Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Actor's Auld Lang Syne: 2010 Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 20, 2010

Showbiz Radio Post for December 15, 2010

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

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

Friday, December 10, 2010

A New (Yet Unwritten?) Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 06, 2010

"The End Of It"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Winding Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Crossing the Median

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Pick Me Up, Before You Go-Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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