a higher concept, and my jokes about same are not personal attacks on people. (Unless that is what I am getting first.) If I actually had personal hatred for anyone who liked the Pittsburgh Steelers for instance, I wouldn't have half of my friends. But I will never have anything nice to say about the Steelers. I'm always going to trash talk them. Period.

Football had nothing to do with the situation in this play. But it is a good metaphor for what did happen. I can be unhappy with a particular type of activity, without hating the people who partake in it. And, returning in kind some wit that had been thrown on my general direction last night, I made such a comment about an activity. This was met with a very unprofessional, not to mention personally rude assesement of my skill levels on stage.

To me, whatever your views are about how I view a concept, you ought to be able to accept a joke about it. Especially when you have made your own jokes previously. But even if you can't, personally disparagement is childish. We all love and hate different things. We need to remember that just because we love something, doesn't mean that it has any place in the lives and activities of other people. The fact that we love it does not make it more important, or make you more important than other people. This was forgotten yesterday, and to me, it has been quite problematic to get passed. I feel no need to discus the issue with anyone in person from here on out, but I will say that I am now less relaxed while rehearsing than I had been.

Again, it may, and probably will fade in intensity, as we get to more important things in the play. But for now, it is a bit of friction for me. People working together on a community production really ought to be more cognizant of the mosaic that makes up a cast. Enough said.

As for more specific news from last night, we spent most of the evening working out the Word Dance that I have mentioned before here. This was made all the more difficult by the fact that three people who will eventually be in the scene were missing for various reasons. Formal dance is something I have a hard enough time making any sense out of. It's made worse when I have to remember that one particular empty space is supposed to represent a particular person.

Plus, I have difficulty with counts and measures and bars of music and that sort of thing. I actually have very good internal rhythm. But if I am told to hold a position "for three bars" that means nothing at all to me in the heat of the moment on stage. As in zero. Now, intellectually, when I look at a piece of paper, I know what a "bar of music" is. And when it is simple music, I can point out different measures. But I can't apply that practically when I am in the middle of something else. It just loses all meaning to me. I'm not proud of it, and I know I sometimes hold up what many people would consider an easy concept, but that is just the way that it is.

Despite those pitfalls, however, the broad sketches of that first, much feared scene on my part have been put into place. Thankfully, I will not have to be doing a whole lot of formal dancing for the scene. Just a bit of shuffling, and an easy version of the twist near the end. The whole thing still strikes me as rather a silly and basically pointless section to an other wise amusing script, but that is how it opens. I am just glad there isn't too much of this sort of thing. And I am also glad that we have almost mapped it all out. There is a long way to go to get it right, no doubt, but like I said, the basics are in place. I even have a visual cue as to when to enter, instead of bars and measures. That makes it doable for me.

I am a little behind in getting off book, because this play has given me the least amount of time ever to be so. But I keep working on it. I have a week.

Next rehearsal is more dance, on Wednesday.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Early Arrival, Late Entry

I was out of town for the weekend so I didn't get a chance to post on Thursday rehearsal.

Not that there was much to report on this time. I arrived at the theatre about an hour and a half before I was needed. I suppose I misunderstood the schedule somehow, because my skit wasn't being rehearsed until later in the evening. So I walked around Shepherdstown a bit. And a bit more. And more still.

Around 8:30 we did go over "Mr. Preble Gets Rids of His Wife." This is one of the two skits wherein I have the most lines. We blocked it on the actual stage. (To which we have access already, thankfully.) The director have me a few character notes, while a few of the other actors in the green room prepared to go over their scenes a second time that evening. The blocking took about 20 minutes, and my evening at the theatre was concluded.

So as I said, there wasn't much to report. Not that there always is this early in the rehearsal process. But this one is going to be so short for any number of reasons.Particularly in being off book. I have less than two weeks, and that is fast even for me. I will be spending most of my days from here until September 1 looking over the lines when I am not working on my writing.

This still feels like such a strange production. Not just due to the intentional absurdity of some of Thurber's writing, but due to the fragmented nature of it all. It must be so far now, as it would not be productive to run every skit every night for right now. I'm sure that once we are running entire acts in one evening, and we get used to the transition between skits it will not feel so odd, but for now I feel a little bit disconnected with the production as a whole. (It is still very early though.)

Tonight is to be another dance rehearsal night. The choreographer has taken all the information she gained a week ago and, as far as I understand, has come up with more specific blocking and dance moves for us during the opening scene. Most of the energies tonight will be dedicated to understanding that I dare say. Certainly they will for me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Dirty "Trick"?

Even though I knew it was coming, it sort of feels like a dirty trick to end up in a straight show and still have to spend so much time learning dances. But that is what last night was. (And what several more nights of rehearsal will be in the future.)

There is a dance scene at the beginning and end of this play, A Thurber Carnival. Neither are very long, and in my personal opinion neither need to be particularly complex. The are just a warm-up for the audience, not a center piece of the show itself. (Those would be the various skits.) The actors pause during these dance scenes to deliver one liners to the audience. (Some of which none of us even understand.) We need to be careful, in my opinion, of making too much of these scenes, not just because of the dancing, but because of the one liners.

And as far as the dancing, my hope is that it not become too complicated. But to be fair, complicated for me in regards to dance is far below what most people would consider complicated. That doesn't make it any easier, of course, but it does mean that few people truly understand just how unskilled I am when it comes to formal dance.

I was honest with the choreographer about it. I told her I knew no formal dances at all. To her credit the only things she had me do, (just to see what I looked like in doing it.) were basically NON-dances. One was basically me stepping side to side, though I admit I even messed that one up a little bit. The other one was inspired by another non-dancer in the cast...something from a Billy Crystal movie which I have not seen, but was consisted mainly swaying.

We all did some form or another of "The Twist" to her satisfaction. A mini-line dance, ala the Rockettes was also employed, and I confess to having some trouble with that one. But that one I can probably iron out by the time we open, assuming nothing more complicated than that is expected.

Others in the cast with actual dancing training will be doing cha-chas and waltzes and such. Though there are only 8 of us, and this section of the play, (which I consider by far the least funny of the entire production) only lasts a few minutes, there will be a whole lot going on on the tiny stage.

Much remains to be ironed out, obviously, as the scene doesn't yet have music, and the choreographer hasn't officially designed the dances yet. (Or the other things, as she has been given some freedom to assign props, costumes, and character motivations for the scene as well.)

We then moved on to the three fables section. These are not musical numbers, but for some reason I haven't quite followed yet, the choreographer is also in charge of the blocking for them as well. I only have a significant role in one of these fables, however, so I didn't really have to worry too much about the blocking in these scenes, though I will have to do something I have never really enjoyed; go out into the audience for part of the skit.

In the end, the opening dance "number", and the three fables that follow it constitute a minority of what I am doing in this production. I am sure it feels like more now because dancing is involved.Rehearsing other parts of the show will go much more smoothly for me, I feel.

One of the topics brought up briefly last night outside of the dancing situation was the idea of updating certain now dated references. The director is disinclined to do so, and I think that is probably for the best. Something like this is not likely to have a broad appeal to modern audiences, so we might as well cater to the narrow demographic that are either fans of Thurber's works, or who remember the era in which the piece was written, and hence, (hopefully) understand some of the more obscure references. And really, outside of the opening dance, they are not many outdated references anyway.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Be Proud When You Phone It In", on ShowBizRadio

I have been writing actor's advice columns for nearly two years over at ShowBizRadio.net. And while ever since I started I have linked to the website on the front page of this blog, I have only sporadically provided direct links to individual columns I write. I am going to try to do that more often again.

My most recent post over there is about how to look more realistic on stage when your character has to talk on the phone. (It would appear that it's harder than it look for a lot of people.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Raising the Tent

Today at rehearsal for "A Thurber Carnival", we read through the skits in Act II. Both of my longer roles appear in Act II skits, so in a sense I had more to do tonight than I did last night.

Things seem to be solidifying in regards to who is playing what. (Though the director is still looking for one more woman to play a few of the smaller roles.) However, I will go ahead and mention in which sketches I will appear. Most of them are based on Thurber short stories, as I have said, though a lot of them end in different ways than the story versions. But at any rate, it looks like I'll be playing the following;

The Narrator in The Wolf at the Door
Man in The Unicorn in the Garden
Schultz in If Grant Were Drunk at Appomattox
The Narrator in Gentleman Shoppers
Mr. Preble in Mr. Preble Gets Rid of His Wife
Walter Mitty in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Mr. Preble and Walter Mitty represent my biggest roles, (though no role is huge in this production.) Which is fortunate because the director has given us just two weeks to be off book! That is the shortest time I have ever had to get off book, and while I believe I can do it, or at least come close, it will require a bit of an extra push, despite the fact the the roles are small. (I do have five different roles still, after all.)

I think, however, that the first play I will be off book for is "Grant at Appomattox". Not because my role in it is small, but because we went over that one so many times today.

The gentleman who plays Grant will be out of town for a while, so it was decided we would work at the blocking for that skit tonight. So we ran it several times. I like that piece, despite how silly and as short it is. I'll also get to wear a cool Civil War costume, so that isn't bad either.

Now that all of the skits have been read through at least once, and I am getting the very early impressions as to what kind of humor is involved in the show, I am already starting to think of how to present each of these "characters" if you can call them that. I feel fairly certain I will have the most fun with Walter Mitty. (And if you are familiar with the story, you can imagine why.)

I must decide if reading all of the stories in their original form will be helpful. I am thinking no, because as I said, they end differently than the stage versions. But reading other Thurber works will help tune me in to his wavelength if you will, and that may help. I am going to see what I can get into in regards to that.

Next rehearsal is Wednesday at 7:00 when we will be working on the dancing scenes. Oh, the humanity.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Thurber Carnival Begins...Mostly.

Today we had the first read-through at the Full Circle Theater Company. This carnival was for a few reasons, a bit of a circus on its first night.

Actually, the main reason was that the scripts have not yet arrived, necessitating us to copy, paste, staple, and do any number of things with the ancient single copy of the script that we had in the building, in order for each person to have at least those pages of the script pertaining to their specific roles and skits. This took quite a bit of shuffling, but at last we all got what we needed.

But before we got down to reading, we did a few relaxations exercises. And then the choreographer had some of us run through a few things. (This is a straight show, but there are two scenes requiring some dance.) She doesn't yet know that basically every choreogrpaher I have ever had, no matter how convinced they started out that I was teachable, has eventually given up on me, sent me to the back, and told me to just "try not to get in the way". But we'll let her find that out the natural, fun way...by seeing how terrible my dancing is.

Actually, it is my formal dancing that is terrible. Freestyle I pull off quite well. But I digress.

We didn't get to all of the skits tonight. Most of the first act, or about 8 out of the 15 or so skits. I have larger, parts as far as lines go in two of the five in which I appear. (Barring a change, which is still possible.) We didn't get to either of the skits wherein I deliver most of my lines.

I can say, however, that in my opinion, I was generally well cast within the show. I think I enjoy most of my skits more than the others. There are a few other winners in which I do not appear, but I think with only one or two exceptions, my talents are best put to use in the ones in which I currently appear. I admit that I hope the line-up remains the same.

There wasn't any talk of character building tonight, which is normal for a first read-through. I have only know of two directors who got into character work on the first night. But I cannot help but think of it myself a bit. And while I will naturally work to establish the characters I will be playing, my initial response to this piece is that it will be a bit more about the atmosphere the pieces create as opposed to the nuance of individual characters within the skits.

Not that there are not nuances to the characters themselves. Played well, I believe there is room for quite a bit of nuance. But most of these skits exist just outside the normal universe, and as such, establishing a conventional motivation/characterization may not be suitable. But this is just the first day. That view may well change as time goes on.

I "know" only one person in this cast, and he I have not seen for about 5 years...since we both appeared together in "Miracle on 34th Street" back in 2005. He playing Kris Kringle, and I playing the state's attorney who "prosecutes" Kringle. (That was the first play I covered with this blog, so if you are interested, go back to the very start of the archives of this blog.)

The director tells me she has seen me on stage several times before now, though. I didn't ask her in what shows, however.

Thus begins another 6 week adventure in the world of theatre. This one will be different because of the segmented nature of the show. That has both advantages and disadvantages. Both of which will be explored and discussed right here, loyal blog readers. To check back often for the next 6 weeks. Because here we go again!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Joining "A Thurber Carnival"

Announcing my next stage appearance. On Tuesday, August 10th I went to the Full Circle Theater Company to audition for their season opener; A Thurber Carnival. I received word last night that I have been cast in the show.

The show consists of a collection of short sketches based on the cartoons and short stories of James Thurber, hence the title. Among the the 15 or so sketches are staged version of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", "The Unicorn in the Garden" and "The Macbeth Murder Mystery". The show is book-ended by a joke driven dance number, reminiscent of Laugh-In.

The roles each of us is to play are, for the moment, subject to change as the director sorts out a few issues, but as of now I have been assigned 5 roles. One of them I read for at the audition. The other one I recognize from being read by others at the audition, and one I know from the title of the short story on which it is based. The others I am not certain about. I won't list them until the roles are solidified, but suffice to say it is without a doubt an ensemble piece, with no one person being a lead, and everyone popping in and out of the show throughout the evening.

I seem to gravitate towards such shows, consciously or subconsciously. I have been in about half a dozen plays or so wherein I played more than one character, (though sometimes more for convenience sake as opposed to by design.) Nonetheless I have been in several plays that are specifically written to have actors play multiple roles. This one promises to be more unique still, given how quickly the various sketches come and go. It is that "rapid fire" role rotation that encouraged me to give this show a try. It no doubt will present it's own unique challenges.

The first read-through is tomorrow. (The 15th.) I'll know then with whom I am working, but judging by the auditions, nobody I know will be in it. One gentleman I was in a play with five years ago was at auditions, so he may be in the show. If so he will be the only person with whom I have worked, or even spoken before. (Though the producer is an old friend of mine.)

So check back here often as I once again regale my loyal blog reader with tales of bringing a play to life. 

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Auditions Ahead

The Full Circle Theater Company, (about whom I have written many times, having been in several of their shows) will be holding auditions for it's first show of the season, this coming Sunday and Tuesday. They have also announced the rest of their current season. Do go to their website and check it out, especially if you are local to the Shepherdstown, West Virginia area. It is an intriguing and eclectic season they have in store, with more than one play I am interested in.

In fact, the very first production I mentioned interests me a bit. It's "A Thurber Carnival". A collection of shorter plays based on the short stories of James Thurber. One of those ensemble pieces where each cast member will play many different roles throughout the evening. I have been in several such shows and enjoyed the experience. Given that, and the fact that I haven't appeared in a Full Circle production in about 18 months, it may just be time for me to head on over to Shepherdstown to audition. (Though I have never met the director before.)

Loyal blog readers will know that my summer theatre plans with the Bard's Men fell through, so I haven't been in anything since May. That's not too long of a stretch, but when you are geared up to be in a show, and then it doesn't happen, you feel as though it has been longer. Well, at least I am at the moment.

So I am mulling that over right now. I'll let everyone know what the final decision is.