Friday, October 29, 2010

Bookless (Mostly)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next rehearsal is Sunday. Act One.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Add Ons and Take Aways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cruising with Scrooge

It may be difficult for me to be 100% objective about our progress in A Christmas Carol, given that I was in the exact same version, in this exact same venue a mere two years ago. My high level of familiarity with the piece may give me a false impression of how far along we are. I will concede that. But I have to say that I honestly do not believe this is the case. Not totally anyway. I feel we are legitimately moving forward rather quickly. And from what I can tell, the director agrees with that.

We are short one actor for a few days, as I have mentioned before, so that slows things down a bit. And there re block issues dealing with furniture that are posing some problems. But any given scene, even some for which the actors are not off book, is starting to develop quite well.

Act Two was on the agenda this evening, though we didn't get to run it twice. That isn't surprising because I think the second Act takes a little longer than the first. It at least feels that way, but that may be because most of the complicated blocking is in that act. Either way, we went through it once on Thursday night, and good things were happening.

My character is supposed to juggle fruit at the beginning of the act. I was given some fake fruit last night with which to work. I do not know how to juggle. At least, I do not know how to juggle more than two objects. I messed around and was able to "juggle" two peaches, but I didn't think that would be considered actual juggling. A few people said that is was still juggling though, so perhaps that will be all I will have to do for the scene. I'm willing to try to learn three objects, I just can't make any assurances of how quickly I can do so. It is nice to know that I can fall back on just juggling two, without ruining the scene.

(On a side note I am starting to think I should learn to juggle three objects anyway, even after this play closes. This makes two shows in a row where juggling was involved, and it actually comes up more often on the stage than one would think.)

The most difficult scene to do anything with last night was the party at Fred's house. "Topper" is a large part of that scene, and the scene requires quite a bit of blocking. But the actor playing him is the one that was missing, so there was no way or blocking it out in detail last night. That one will have to wait for the actor's return to start taking shape. It also just so happens to be my longest scene with the most lines.

Either way the key to it is to remain as joyful as I can make the character without looking fake. If ever a character of mine should "glow", it would be Fred.

I play Peter Cratchit, Bob's "other" son twice in Act Two, first during the Christmas Present, and then during Christmas Future. In both scenes he doesn't have much to do, and really only has a few throw away lines. I add some depth to him as time goes on, but I find him to be the least interesting character I play in this show.

Then there is the Old Joe scene, with the laundress and the undertaker and others trying to pawn the stuff they stole from the dead Scrooge. Time has softened it's impact on us, but when you consider it deeply, it is probably one of Dickens' richest scenes, despite its brevity. And, I imagine to his contemporary, quite off putting. We may not be able to land that sort of impact with today's audiences, but I feel that scene can quickly descend into character if we are not careful with our performance. One of my main goal for the scene is to avoid that. The director complimented the progress of this scene particularly last night. I feel it will end up being a fun scene to do.

I should also point out that at the start of the "Future" segment, I play the Spirit of Christmas Future. For literally one small scene. Afterward, another actor takes over the role, so I can actually play Old Joe and Peter later. A very strange snag in the script as written. I imagine it was an issue of the playwright needing to have certain base characters play certain roles, and to give the actors some time to change. (Though I am on stage almost constantly for much of Act Two as it is.)

Some more props were in place for last night's performance as well, such as the fruit I mentioned. Having such things always adds to the rehearsal process, but only if books are out of everyone's hands. As I have said, mine is not for most of Act Two. (Though I could make it without one in Act One, and may try that the next time we run through it.) So without a doubt, extra work on memorizing Act Two is my most important task in the play for the next 9 days.

One other thing of interest; one of the board members of the theatre told me an audience member mentioned my blog after a performance of A Thurber Carnival earlier this month. It is nice to know it is being read by people who actually come to see the shows. I imagine that would add an interesting element to seeing a local production. If said person if reading now, much thanks!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Getting the Yule Log Rolling

Last night was our first rehearsal for A Christmas Carol that wasn't dedicated exclusively with blocking. There were still significant blocking issues to work out, but the blueprint is already down. Which means acting can begin.

Which also means that getting off book must happen soon. Actually, I am already off book for the most part for the short Act One. Act Two will be my bigger challenge. I have ten days. none of the scenes give me a particularly worry, save one. The party scene at the house of Scrooge's nephew, during the shadows of Christmas Present. It is in that scene that I not only have the most lines in the entire show, but it is also one that contains the word game. Which will be a bit of a task to get off book for. But that was not on the menu last night.

Last night we ran Act One, or at least most of it, twice. One of the actors was away, and will be all week, so the scenes that involved him heavily were skipped, his more incidental lines being read by someone else during other scenes.

The opening scene with the base characters in Dickens's attic is coming along. I still need to work on varying accents. In fact, in general I still need to work on what I want Fred Dickens to be as a person. I have some ideas. While running that opening scene he has already presented himself as somewhat silly. Not as whimsical as his older brother, but enough of the charismatic informality to display the family resemblance. I do in fact like being able to play the brother angle here. While all the people present in the scene are familiar with Dickens' tendency to be eccentric when it comes to his creativity, his brother has spent a lifetime dealing with Charles other-worldliness. Well, at least a lifetime as defined in these terms.

Fred, the nephew, is my strongest character at this point. I feel I am reaching a good balance between sincere joy at life and it being Christmas time, and realism. I hope to avoid the cartoon he is often made out to be in such productions, and I think, thus far, I am succeeding. One thing I find that adds to the characterization is to take any reaction that would otherwise be angry with a lot of characters, and specifically infuse humor into it. Humor and warmth. That, in a nutshell, is Fred as I see him today.

Also in Act One is the scene where a younger Scrooge is "released" by his fiancee, Belle. That needs work, mainly because books are still involved, but I want it to be one of my better scenes. It is so very short, and yet an a highly significant piece of the Scrooge puzzle. I want it to have feeling. I want the gravity of the situation, both on the moment, and in terms of the impact it has on the rest of Scrooge's life, to be present. "Belle" is a fine actress, so I feel we will be able to accomplish that together.

Tonight we run Act Two, I presume. I don't think I will feel quite as much in the moment tonight as I did last night, because as I said, I still require my book for the vast majority of the time in Act Two. But giving that the whole show is starting to come together already in the broadest terms, I may be surprised. We seem to be on quite a good pace insofar as progress towards opening night is concerned.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blocking is Done!

At least until we change it. But that is the nature of a show.

Still, last night we got down on paper all of the blocking for A Christmas Carol. We finished act 2, and then re-ran part of act one for the sake of an actor who was missing when we first went through it, and will also miss the next 3 rehearsals. Not to mention the fact that we needed to test that set blocking against the new lay out of the stage. No major problems.

I think the next thing I need to work extra hard on, other than getting off book, is accents. To me, a few of my characters sound too much a like. Which would be excusable, since the same guy is playing all of them, but I'd like to vary things a bit. Old Joe stands out the most, and sounds the least like any of the others. The biggest differentiation I want to make is between Frederick, the brother of Dickens himself, and Fred, the nephew of Scrooge. Peter Cratchit will eventually just be a slightly higher pitched voice. Younger Scrooge will be tricky. I am going to try to emulate some of the diction and accent of the man who plays the older Scrooge throughout the play. I also plan to copy some of his hand gestures. (Which will become more clear once nobody is holding their scripts anymore.)

There is still some work to do on the set, and when it is done, Old Joe will have a platform to stand on towering above those who are selling Scrooge's stuff. I look forward to really perfecting this scene, as I have been in more than one version of it over the years. Plus, this Old Joe had a bit of an edge. You almost get the sense he has a knife in his belt, ready to expertly slice someone up should the annoy him for too long. It's a short scene and a minor character, but a memorable one, and I think I'll play around with that motivation a while. (It will be aided by the fact that I'll be wearing an eye patch. At least that is the director's plan for now.)

Blocking rehearsals, i confess, don't usually make for great blog fodder, and this one is no exception. How much can one really say at this stage? "We blocked this scene or that". If there were major problem I would report them, but there were none so far. So the deeper stuff will wait for next week's rehearsals. And especially the week after that when we are to be off book.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Spread Out.

I made a mistake in my last entry. I mention we would be blocking Act Two on Sunday, when in fact that is what we began last night. We didn't get all the way through the act, though, so we will be continuing on Sunday.

There is more complicated blocking in the second act, it seems, so it took longer at times. But we now have more room on the set with which to move about.

The platform that had been incorrectly placed was moved. Also, the number of entrance/exit points has been reduced from four to two. It was decided that things were getting to crowded at times as it had been set up. (The entrances were formed by two l-shaped walls on wheels that can be moved at will.) These were positioned in such a way that despite their now being fewer places to enter the stage, the stage itself has more open space than before.

To begin with, the "base characters" return for the start of the second act. I have but one line in this section as Frederick, but ideally he should be juggling when he says it. I have never juggled in my life. So one of the set designers who knows how is going to work with me and try to teach me how. I'm willing to learn, but have no sense of whether I will be able to do so. The good news is, if I can't master it, throwing the fruit in some fancy way instead of juggling it will still accomplish the goal of my one line.

Perhaps the biggest blocking challenge will be the Fred party scene, during the shadows of Christmas Present section of the play. It seems that almost any stage rendition of A Christmas Carol has this moment from the novel as one of the longer, more boisterous, and sometimes, more complicated scenes in the entire production. The scene being of a lively party, I suppose that makes sense. But I laugh when I think that in all the productions of this story I have been in, it usually takes the most time to block certain scenes, and this one is always among them.

But aside from blocking, I will be challenged to keep the "Fred energy" up the entire time. Unlike his initial appearance, which is mostly a brief encounter with a specific, though difficult mission, the party scene is long and drawn out. Plus, it meanders about a bit. Here we see a Fred totally lost on joviality, without having to stand up against Scrooge. Not an especially difficult motivation; joy. But it is the energy of the scene which is crucial, and I dare say in many ways Fred's energy will be the driving force of it. I shall have to be at near full throttle for that one. Energy should always be high on stage of course, but it is even more noticeable when a high energy actor is playing a high energy character.

During the word game I also have to have Fred on the verge of cracking up at his selection of Uncle Scrooge as the subject of his word game. I'm not a morose fellow, but I am not often laughing for such a sustained period, so that will be something to remember.

The only other thing on which we worked last night was the Cratchit scene in the present. "God Bless Us All", and that sort of thing. I play Peter Cratchit in the scene, and I have to say I have less of a sense of him than any of the other roles I have for this show. He has few lines, and not given much to do. Plus he is ideally much younger than I am. It is in fact a strange assignment, I think, for the character he plays Frederick Dickens. All of the other roles he is assigned are, or can be, roughly the same age as he. But Peter... I think the key is to just keep him subtle while still suggesting a youthful exuberance. His direct age isn't specifically mentioned, and maybe people won't notice. Or perhaps I can pull off playing a child. I did it before once. I am glad I will not have to put Tiny Tim on my shoulders this time though. I did it the last time, and it wasn't the most comfortable affair for me.

I am also starting to work on different voices for different characters. That is always a challenge, but it's even more so when each of those characters is to have an accent. So my goal is to establish a different British accent, as well as a different voice for each. True mastery of such things can take years of study, and I realize that. But I have always prided myself on doing a little bit more with accents than just pronouncing a few words differently. I can't say they would full a native or any such thing, but my goal is to at least keep them consistent. Dropping in and out of an accent during the course of a show is one of the more common flaws in community shows such as this.

I did find a wonderful resource that may help me out with this. This website is dedicated to archiving and recording samples of English being read and spoken with accents from all over the world. I have looked for this kind of site for years as an actor, and I am glad to have stumbled upon it. I played around with it for an hour when I first found out about it. Try it yourself. It's fun and educational. Before this site I would use British sitcoms as guides. And I will still do a bit of that I am sure, even with this new archive at my disposal.

The next rehearsal is Sunday evening, when we will finish act two and I believe run act one again. But I am not certain, and I was wrong the last time I blogged about what came next, so don't quot me on that. But the better stuff always starts to happen once blocking is written down. Not the best stuff, which is reserved for when everyone is off book, but the focus turns mostly toward acting once blocking is set down. So after Sunday we will be getting into high gear, in a manner of speaking.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Act One? Blocking Done!

I had forgotten how rather shot Act I of this version of A Christmas Carol is. I know it seems a little shorter to me than it really is because there is a whole scene at the start of this version in which only two people appear. That scene isn't usually rehearsed with everyone else present, so naturally the first act is going to seem somewhat short. that notwithstanding I still think it will take less time to get through than most first halves. It's just the broad strokes but its there.

To that end, after just two evenings, we have totally blocked the first half already. We even had a rudimentary set tonight, (though a platform had been installed in an incorrect place and has to be moved.)

I play Frederick in the first scene, younger brother of Charles Dickens. His real life story is actually quite a depressing one, so I won't be drawing on much of that. I'll see what I can glean from the facts of his life before his tragic final years. (Which is appropriate for the time period of this play anyway.) I also play Fred, and younger Scrooge in Act One.

These are interesting characters to play in their own right, but I find it interesting to play them both in the same production. I'd like to find some affectations that are common between the two. To play on the irony of some aspect of the two men being, at least at some point in time, very much alike. There is a complexity to both characters, (especially Fred) which often tends to be glossed by stereotypes, decorations, music, and overall holiday exuberance in most productions. One of my main goals is to avoid that shallow presentation of these beloved characters to which nearly every person has been exposed at some point in time. Especially if they celebrate Christmas.

This is also what I tried to do during the first time I was in this play. I succeeded to some extent, but there were many distractions in that production, so I did slip into affectation a few times as opposed to deep acting. But now, as then, I think it is important to remember that although Fred, Scrooge, the Ghosts, Cratchit and all the rest are household names and concepts today, they were in fact literary inventions of a genius initially. Like Shakespearean characters, the true depth and power of these characters cannot be forgotten simply because they would up rewriting everything we feel about Christmas today. They must be kept as human. (or as Spirits as the case may be.) The temptation to put up cardboard cut-outs of these well known characters must be resisted.

Fred, as I said, requires specific attention in this regard. My hope is to play Fred as a very, though realistically joyful soul. A man who is not simply a cartoon happy, but who acquires his happiness from a deeply held faith in both God, Christmas, and people. Not naivete, but persistent commitment to the better angels of everyone's nature. He may not always find them, but he is always willing to look. Especially with his uncle. In my view, without such a commitment, an actor is basically just playing a guy that is half doped up on something when he enters Scrooge and Marley's every year.

That won't be without its challenges because I as a person am not like that. But my aspiration to be more like that is something I plan to tap into as I build my version of the character.

Perhaps that is the same sort of thing that should be drawn upon to play Young Scrooge. A deep spirit that, unlike Fred's, becomes turned at some point. Corrupted. Perhaps that first taste of the equalization he can bring to his life with money in the right places? Or maybe something else happened. He didn't just wake up one day and decide he was a bastard. And despite the brevity of that character's appearance (the younger one remember), I want to have plenty going on inwardly to back up every moment.

And I'll have to explore the whole gamut within just a few minutes. "Good Ebenezer" becomes "Mean Ebenezer" during a cross fade in the lights of a scene, indicating time passing. If I have those motivations in me, it will hopefully be more convincing when that change comes. (One other challenge; the "Good" version of him has no lines. It will all be through physical cues in his interaction with friends, and especially with his love, Belle. It will help that I have worked with the actress playing Belle before.) I have the chance for several potent moments with that actress and her character.

Tomorrow we review act one's blocking, with more emphasis on details and nuance of performances. Though I wouldn't dare put my book down yet, I am already about halfway towards being off book for the act. The deadline for that will be no problem for me. More of my lines, (and indeed some confusing ones) appear in the second half.

But that's the realm of the Ghost of Rehearsals Yet to Come.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Delayed Reaction

It's a bit silly, I know, but I am finally getting around to posting about the first full rehearsal for A Christmas Carol at the Full Circle Theater Company, which took place on Thursday. A couple of things, including my desire to write about the five year anniversary of the launch of this blog got in the way of a more timely post. But given that we have not had any further rehearsals since, playing catch up won't be too hard.

To start with, I don't recall a time in my community theatre career that I have begun one production so soon after concluding another, within the same venue. A Thurber Carnival was, in so many ways, such a trying experience that I have made an effort to put it behind me more completely than most shows once they have concluded. Yet to show up at the theatre a mere 72 hours after leaving the strike for Thurber made that somewhat more difficult.

It was a bit surreal. So recently had the theatre been dedicated to the madness that was Thurber, I still expected to see any given Thurber cast mate walk around any given corner. The Thurber set was minimal, so the stage appeared basically the same as it had been and I found myself once or twice moving back stage in anticipation of avoiding some of that show's furniture and props, which of course weren't there any longer. (Though we are using one of that show's benches in these rehearsals for a while.)

The only actual traces of the previous show were the party hats and bubbles from the atrocious opening dance number, stored on a nearby shelf, a cast strike assignment sheet that someone had not taken down, and one of the signs in the green room which gave the order of the Thurber skits. That's all. Well that, and memories of some of the stress and noise of the last show. Which made the first rehearsal for A Christmas Carol feel unusually quiet and subdued, despite the cast size being roughly the same.

I won't dwell on this transition issue too much longer, but I did want to mention it here because of the unique strangeness. Often when I return to a venue to be in a show, I am met with the ghosts of the last show I performed there, no matter how long ago it was. A cast invests so much time, energy, and thought into getting a show done that it leaves a stamp on the environment. (As does six weeks worth of props, personal trinkets, left over food containers, and trash from the various members that made the facility an evening home of sorts each night for several weeks.) The whole ghost experience took on a whole new feel stepping back into a venue so soon after strike.

But new it was, and I was there to start A Christmas Carol. Which we did. Most efficiently, (especially when compared to some of the Thurber rehearsals...) This version, as I have mentioned, is written by Michael Paller, and as such includes a prologue, and an opening scene in which Dickens himself and his friends are actual characters in Dickens' attic. They have gathered to perform the story themselves. It was this initial scene in the attic, which sets up the telling of the classic Christmas tale, which we blocked on Wednesday.

It has it's own set of ghosts attached to it, and I don't mean of Christmas Past. More of Shows Past. Given that I did this play in this same venue two years ago. (And I have never performed the same script twice, until now.) Plus I hear my previous character's lines being read during the scene, and they sound familiar to me, though I am not delivering them myself. But my current lines are also familiar, as I remember a friend of mine delivering them the first time. Thankfully, the room in which to work is not such a reminder of the past; we have more space available to us, both on stage and off stage, than we did for the 2008 version.

As I mentioned last week, I don't plan to get into the same sort of details as I blog about this production as I might for a show to which I was coming in cold. I hope to dedicate posts to the details which make this one different from the last one. And also to some aspects of performing this story that sometimes get missed when I blog.

Nor do I plan to spend much time comparing it to the last one. It is its own creature, despite there being some of the same cast mates involved. (None of whom are playing the same roles as before.)

I can say though that I have a bit more mental time/energy to dedicate to nuance this time around. We are not physically building the theatre this time as we rehearse, after all. So I will be researching into my base character a bit more, in hopes of finding some sort of detail or quirk that would be useful. I will also begin working on different voices for my four characters. Time to pay attention to public televisions Brit-coms again. (Which I often watch anyway.)

I also won't get bogged down in the play within a play aspect of this. Though the concept dictates that my character Frederick Dickens, will be himself portraying characters, I won't be trying to convey that. I will simply be portraying whatever character any given scene calls for, and committing to that totally. (Unless that doesn't fit with the overall vision this director has.) In other words, I will be Old Joe, not Frederick playing Old Joe. That is what I did the last time, and I see no reason to deviate from that.

The director will be out of town for about a week, and though rehearsals will be similar to those of Thurber, (Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for this show), we will not meet again until this coming Thursday. I'll have some extra time to go over lines, and ponder some of these details I mentioned. Such ponderings will of course go up here.

And so, the Christmas Creep begins, as does a whole new production.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Celebrating Five Years!

Five years! 508 entries. 12 or so productions of various lengths at six different venues. More than 20 individual roles. Who knows how many audience members. Not to mention scores of articles, stories, reviews, and random theatre related musings not pertaining directly to one of my shows. And the comments for the same.

And my loyal blog readers. I thank you all for being there through all of this. Even during the months sometimes when material was thin.  

So what can be said on this anniversary of the launch of this blog? It hasn't been earth changing, I know. It doesn't get thousands of hits a month, or even a year. And while I admit I would really like to get some more comments on my posts, I like to think that the adventures I have shared here have contributed at least a bit to someone's enjoyment or understanding of community theatre. I can't be sure that it has done so without feedback.  But I can hope.

Actually, I hope a lot of things about the last five years of Always Off Book. I do it because it means something to me personally, and I get satisfaction out of it, regardless of external outcome. Nevertheless, I do hope that it has accomplished certain things for others over the last five years. For example:

-I hope it has made clear that amateur productions do not always mean low quality anymore than professional theatre always equals great work. On that same page, I hope it has shown that an amateur actor, as my subtitle suggests, really doesn't have to have amateur thoughts about the world of acting. It comes from inside each individual performer.

-I hope that people read my sometimes technical but always truthful "sausage making" posts about how rehearsals for a production are going, and become more aware of all that goes into even a smaller stage production. And I hope that by knowing such, I have enriched the experience of going to see a live performance, even if it is not my own performance.

-I hope that by being frank about as many things as possible as I write here on the blog, I have gained the trust of my readers. That by now they can know whatever I post is sincere and frank.

-It is my hope that people have noticed I continue to come back to live theatre, despite being in some truly miserable shows with some truly lousy people sometimes.

-I hope that Always Off Book has succeeded, at least sometimes, in conveying to the reader a tiny portion of the exhilaration that can be felt by an actor when a play is going right

-I hope the advice I have given here, both in articles and through relaying my own rehearsal experiences has been of use to fellow actors out there in their own shows.

-I hope those that know nothing at all about being in a show have learned something useful about not just theatre, but about professionalism, passion, motivation, and quality in any aspect of life. Because though it is about my theatre adventures, a lot of what I talk about here is about putting my name onto something, and committing 100% to its excellence. You can do that whether in a show, or cooking a meal.

-I hope my minimalist, "content is king" approach appeals to those who actually want to take the time to read something in depth, instead of just skimming the surface of an issue, and playing with the bells and whistles of a website.

-Readers have laughed, been given pause, reconsidered a position, felt comforted, or just educated by my posts at some point I hope.

-But most of all, and I would think this is obvious, it is my sincerest hope that somewhere in these 508 entries, I have written something that has encouraged someone out there to either attend, or appear in community theatre for the very first time. Someone who otherwise might not have done so, because of fear, or misconceptions, or uncertainty as to what to expect. Someone who may have lacked the interest, or the confidence to try such a thing until they stumbled across Always Off Book and read about something that I have been through.

-And my "uber-hope", if you will, is related to the last one. It is my "uber-hope" that at least one person not only decided to try theatre for the first time based on something I have written here, but subsequently fell in love with it, and decided they want to dedicate passion, energy, and time to it for a long time to come. That the very act of reading one of these blog posts was the first step in an epiphany, like the one I had years ago. An epiphany that reveals to someone out there that despite what their career may be, there is a place, an important, rewarding, influential place for them in the world of live theatre. And that such a reader will, without shame, assume that place, and change their life, and the lives of others in the process.

And then one day that person will introduce the theatre to someone else who never thought theatre could be for them…

These are my hopes. This is my blog. I am Ty, an amateur actor sharing his not so amateur thoughts on the world of acting. I have been doing so for five years today. And I have no intention in the world of stopping anytime soon.               

Monday, October 04, 2010

"I Should Like to Get This Over With as Soon As Possible"

The title of this post is a line from A Thurber Carnival. It's not a big line, and it wasn't even my line. But I think it best sums up how I feel, and have felt, as I post this final entry about the play.

I didn't post anything about Saturday night's show. I'll say quickly that it went about as well as Friday went. Though not without mistakes, (from the usual suspects.) The fact of the matter is, the second weekend actually diminished in quality compared to most of the first. The laughter was about the same, but from a performance stand point, we did better on the whole during the first weekend.

So much like the previous night was Saturday that I don't really see the need to write about it in any great detail.

Today, on the other hand, being the closing day, warrants at least some commentary, both performance related, and as pertains to other things. I'll start with the actual performance.

There was an honest mistake during the much hated word dance. I'm not angry about it, because the person involved rarely makes mistakes, and her dedication to doing well was always obvious. I wasn't sure how to fix it though. But one of my friends and veteran stage actress simply jumped to the next sound cue line, thereby bringing the music change up, and leading us to where we needed to be. Not that that made the dance good. It sucked from day one, and 100% of the cast hated it from day one. The audience didn't get much out of it either, as usual. Though they got much more out of later segments.

It was not our largest crowd, but for some skits it was the most vocal and responsive. Especially during the skit involving a discussion of the play Macbeth. The didn't seem to be into Preble though. Which is sad because it remained, from start to finish both my favorite skit in the production as well as the smoothest and most well done. That one has been on autopilot for weeks, so well did it go. Though it didn't happen today, that one was always the source of my biggest laughs in all of the production. I will miss doing it the most of all five of my appearances.

Second place would be The Unicorn in the Garden. Short, sweet, and silly it too always went well. (Once the choreographer kept her nose out of things.) I had precious few lines, but always a big laugh line at the end. And I got to stretch my non-verbal acting muscles. I enjoyed and appreciated the chance to do that. My opposite and I played off of each other well. (Which we also got to do during Walter Mitty.)

If Grant Were Drunk at Appomattox didn't go smoothly of course, because the same problem guy was in it. I'll get to that later in the post. I wish more audiences would know the full story of that skit, because he doesn't deserve the laughs he always gets at the end. (While delivering his own doctored version of the closing line. He wasn't happy with the way it appeared in the script. Like much of that scene...) I'll miss that sketch the least, for obvious reasons.

The rest of my sketches went pretty much exactly as they always did. During the curtain call as we danced off stage in party hats and blowing noisemakers, I opted to yell "yeah!". Why? Because I could. Because it was all over. Because it accurately revealed how I felt about it being over. And because I wanted to own at least one moment in the run that was marked by my own little personal curve ball. So I did. Annoyed some people, but honestly, at that moment I didn't much care. I did it for me. (Unlike some, I did something just for me after the show was over, not in the middle of a scene.)

Yet it was a hallow victory for me. For the responsive crowd was too little, too late, in regards to making the final leg of this taxing, exhausting show 100% enjoyable. Which leads me to some final thoughts about both today, and in general, pertaining to non-performance issues.

To begin with, there was even more garbage to deal with from the same trouble maker that has been, quite frankly, a huge dead weight on this production from the beginning. I hadn't been at the theatre for ten minutes today before he was once again having words with the director. This time, it was about his refusing to help strike and clean up the venue after the show.

If you are reading this blog for the first time, or otherwise have no theatre knowledge, know that helping to tear down the set, put things away and cleanup the theatre after a show has closed is part of the gig. It is what actors who volunteer agree to do when they agree to take a part. Refusing to do it is basically like rehearsing for weeks, and the simply refusing to show up on opening night. It's not done. Period.

I could just ignore this. Maybe. Just as I could have just ignored all of the terrible things this man did throughout this already difficult production. I didn't ignore him in person two weeks ago, because I think he was being unfair to everyone around him, myself included. (And especially to our technical crew.) I have managed to ignore him both in person and on this blog since then. But now that the play is over, and in light of today's antics, I have opted to mention more of my assessment of him and his effect on the play.

I do this not as a personal vendetta, or to stroke my own ego. I have plenty of other outlets for that, if I ever need them. But I opt to go into this here for two reasons. First, because of the promise I make to my blog readers to always be as honest as I can about my theatre experiences, without being indiscreet. Second, because once again his actions and comments towards other members of this production were totally without merit. I'd rather look like an ass on a rant for a few minutes in defense of misjudged people then look like a quiet, contemplative professional and say nothing about the major insults he has perpetrated on those that don't deserve them. Judge me as you will, but enough is enough.

Late Saturday night, our stage manager sent out an email with strike assignments. Anyone reading their email in the morning would have seen it. And it is not unusual. Some stage managers don't even give strike assignments until you get to the theatre on the final day. In response this morning, this guy had sent an email to  cast and crew. Naturally, I refused to open it, given that I haven't wanted anything to do with him since early tech week. (As our blog oft hath shown...) But when I heard him making his pitiful excuse today to the director, (who was angered enough by it to yell at him), I eventually went back and read his email. More on that later.

He told the director, (in plain sight of everyone else gathered) that because this was his first appearance at Full Circle Theatre company, he had no reason to expect that strike and clean-up would take place right after the final show. So he had made other plans.

You can add "liar" to the list of adjectives I already apply to this man, as far as I am concerned. Because anybody who does community theatre (especially someone like him who claims to have done it for decades) knows full and damn well that strike and clean up is always right after the final performance. I didn't believe for a minute that he was unaware of this fact. I think it was yet another way for this wretched man-baby to avoid doing anything he didn't want to do, and to stick it to anybody who insisted otherwise.

The director seemed to feel the same way, but being too busy with other things to put up with even more of his sniveling, she basically told him to go away. (After pointing out to him that all theatres strike after the last performance.)

And then he proceeded to be terrible while on stage, as usual. Blowing lines, late entrances, and just overall sloppiness of presence. (Most of which I had to cover for, of course, since I am in all but one of his scenes.) Loyal blog readers know I forgive mistakes made by hard working people. (As in the dance today, mentioned above.) I do not forgive mistakes made by the arrogant and/or lazy.

The show had enough difficulties without being saddled with the laziest, most inconsiderate, dishonest and down right mean spirited talentless hack with whom I have ever had the displeasure of appearing on stage. Being a lackluster actor is one thing. Having a bad day and flipping out once in a while is one thing. Being a tiny bit of a diva even is one thing. But to be so unconcerned with the welfare of either fellow actors, the director, the stage crew or anyone at all but himself is something else. Especially when the guilty party has zero stage talent to balance things out.

I read his excuse email after I got home from strike and the so called  "cast party". I replied to him with the only words I have sent in his direction for two weeks, and hopefully the last I will ever send to this bum. I told him that I smelled BS, and clicked "send." Enough is enough.

I'll read nothing from him that comes back, if anything does. I'll certainly not work with him ever again. As in I will write his name on any audition application in any local theatre I'll try out for to make sure it doesn't happen. In my ten years as an actor, that is a first.

His presence, especially in the last two weeks, without a doubt put a huge damper on this show. Others are more tolerant in person than I, and can engage cordially with such folk. But my suspicion is that nobody really wanted him around. That nobody enjoyed him.

Not that he was the only thing with which people were unhappy. I am sad to report that there really was no cast party even for those who remained. People did their strike duties as quickly as they could, and were quite literally out the door. Which continues the pattern. This is one of the few shows I have been in wherein there was not a single night of drinking, eating, or otherwise socializing after any of the performances, opting instead to leave the premises post haste. Schedules certainly may have played a part, as may have the personalities involved. But I have to believe that at least part of it had something to do with an innate desire to see the back of this experience. To "get this over with as soon as possible." At least in regards to the cast party.

It's sad, in a way. But not really a surprise. Assuming that most of these people would have stuck around had all things been equal, I can see why so many of them just wanted to be gone today. It was a very stressful, exhausting, and in some ways depressing production. One that was survived as opposed to enjoyed. And though I may have been the most vocal, some brief comments from others today did indicate that I was not the only one who had grown weary of certain actions, certain problems, and certainly certain people throughout the last seven weeks.

I stayed for a while. There was some food, and I was hungry. I did want to thank the director for casting me, and be present for the presentation of the gift. And for the free glass of champagne. I wished it had all gone better for the director, and indeed for all of us. But like me, the director is jumping right into another show after this. (As director she had her first rehearsal of her new show this very night.) May that show go more smoothly for her than this one did.

In the end, I met some nice new people during this show. People with whom I would like to work again. And I also learned a few things about myself, and what my limits are. Here and there, I even got to explore some new non-verbal acting skills. (See: Unicorn.) So I can't say I got nothing out of the experience. But I can say that I didn't get quite enough out of the actual performing to make the bad worth going through. I am glad I continued to perform at such a high level despite the stress factors. But now I just want to put this one behind me and move on rather quickly. May the next time I encounter those that I like from this show be far more conducive to producing a high quality and fun show.

It is over. On to A Christmas Carol.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Second Friday

The short version is, I think both Sunday's matinee last week, as well as the pick up rehearsal went better this this performance. No, we did not crash and burn, but I personally had to ad-lib my way out of several mistakes that were made else where on stage during two of my sketches, and the audience of about 15 did was not particularly responsive. It had its moments, but not even Preble got them chuckling much, and that has always been my best and favorite scene.

A Thurber Carnival continues to be a weird experience for me. Thank heavens the major stresses of bad rehearsals and dancing issue are behind us, but a detachmernt remains. Not from my commitment to do my best. That is always there. But from the potential emotional attachment to the outcome. One should never beat ones self up over the ups and down of a given evening's audience, but the crowd is feeling distant from me in this show. Almost as though they happened to walk into a rehearsal, as opposed to having paid for a performance.

Is it the stress that led into the performances? The smallness of the crowds? The relative obscurity of the piece, (by modern standards)? Some X Factor? If I knew for certain, dear blog reader's I should not have to pose the questions here on the blog. But as I am doing so, it should be clear to you all that I haven't put my finger on it yet, and with only two performances left, I doubt I will before it is all over. Perhaps not even then.

Other than some of the flubs by others during two of my skits, the performance did not stand out as being that different than most of the other three so far. Now that I think of it, that may be part of the oddity; each performance simply feels like the last one. Consistency is good, but stagnation, (for lack fo a better term) isn't.

It's not from want of trying. We were told by the director to make sure to "have fun" with each other more during the opening dance last night. And we did, to the best of our ability. As far as that goes, the dance does continue to get a little better, compared to our final rehearsals of same, but we still lack sparkle during it. Noble efforts, but the material, and, let's face it, the choreography doesn't help. And time was never really on our side. The best we can do is allow ourselves to have some silly fun with it, and hope for the best. (As in most cases the audience has not seemed to get much from it.)

Both audiences and casts tend to be more relaxed on Saturday nights than on Friday nights. And second Saturdays tend to be more relaxed than first Saturdays for those in a show. Perhaps that will lead to something different tonight. But as far as last night, I just don't have that much to describe that would be of particular interest.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Ends of the Spectrum

As mentioned, Thursday night was both a read through of my next show, (A Christmas Carol) and a pick-up rehearsal for my current show. (A Thurber Carnival.) Both went well, though I missed half of the latter.

Not much can be said for the read-through at this point. The material is so familiar, and in one script or another I have portrayed many of those characters before, so there isn't a steep learning curve. Don't misunderstand, I will take these roles as seriously as I have taken any other, but there is a higher degree of instant comfort and familiarity with the script than there is during most initial read-throughs.

And the truth is the lion's share of my attention still belongs to the Thurber show at this time. Despite it feeling otherwise, this production is only half way over. Three more paying audiences remain, and they deserve our best as well.

Which brings up another point. The sense of time for this show has been quite skewed. I think it is because schedules were so poor at the start of the process, and then the added stresses of the dance problems and the other personnel issues, especially during a very long, chaotic tech week. It really made the first weekend seem like the only weekend. As though Sunday were the natural conclusion to the entire production. I guess starting my next play already didn't help matters either.

I know that the three days between the first matinee and the pick-up last night felt more like a week or more. Almost as though this weekend were mere an encore presentation after some time off. I can't say I have ever had this experience with a show before. I probably won't know for certain the reasons. But oh well. The fact remains that we have three more shows, and we had a very much needed pick-up last night.

Which went well. It wasn't full performance strength, and there were some line flubs. But I myself seem to still be in pretty good shape. One thing we all noticed is that in the more relaxed atmosphere of a pick-up, we were enjoying the show, and each other, more than we had been. And in some cases that improved the product. Can we manage to recapture that sense of relaxed enjoyment this weekend? I hope we can.