Thursday, December 22, 2011

If Money Were No Object

I don't do this often, but this is a cross post with my other blog, Too XYZ. Over there I am taking part in what is called Reverb, wherein bloggers are a sent an email each day in December containing a prompt for that day's blog post. Today's prompt lent itself well to Always Off Book, so I wanted to post it here also.

Follow this link to read it, as I don't think cutting and pasting the whole thing here would make a lot of sense. (Plus Blogger tends to get cranky when I try to do that for some reason.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Amanda's Theatre Joy

On my other blog, I have been participating in an event called "Reverb11". You can go to Too XYZ to get a better idea of what it is, but in short, bloggers from all over the world follow prompts for each day in December, and blog based on same. The point is to become more introspective as 2011 comes to a close.

I hope you will read my posts over there for Reverb11 as well as those of other people. Yet today I ran across a post for Reverb that I think fits in so nicely with not only the subject but the message of Always Off Book, that I just had to share it with you here, loyal blog readers.

Today's reverb prompt was about describing a moment of "pure, unadulterated joy" from this year. The originator of the prompt, Amanda, writes about how she was struck by such a moment a few weeks ago as she was taking part in her publicity duties for a theatre company.

She goes on to talk about how much the company, and theatre in general has meant to her over the last 15 years. It is this type of company, and this type of actor and theatre board member that I love to encounter, and with whom I long to work whenever possible.

It is an excellent piece, both for reverb, and for theatre lovers like myself, and many of you. Go there, read, and do leave a comment!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A Kiss is Still (Someone Elses) Kiss

My most enduring blog post ever, on stage kissing, continues to recieve questions and comments on a regular basis. In fact, it received two just this week.

One of them was unique, however. I got a question from soneone on the other side of the kissing situation; I heard from the partner of an actress that will have to kiss someone on stage in the near future. I have never been approached by someone from this angle of the issues before. I thought it deserved its own post. Here are the comments:

My girlfriend is acting in a play that calls for a wedding scene kiss. I've never been involved in theatre and the thought of her having to do romantic scenes did not bother me until she was actually cast in one. I understand that it is a portrayal of her character's emotions and not her own. She is very trustworthy and I know she doesn't have feelings for the other guy. I'm just having a hard time with the fact that it is still a real kiss, and I can't help but feel like I am sharing her with someone else. This probably sounds lame to experienced actors, but I have never dealt with this kind of thing before and I just haven't been able to feel secure about it. She plans to pursue acting as a career and I plan on staying with her, so I need to figure it out somehow, since there will probably be more intense romance roles in the future. I am sure this is a problem with many actors' dating partners/spouses who are not in theatre.
If you have any advice I would really appreciate it, maybe you know an actor with a partner who has gotten over issues with this. Her play opens in two days and I'm kind of freaking out about how I will react. I'm doing alright knowing she is kissing in rehearsals but I don't know what to expect when I actually see it happen. This is the best role she has ever gotten and I need to be supportive.

To begin with, I am naming this anonymous poster, "Pat", because it will be easier to use a name when referencing.

So I will say to Pat that you have the makings of the correct attitide. You do want to be supportive of your girlfriend as she pursues acting. And you do not want to limit her future roles by insisting she not kiss anyone, or by making her uncomfortable with doing so. I have worked with married actresses who insist on kising only their husbands, and scenes have to be rewritten, and it is just akward and time consuming. Fight this urge. She will not appear artistic or professional if she has that albatross around her neck. But you seem already to know this. Go with that feeling.

I also advise you against meeting the scene partner. This is also a very common practice in theatres in which I have worked, but it smacks of insecurity and domination. Don't feel you have the right to meet, talk with, or have dinner with whoever this, or her future scene partners will be just because intimacy will be portrayed in the scene. Your girlfriend has the right to create her art and do her work without the uncomfortable notion of you getting to invade that time and space. And even if she doesn't care, the person playing the partner may. This too is a large temptation. Resist it. It reeks of disrespect and you are better than that, I sense it.

I don't want to get too spiritual with you, Pat, but the idea of "sharing her with someone else" may be part of your issue. Do you love her because of the fact your lips touch hers? Or do you love who she is, what she believes and what she helps you to become? Because if it is the former, you may not ever feel okay with this. But if it is the latter, and I suspect that it is, you already know that nothing about her is being lost to someone else. Not that you own her, but she isn't giving herself away either.

You must remember what she gives to people when she performs, and how it makes her feel when she does so. The art that comes about. I would imagine that is a big part of what she means to you. Don't take the brush away from the painter, Pat. Because even if you say nothing, she will sense how much you don't like her stage kissing. That will make her feel guilty and you don't want that, I know. So the only solution is to change how you feel about this on the inside.

Yes, I imagine it can be somewhat difficult for a non-actor to get a hold on some of these things. But in the end, they are not impossible. In every love, there are things about the other person we may never understand. So take it from me, an actor of 11 years and counting; this is your girlfriend's way of creating and sharing something beautiful with the world. Be no more worried than you would be if she were a lawyer defending a sexy client, or a doctor treating a handome patient. In both cases a person must spend a great deal of time with someone, both are entitled to 100% privacy in their meetings, and both require intimate conversation, and in the case of the doctor, touching. I don't believe you would feel upset by these actions. Don't let the fact that sometimes her lips are involved in her work change that. They are only lips, after all. Acting, however, would appear to be her calling.

This play is coming fast, Pat. You may not be able to make the turn around in what short time you have left. Still consider what I say here. And yes, until you have a stronger hold on what all of this means, try to keep your worries to yourself. Your girlfriend needs you as she enters into the opening of the play. It is a draining, but rewarding process when it works, and it would be tainted a bit if she could sense your concerns. If you think it would help, don't go see the play. (It is not as horrible as it sounds, I know spouses who can't watch for any number of reasons.) Though if you do choose to go, see it as someone you love creating something they love. Not as your girlfriend sharing her lips with someone else in front of an audience.

I wish both you, and her, well with this opening. I hope my words have in some way helped you with your difficulties.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas with Hamlet?

"Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Savior's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is the time."

                              --Marcellus, Hamlet. Act One Scene 1

An obscure (and often cut) indirect reference to Christmas time in Hamlet. I always thought it was a bit odd to have in there. And while I don't know if what Marcellus says is true or not, I do know that as we enter the Christmas season, I am reminded of Hamlet, along with a few other of Shakespeare's plays.

I have read Hamlet  in its entirety eight times. (Though not for several years, sadly.) And most of these readings were during the Christmas season.

I really have no idea why I have read Hamlet at Christmas time so often. I speculate it had a lot to do with the fact that initially, when I was in school, I had more time to sit down and just enjoy the play, as I was on a long vacation during the holiday season. Then after the first few times, it became a quasi-tradition. (Which as I mentioned, I have not kept up in recent years.)

When it wasn't Hamlet, I would sometimes read a few of the other plays. Probably because I would often get a copy of any given play as a present at Christmas, and would then read large chunks of it during the holiday. Or otherwise receive movie versions of same, and watch them.

Yet it applies mostly to Hamlet, which clearly does not take place at Christmas. However,  I always saw it taking place in the cold, dark, candle lit corridors of Elsinore, where the very cold air bites shrewdly. Most of the events take place within the castle walls, providing a bit of a claustrophobic sense. At least it could be seen like that. And this image lends itself well with staying inside, out of the night and the cold and the wind, and, by tradition back then, spirits and demons and of course...ghosts. (Though of course in this case, Hamlet opts not to avoid a very particular ghost.) When viewed in this fashion on the stage in my mind, it does have a sort of Winter Solstice atmosphere to it, in a way. At least as far as the environment and the supernatural. Perhaps that also contributes to my tendency to think of the play when I think of the holidays.

It is quite possible, however, that like so many mental associations that accumulate within our distracted globes, there is no cogent explanation for it. Perhaps in the apartment building within my mind, the Hamlet (and other Shakespearean) stuff just happen to have taken up residence down the hall from some of my Christmas thoughts, and the inhabitants of both have mingled over the years. At parties or tenants meetings or some such. (I won't beat the metaphor into oblivion. You get the idea.)

It has been a disconcerting and disorienting last few weeks for me, loyal blog readers. I don't know If I will have the time to dedicate to reading the entire play before the end of the season this year. Perhaps I will try. Or perhaps I will read highlights. But in any event, there will always be that small part of my mind that thinks of the Prince of Denmark during the birth season of the Prince of Peace.

Monday, November 14, 2011

WFCT: Signing Off

The show is closed. And as is the case nine times out of ten on this blog, I didn' cover the Saturday performance the night that it happened, meaning that I need to cover two shows with one entry.

Not that it should take long. I think that by now loyal blog readers have understood how this show was trending. I will say that both performances were acceptable overall, though there were places in each that I think got sloppy and could have been improved upon. Maybe if we had been doing it for two weeks it would have been, I'll never know.

As for which night was best, that is a matter of perspective. Saturday night was the slightly bigger crowd, and I think the performances were a bit more disciplined and on target. I think the energy was higher on Saturday night as well. According to my self assessment it was also the night I feel I gave my best performance of both the background stuff as well as the actual readings of which I was a part.

But Saturday's audience was not quite as responsive as the one on Sunday. For that reason, I was in the minority in my evaluation of the weekend, as most of my cast mates felt that the smaller, more rowdy, but more vocal Sunday audience,represented the best of the run. Especially true, once the laughs started to come from the actors milking things that, in my view, should not have been milked. I never did think that the cheap laugh was something to consider a reward for a job well done. If it were the cheap laugh that was all that mattered, I submit rehearsing would be necessary. We could have just read the script cold for the first time opening night, and which the crowd guffaw and our stumbling.

A few cast mates at intermission expressed to me that they felt the people were supposed to laugh at the dramas, (which they did, especially on Sunday night) because they were designed to be campy and ridiculous. I expressed disagreement with that sentiment, as I feel the dramas are only campy in retrospect, looking at them over 70 years of changing tastes. But at the time they were written, they were probably in most cases quite dramatic. When played correctly.

Now, I agree that a show could be conceived wherein the actor were exploiting over-the-top campiness as related to the 1930's radio style, and such. Yet this production was not presented as a parody of the 1930's. It was presented as a nostalgic look at same, and as such, I really would have preferred that the dramas be played straight. But then again, I have always felt that going for the cheap laugh weakens any comedy, even if the laugh is received. It has never been just about getting a response to me. Even when I am in a comedy. But certainly not a drama.

Nevertheless I remain proud overall of my performance in this production. I remained articulate and paced in my line delivery. Expressive even if not manic. I proceeded from day one with the notion that people who would only be able to hear me, and not see me, would still get 100% of my characters. (This was after all a radio play.) I think I gave them that in the end.

I succeeded at feeling less light headed during my performances in Act Two over the final two shows. I shifted around the mike on purpose while I was performing, instead of standing there as stiffly. I was less tense. I was in less of a hurry to switch characters after the first, opting instead to casually go back to the booth and get my between-shows drink. I think it helped.

This experience has been an interesting one. I was drafted into it, rehearsed it a handful of times for a few weeks, then everyday for a week. Only one rehearsal wherein all of the elements were in place. It all moved so fast, given the non-traditional nature of it. In the coming days I think I will look back and feel almost as if it never happened. Like a dream one has of doing something familiar.

Not that the experience was in any was surreal, but just that the normal deep emotional investment wasn't their do to the brevity and the format, and ergo the impact was different. I even opted out of going to dinner after strike with some of the members of the cast. I almost always go to such things, but I just didn't feel it last night.

I am not sorry I did this show, but it did come at a very busy time for me, and proceeded to unfold in a rather hectic manner. For those reasons, as much as I enjoyed certain aspects of the show on the day, I am somewhat relieved that it is concluded.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

WFCT Goes on the Air

Of course, last night was opening night for Hour of Nostalgia: An Old Time Radio Show.

It went all right, by and large. There were numerous technical issues to contend with, but the performances seemed to go well. I am satisfied with my own appearances. Though doing two consecutive skits with no break, at the energy level I am using left me more drained than I anticipated. In fact after the first skit I was ever so slightly light headed. I think there could be a few explanations for that.

To begin with, the first skit ends with me screaming. So that's intense and requires a lot of energy. But everything before that involved portraying an increasingly unnerved person. So that is intense as well.

Secondly, I have at most 60 seconds to break in between skits. In that time I make my way back to my seat, grab a drink of water to prepare my through for the next skit, grab the script for same, and sit down, for a few brief seconds, to collect myself, before jumping right back into reading. Reading the lead for the second longest script of the evening.

Perhaps I am breathing to quickly? I don't know. I will try to pace myself a bit tonight. What little of that I can do, anyway. It may also help, at least in the first skit, to move around a bit more. Not all over the place of course, but the mike I use in the first one is fragile, and tends to move when I step near it due to a warped portion of the stage on which it sits. So my inclination is to stay still. But I think that causes tension. Plus, the mike wasn't working properly last night. It only picked up sound if one spoke into the side of it, and not the front.

Act One went well for me, though of course I am mostly silent during same. But being in that stage manager character up in the "booth" is fun.I wasn't as deeply into him as early as I wanted to be, but nonetheless I think he started to emerge more fully later on.

As for the audience, I am not certain about numbers. It seemed like about 25 of the 100 seats were filled, but it may have been more. It's hard to tell sometimes, and I didn't count. They laughed at a few places...mainly those in the dramatic plays that were played up to be funny, though not intended to be so. As for the actual jokes, there were a few chuckles here and there, but not a whole lot. We didn't flop. but we didn't have them rolling either.

Despite the small, quietish audience and the technical troubles, most people in the cast seemed to have fun. That of course is important as well. As for me personally, I enjoyed certain moments more than others, but consider the night as a whole enjoyable. I am hoping tonight is better, though. Maybe I can add a few things here and there. We will see.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Standby to Air...

Our final rehearsal for "An Hour of Nostalgia" was last night. And how do I feel about it?

Though it doesn't much matter how I feel, or really how it went, since it is over, the show opens tonight, and it is what it is at this point by and large, I will say that our last rehearsal went all right. Not great, but okay.

It was honestly still far too loose for me. It technically still wasn't a start to finish run of the show, as there were a few interruptions. Not as many as the previous night, but still too many for my liking for a last rehearsal. In addition to that, the sound cues were still problematic, and timing was off in places with them. Plus, this still elicited laughter from the cast, and commentary as to the nature of the gaffes. With all respect to my cast mates,   that should have not been happening at all last night. It is a bit frustrating to have to deal with the gaffes, and the jokes about the gaffes while I am waiting to deliver my next line on the last day I will have a chance to practice same.

Some of that may have been due to the director telling us all to look at each other and feel free to laugh if any mistakes are made. I personally think this ruins any dramatic tension that we need to build for the dramatic plays, and I am a little afraid that the entire thing could, if we are not careful, devolve into a slapstick parody of old time radio, instead of an actual presentation of same. I have no say over how others choose to react, but I myself have no intention of playing up mistakes for laughs in front of the audience.

All of that said, most of the actual performing went well. I finally seem to have the opening down correctly. The director complimented me on always being in character as the stage manager, even when I am just up in the booth. That is an excellent indicator of me doing my job, so I am satisfied to know that.

As for the radio skits themselves, several people mentioned after practice that the thought The Cask of Amontillado went better than it has ever gone. I don't recall doing anything different personally, but it is nice to know that it sounds that good. I still don't enjoy doing that one very much, but if the audience enjoys it as much as the cast did last night, it will be acceptable.

With the exception of a few sound cues that have to be corrected, John Wiffle Concentrates, the comedy/fantasy that I appear in near the end of the production was smooth. I have mentioned before that that is my favorite of the four skits we are doing, regardless of the fact that I am in it. It's goofy, upbeat, and lends itself to high energy from it's performers. My only regret is that it comes immediately after the Cask, and I therefore am constantly performing for about 35 minutes total. (That is more tiring when it is all voice work, than it would be in a standard show, I am thinking.)

One of the cast members said he had several friends coming to tonight's, but beyond that, I have no idea what to expect from any of the nights. (We only run for one weekend.) In either case, I am ready to get on with performing this one.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Start to Finish...Almost

So we ran the entire show last night. The plan was to do so without interruption for the first time. Yet too many things remained unclear for that to be possible. Several stops in the action were in fact needed to clarify some things. (I myself needed to do it at the very beginning, as I still didn't have the opening correct. I believe I do now, however.) There were also sound cue issues and a few other things that required repeating sections of scenes after all.

Yet we did go through everything, in costume, on the stage. (Except for the singing, because the singer was not there, though the "band" did play the instrumentals of each song.) Plays themselves take up about an hour and 20 minutes total, with a 15 minute intermission. With the songs added the show will run about an hour and a half or so. I know it seems much longer than that when we perform it, but that could be because I hardly appear in Act One. Act Two is much faster than Act One is, though.

The rehearsal itself was still rough in places, especially, as I said, in regards to sound cues. Performances themselves are rather sharp at this point, I think, but they can be easily thrown off by a jumped, missed, or mistaken sound cue. I would have preferred to have had more than two separate rehearsals working on such technical aspects for that reason. Yet it is what it is now.

I did hit a bit of a stride with my background performing last night in Act One. (During which I am the mostly silent stage manager.) I have a quasi-system in regards to pushing buttons on the fake control board which, though in all likelihood technically nonsensical does provide a consistent performance. If I may say so myself. In the very least I feel that I appear to be responding to what is happening on stage when I flip buttons and such.

The cigarette smoking has also become quite natural at this point. And it goes well with the outfit I am wearing. (White shirt, black pants, bow tie, shoes and suspenders.) The stage manager is a laid back sort for the most part. I have rather enjoyed creating and portraying him. I hope to add a little more depth and nuance tonight, and if not night, during the performances. Sometimes the little things don't show up until one is actually in front of the audience. The subtleties that make an already good performance even deeper. It is the sort of thing on which I pride myself when I can pull it off. To be honest, I don't think this guy needs that much more. I think I already establish rather nicely what he is doing, and the attitude with which he does it. Yet if I can come up with just one more little brush stroke, I will be all the more satisfied. I will think on it.

Some anachronisms which I find a bit jarring in places have made their way into the production. Especially considering that I was asked to not use my binder for my script due to it not being period. If the entire shoe were to have remained period, I wouldn't have minded as much. But when modern piano music and other contemporary references are slipped in, I feel a binder would not have been too much of a jump to make. Certainly no more distracting than some of the other modern concessions. Not that it ruins the entire show or anything. Just a personal preference on my own part.

The Edgar Allen Poe story felt better to me last night, though the director thinks it needs to slow down quite a bit. I suppose I and the others in it will make that effort tonight.

The comedy/fantasy, sadly, was interrupted more than once to fix things. That is the one skit that I was most looking forward to doing from start to finish, because I think that one relies to a great degree on the momentum of the performances. (Mine in particular, only because I have the largest role.) Hopefully tonight it will happen without interruption, but I am prepared for the possibility of course that it will not.

One rehearsal remaining.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

"Sink or Swim"

These are the words the director used at the end of rehearsal last night. It is how she summed up our current status and what we need to accomplish for the remainder of the week. I would agree with the assessment. We are falling a bit behind at the moment.

This week's rehearsals have been rough, I won't sugar coat that. It is very difficult to run tech week rehearsals when nearly all of your tech crew is absent. The light and sound guy up in the booth was not available, and neither were the drummer, the pianist, and the singer. Each of those positions is crucial to the timing of what we will be doing, and at this point we have yet to practice the show with all of those individuals in place. Nor will all of them be there tonight. (Wednesday.) So trying to time cues, lines and my own fake duties as the stage manager character have been a rather confusing endeavor this week. Needless to say, I would have much preferred more than a single rehearsal with all of the elements in place. But I won't get one, and of course, neither will the rest of the cast, so at least it is even.

Last night we ran the very top of the show first, wherein everyone makes their first entrance. Then we spent the rest of the evening running Act Two. (Wherein I play a lead in both skits.) As with the previous rehearsal, it was stop and go. Yet the second act is so much shorter than the first that rehearsal last just over an hour. I thought at first we would be going back to run the entire act once more, but we did not do so.

I appear first in a drama, than in a comedy/fantasy. I have mentioned before that the comedy/fantasy is the skit I most enjoy being in. The drama, "The Cask of Montillado", based on an Edgar Allen Poe story, is a bit of a drag to me. I don't like the pacing, the writing, or the characters. I suspect this is due to the fact that unlike the other plays, which were created specifically for the radio back in the day, this play is an adaptation of a work not intended for the radio. As such it feels very forced and unsatisfying. There is absolutely no plot to it. It simply begins, and all of a sudden, it ends.

My biggest problem though is that twice I must refer to everyone acting "gay". Given that this is an adaptation, and not a straight reading of Poe's story, I wish we would could just change the word. That context of the term is now archaic, and people laugh every time I get to the line. As will members of the audience no doubt. It's not a laugh worth giving them, either. Especially in the midst of a drama.

Which brings up another quick point; a lot of people in the cast feel that anything we do in any part of the show is acceptable, including screwing up badly, so long as the audience laughs. I am inclined to disagree with this sentiment. There should be funny moments within the skits, but the production as a whole isn't slapstick. And even if it were, excusing any decision on the basis that someone might laugh has never been my approach to comedy in any play. Yet especially not the dramatic moments in this one.

As for the actual rehearsing, The Cask of Amontillado went well, for what it is. Most of the problems related to sound cues for the foley guy. (The one who creates live sound effects, as opposed to them being played digitally from the booth.) I think this skit has more sounds effects in rapid succession than any of the others, so it requires some doing. When the foley technician has his partner back for opening night it should be easier for some of those sounds to be made on time, I would say.

The comedy/fantasy, John Whiffle Concentrates went on with few hitches. We did have to stop and start a few times for director notes, but most of the sound effects are from the booth on that one, and the booth was empty last night. So we just kept going. As I have said, I feel most comfortable with this skit, and have the most fun with it, despite it being a bit too long for what it is trying to do. It lends itself to high energy more than the Poe story, that is for sure. Though it does present one formidable challenge that is unique within the show.

There are a series of six lines, to be spoken by "bystanders" in the story, which the director wants members of our audience to deliver as part of the play. The nature of how to select these audience members each night, how to get them in place to deliver the lines, and how to cue them as to when to do so remains up in the air. At first the plan was to have the actors step aside from the three microphones, and have the "announcer" bring the pre-selected people up on stage at the appropriate time, and then guide them off stage back to their seats for the remainder of the skit. It was decided however that this would be much too problematic.

The suggestion was made to have the audience members deliver the lines from their seats during the production. Physically easier, but logistically problems still remain. Such as when and how to cue each audience member to say their line. How to get them the line in the first place. Raising the lights in the house, normally dark, so the audience members can read said line. (They of course will not have a full script, and hence won't know when to deliver their lines.)

Then of course there is the idea of selecting the people in the first place. It looks like the "announcer" will be doing that either before the show starts in the lobby, or during intermission. My one contribution to this conversation was to give the entire process plenty of time, in case people don't want to do it when selected. This I think is a real possibility, as I find that traditional audiences often do not feel comfortable being a part of a show they have come, and paid, to see. Some will of course be willing, yet we should be prepared for the likelihood that they will not be.

One of the performers proposed that the three actors not currently in the scene be the ones that deliver these lines. I agreed with the suggestion, but it received no response from anyone else. So we will have two days to work out how to get these three audience members into the scene. Which is tricky, because it cannot be rehearsed, as the audience isn't going to be there for any of the rehearsals. Again, sink or swim. There is much work to do.

The plan tonight and tomorrow night, (Wednesday and Thursday) is to do full dress, and run the entire show, top to bottom, without interruption for the first time. It hasn't been timed yet, and the actors have not yet had a chance to experience the normal pacing of the scenes and transitions. It will have to be done without the crucial musical interludes at this point, but hopefully we can approximate their duration when the time comes. I admit that I am still not certain when all of them occur. It will be an intense two evening leading into opening night. But also hopefully a productive two evenings as well.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

"On the Air"...Tech Week Begins

Last night was the first night of tech week for An Evening of Nostalgia. We only went through Act One. And that was probably as much as we could handle at the time.

There are still many things which need to be ironed out before Friday. Sounds effects and music remain at this time a bit confusing and difficult to pin down. It will not be made easier by the fact that last night was the only time until Thursday that all relevant people will be present for rehearsals. Tonight, the pianist will be absent, and tomorrow the singer will not be able to attend. There are a lot of moving parts to this show now, and I will confess to being somewhat nervous as to putting them all together in just a few days, especially when so many people will have to be missing.

I also confess to being a bit unclear on my responsibilities for the first scene, wherein we open the radio "station". Things had to be changed so many times, that I am uncertain of which version we decided on last night. We won't run the opening again until tomorrow, though, and I don't want to hold up tonight's rehearsal with questions about something we are not working on. So I will do so tomorrow.

We also got another foley sound effects person last night. It just happens to be a friend of mine with whom I have worked before.

I have almost no lines in Act One. Just a bit role in the second skit. So most of my time is spent being the stage manager up in the "booth". That was made easier last night with the addition of an electronic control panel. (Not plugged in, of course.) It gives me something to do during that hour or so when I am not doing anything else. I will fool with buttons here and there, and have already developed a faux system for when to adjust which though what is happening at the microphones is determining what I do. That adds something to the character I think.

So does the cigarette. I had fun messing around with that, pretending to smoke the whole time. I even have a light that I used to pretend to light the smoke a few times. Astute people will note that no smoke is coming from it, and that it doesn't burn down during the evening, yes. But if my cigarette is the center of attention, something has gone seriously wrong with the show as a whole.

I also washed one of the provided glasses and had some water pre-set up in the stage manager's booth.

There was much stopping and starting last night, so the show wasn't on constantly, but I tried to keep some degree of character even during the stops. I don't have as much to do now as previously envisioned, as I will no longer be giving cues of any kind as the stage manager. So I see the guy as a technical wizard who has some vocal talents and is required to stand in once in a while when other people cannot do the show. A good natured, slightly mischievous guy who enjoys what he does. Casual but professional. Again, I shouldn't be the center of attention during Act One, but when people do look to where I am, that is the sort of persona I want to convey.

It is always a bit of a challenge to play a character who later plays another character. I have done this a few times in my career, and I think the key is to just vanish into the second character when it is time. Trying to perform as the stage manager who in turn is performing as the character in the radio skit provides too many layers anyway. If the script called for the stage manager to be an especially bad actor that may be an exception. Yet no such requirement exists here, and therefore I will most likely simply delve totally into the characters I play in the skits when the time comes, just as if that were the only character I was playing. Then slip back into the stage manager in some subtle way between the skits, and at the end of the show.
Not that I will have much time to cultivate it tonight, for as I said, we will run Act Two, and I have no chance to be up in the booth for Act Two, given that I am a lead in both of the plays.

Things certainly need to be tighter than they are right now overall. And they can be. There is no reason to assume they will not be. But there is a very large amount of work to be done in a very small window of time.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Talk It Through and Smile

Last night's rehearsal was just a reading. I know that sounds ironic given that the entire show is just a reading. Yet we were not on stage or on the mikes tonight. We were in the green room reading in a more casual atmosphere. (Though we were one person short. One of the actresses is sick.) We only did three out of the four skits though, and only one of my big ones. The dramatic one.

I think in some weird way it was easier for people to personalize their line deliveries in the green room than it is on the stage. Myself included, at least for the dramatic skit. Doing this in front of mikes is a weird middle ground. Not quite open and free enough to allow for the comforts of a standard performance, yet not quite as casual as simply sitting together and reading the script with one another. Maybe this casual rehearsal will have deepened the performances in some way that will be reflected once we get back to the stage.

Not that I myself  find the microphones intimidating, but they are a bit awkward. I am still feeling my way through how best to hold my papers and where to stand and such. I have done the whole radio thing before, but the last time there was more space, and the mikes were somewhat bigger. But that of course is what tech week is for. To iron out those kind of things. That will begin on Monday. And we open a week from tomorrow already. It is easy for a reading like this to sneak up on you if you are not careful.

We also had headshots taken last night. So I put on the costume I have assembled. I am going with black pants, simply white shit with black suspenders and black bow tie. It seems to work. If it gets cold, I have a sweater I can use that should be period enough for our purposes, though I didn't wear it for the picture. A poster will be made for display in the lobby containing the pictures and the fake biographies we all came up with. Should be eye catching. I wonder if he will let us keep the pictures of ourselves. Though I may not want mine, I didn't think to ask to see it after my shoot. I imagine it looks decent though, or he would have taken another.

They also hope to find an echo effect for the one skit that takes place in a catacombs. Nobody is sure if they were able to do that in the 1930's or not. But if so, and if we can replicate it, it will make a nice effect. We already have several nice effects.

It is becoming interesting. I look forward to performing the whole thing start to finish as it will appear for audiences, though. Which o course will happen in a matter of days.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Out of the Cold

The director informed us at last night's rehearsal that previous plans to have the cast file into the theatre from outside periodically before the show and walk through the lobby has been scrapped. Everyone will now enter the staging area from inside the theatre, as usual. This didn't really affect me, though, because I was never supposed to come in from outside. I was going to be the first one at "the station" since I playing the stage manger. I would have been on stage from the start. Yet it is a major change in the nature of the production itself.

We have a new sound engineer as well. At least so far as the home made sounds. (clinking the glasses, pouring the liquid, and other such things into a microphone on stage.) He will have his own script, so my stage manager character will not be given sound effects cues as originally intended. This doesn't bother me. I don't think it was working to begin with. The way the stage is, the sound person can't see me well anyway. At this point I will still be cuing the music from my "booth". At least for the first half of the show, before I become one of the actors.

I also wrote my fake biography for my "base" character. I didn't turn it in yet, though. It will give me a bit of a personality from which to work. And much like my appearance in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead this summer, I will have a large chunk of time on stage wherein I am not saying anything, so I will have to create some kind of persona. I have been keeping a cigarette in my mouth and pretending to smoke it. I have also been pretending to throw switches on a non-existent control board in the "booth". Just to look busy. Otherwise I am basically just sitting there alone for about 45 minutes.

Rehearsal itself was a rather long process last night. We only did three out of the four plays, but we had to do a lot of stopping and starting so the director could give line notes. I have significant roles in two plays, one right after the other. (I need to remember water) so my voice is a little tired by the end of the second one. But I like performing the second one more than I like the first. The first as an adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe work. Ostensibly horror, but I don't think the story, as adapted, translated well onto radio. (The Cask of Montillado.) Nor do I much care for the character I play there. I don't hate it, and I imagine it will be more enjoyable as time goes on, but it isn't clicking with me just yet. If I had more time with the script I would be less worried, but we go on in 9 days. (!)

The second play I am in, and the final one in the production for the evening is a goofy fantasy. A comedy. I like being in that one much more. Which may explain why that one went much more smoothly last night. (Though my opposite had to leave rehearsal early due to illness, and one of the other actresses had to stand in.) I like the high energy nature of this loony story. (Mr. Whiffle Concentrates, the story of a guy who turns himself into a bird by the power of thought. I told you it was a fantasy.) It's the second longest skit we do, but seems to move much faster. The director seems pleased with the progress all of the skits made last night, which is good news.

We rehearse again tonight, and then are off for the rest of this week. But next week we will be meeting each night in the lead up to opening night. So despite it being a reading it promises to be a tiring week. Maybe not as draining as the tech week for a full scale production, but there will be a lot of time spent at the theatre next week, getting this ironed out. Given the progress so far though, I don't think there will be any set backs.

Tonight is also "picture night". We will have head shots taken to be part of the poster which will go in the lobby during the production. (Which means I have a shirt to iron.) We won't be on stage though. I think one of the musical acts for the show will be there rehearsing. Either way after picture tonight will just be a line reading back in the green room.

I think I am finally finding some good voices to use for each character.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Les Miserables and the Nature of Tweaking

Yesterday I went to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to a performance of the national tour of Les Miserables. It was a matinee, and the last performance for this stay at the Kennedy Center.

I enjoyed myself. I have listened to that music for years now, having first seen the Broadway production of it as a student in high school with my family. My mother saw it even before it was on Broadway, when it made its North American debut at the very same Kennedy Center all those years ago.

I don't intend for this to be a review of the production I saw, but I will mention that it seemed different. Rushed in places, not as poignant or powerful in others. Some music was rearranged. Further research after I got home revealed that this was done on purpose. This national tour is employing a slightly more modernized staging, according to the articles I have been reading. It seems that in some circles people were beginning to believe the original staging, (with the now absent trademark rotating barricade and such) was becoming obsolete for modern audiences, and hence was made trimmer, faster, and, once again according to what I was reading, with a plot that is "clarified."

I am not sure one of the most beloved and successful musicals of all time needs to be made "fresh", or sped up. I certainly don't feel anything needed to be "clarified", as I never found the plot to be particularly complex. It's not as though there are many twists and turns in the original. But, that is show business for you. Still, I think as a whole it was less powerful than the original staging. Smaller. More subdued. But it was still Les Miserables for the most part, and still a pleasure to see, and to hear the classic tunes with which nearly all theatre people are at least familiar, even if not fans of the show.

It did get me wondering about that age old question. How does one find balance between keeping something fresh, and keeping faithful to the original intent of a piece? With something like "Les Mis", it isn't as much of a question. It is still a very tightly controlled piece after all these years. Owners and producers still have huge authority over exactly when and where it is performed. There is little room for variation, unless of course, like with this current tour, it is designed specifically by said authorities to be different in key places. But is that good or bad?

I have come to believe that as with many things in theatre, it depends on the nature of the show. Legal issues aside, as an actor, and even as a director, I am usually quite opposed to the popular notion that a playwright owns every single performance of his show until the end of time, and therefore ties the hands of each theatre that performs it. This distant, god like direction from afar in the nebulous mass of "copyright law" constrains theatre in many ways. Especially on the community level, (where, let's be adults here, such boundaries are often ignored, in hopes they will never be noticed.)

Assuming I have a good director that gives me freedom, I usually love being in shows that are not under such restraints. That leeway to create a character, coupled with every other actor on stage doing the same thing, under the direction of someone who is also free to create their own vision is to me what makes theatre alive. It makes it art. It doesn't happen nearly as often as it should.

Then you have something like Les Miserable, which, one could argue, became the phenomena that it is due to the very nature of the staging, the orchestration, and the vocalization. As I said before, if you are in anyway involved in theatre, you have heard of Les Miserables, or else you are locked up in an iron mask talking to nobody when not on stage. So the show has, for good or bad, become a part of the theatre as a whole. And when that happens, might not it be fair to conclude that it has transcended innovation? That like a lighthouse its purpose is not to be fancy, pretty, or mobile, but to remain, exactly as is, so those far and wide can focus upon it? Reach for it? Know that no matter what it is always there, unchanging? I am not insulted by such changes as made to Les Mis for this tour. I just wonder if they were needed to keep it "alive". It seemed to be painting the peacock a bit.

I still think each production of this musical could be unique by allowing some variations in voice, character interpretation, dance numbers. Costumes. So long as the music itself remained essentially in tact. It is, after all, a musical. So I don't suggest that there can be no variation. Indeed I am in the odd position of suggesting that there could be both more personal variation allowed in individual performances, and less variation in the overall impact of the entire production.

In the end, I have no precise answer for these questions of how much freedom artists and producers and directors should have and should not have in any given production. Sometimes as an audience member, I want familiarity. Sometimes as an actor I want freedom. Again, some shows invite one, others invite the opposite. My preferences fluctuate. There may be no formula, if we are talking about pure art, and not legalities. (Which tend to end this debate in an instant, when called upon.)

What do you think? How much variation, change, and updating is needed to shows like Les Miserables? Is any show above the occasional tweeking? If so, how do you determine the cut off point?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Basics of the Base

Last night was the second full rehearsal for me for what we are calling "An Evening of Nostalgia". One of the cast members was absent, and a table full of sound props was in place, but other than that, things were basically the same as the night before. Though I did experiment with using a cigarette during the first half of the show, and that went well. I feel it will add a bit more to the character I am playing.

Actually, I should say the base character I am playing, since we all are playing not only the roles within the skits, but also the radio performers themselves between skits, and at the start of the play. I still have work to do with all of the above, but odd as it sounds I think I will in some ways enjoy my mostly silent base character the most. I am fascinated by that era and radio during same. not so much the shows of the era, as I don't know much about them, but by the nature of the medium back then, and the nature of the people involved in it.

I have a bit of a unique challenge in this regard, however. My base character is ostensibly the stage manager of this production. As such he is on stage first as the audience trickles in, performing equipment checks and such. He is also, in theory, supposed to be giving cue to the sound people and the musicians. (Though the timing of that has not been worked out very well as of yet.) Yet this stage manager is also reading three parts within the skits himself. I'm not sure if this would ever actually happen. But since it is happening for our show, the problem lie in explaining, to myself if not to anybody else, why the stage manager's job is so vital for the first two skits, and then becomes non-existent for the second half of the show. (I won't be giving the cues while I am performing.) This detail may not bother a lot of people, but these are the things about which I am always thinking when I am becoming a character in a play. Especially one as open ended as this.

Yet that open ended nature of the character may help with this dilemma somewhat. We are to each write a fake biography for our base character, to be included on a poster in the lobby of the theatre during the show. Not only does this give me a good launching point for a character, (I have sometimes employed this technique on my own to give more depth to my performances), but I may use it to make mention of what someone would be both stage manager and performer in one show. I will have to work on that, but I look forward to creating it.

I'd also like to create a bit more variation in the voices I will be using for the various skits. One of them has a distinct sound, but I need something else for the supposed horror story. Something richer than what I have been using. Despite the setting of that piece, I'd like to avoid an accent, but it may be just the thing I need. More consideration is required on this topic as well.

We don't meet again until next Tuesday, with some set work being done by the director and others on Saturday. So it should look even more like a radio station by then.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Miked Up

Having missed last week's rehearsal for the Radio Hour due to weather, last night was the first time I was able to rehearse the entire show. It was an interesting experience.

To begin with, in my absence, I have been assigned the lead for another of the four plays we will be doing. Given that this would make me one of the leads in three out of the four at this point, I felt a little awkward. Especially since I have been assigned a new sit up in the booth and play the stage manager for the fake production. (Giving sound cues, and pretending to turn dials, that sort of thing.) I mentioned that not only did it seem somewhat unfair for me to have that much air time, but also that it may be difficult for me to be almost constantly "on the air", while also trying to portray the stage manager who is supposed to be out and about doing things. The lead for one of the comedies was given to someone else, even though the fear was they wouldn't sound young enough. (I thought it sounded fine, but I didn't hear any commentary on that issue one way or the other.)

There are still a few hitches to be worked out, of course. It is early. But as we get closer, things should get tighter and more comfortable.

The subject of cigarettes was brought up. I had planned to mention that at some point myself, actually. I figured many of them would probably be smoking one. Certainly a stage manager who is running about trying to get a show together is a character that lends itself well to having a smoke in his hand. Though we can't actually light them, and being that close to the audience, I wonder if the effect would be too fake. I also wanted glasses for my character, but as yet cannot find any that are period appropriate.

On the subject of period, I won't be able to use a binder for my script, as a late decisions was made to make the scripts exactly period as they would have been in the 1930s. So we will all now have to hold the papers in our hands. Some have even suggested dropping each page to the floor as it's read, but a final decision does not seem to have been made on that idea as of yet.

A local husband and wife musical team have agreed to provide the show with live incidental music. (Piano and drums.) Dance and singing routines between the plays are also being worked out with certain other people, to add to everything. It is hard to judge from last night's read through since it is so early, but it seems to run about two hours with intermission at this point, though again, it didn't have the singing acts added on yet. And things will get a bit faster as time goes on.

We rehearse again tonight. (Wednesday). The plan is to rehearse twice a week, between now and the time we open on November 11. That is about six rehearsals remaining. Barring huge problems, that should be sufficient to mail this thing down.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I only realized a short time ago, than I missed the six year anniversary of this blog! Not that I had any huge plans for same. I made a big to-do about the five year anniversary last year, because five years feelings like more of a solid, milestone type of number, like to or 20. Still until this year I have tried to at least acknowledge the anniversary on the day itself. (October 7.) This year, it just went out of my head.

Which in a way is acceptable I suppose. In the end this blog isn't so much about blogging itself, as so many blogs are. It is about, of course, my adventures, opinions, trials an tribulations in the world of theatre. Local amateur theatre. Something to which I have been dedicated for quite some time now. The story isn't so much how long I have been blogging about it on a regular basis, (though six years is quite impressive for a blog if I do say so myself), but rather that through ups and downs, great shows and really lousy ones I am still doing this theatre thing.

True. As a freelance writer I have more control over my schedule than many other people would have, and hence I can dedicate time more easily to this pursuit. Yet It still makes me a bit nostalgic when i think of how many people back in my college days, (where I first started theatre) no longer do it on a regular basis.

Back then it was almost a given that everyone would go on to do it in some fashion, professional or not. And don't get me wrong, many of them have. Some to pretty decent, albeit not national acclaim. Yet the percentage of the "theatre people" from back at Marietta College that find they cannot or don't really want to do theatre these days is a bit surprising.

I don't want to go back in time. I don't want to relive my college years. But that sense of urgency, raw creative power, and 100% dedication to the craft is something I miss. Something you don't find as much of in many community theatres. (Some more than others, yes.) It is for that reason that even in the present day, during even the smallest of shows, there are those ghosts of Marietta theatre walking about with me. Even those people to whom I no longer speak are, in subtle ways, present in the far removed mist of subconscious as I walk the boards in theatres they have never and likely never will see. They don't direct or control what I do on stage of course, but I would be lying if I said they were absent. Sometimes it is pretty potent, and other times it is a mere shadow. But always in some fashion, even if only for a split second, it is there.

In the end, I am glad of it, despite some of the disadvantages to those memories. It means that some facet of it is somewhere still in me. It means that even one day if this blog ceases to be, the actor in me, unlike some people I have known, will probably never cease to be.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Signing On

Last night I was over at the Full Circle Theater Company, wherein I do most of my acting these days, for a first read-through of my next project. The title is tentative at this point, but the gist of it, as I mention in a previous post, is that it will be a staged "radio show". Emcee, radio station set, sound effects, microphones. Everything designed to look like a radio performance in the 1930's. 1938 to be more precise. Actors will have their scripts in their hands, so memorization is virtually non-existent.

The script consists of four short radio plays, along with some incidentals between each play. There is no intermission written in at this time. It is supposed to take just over an hour.

The piece was written by a local writer, and it is she that will be directing the production. By her own admission, she has not even looked at this script, (which is unpublished) for several years. Not since she and some other actors she knew performed it as part of a project she was working on at the time. So, I have no reference point for the script itself. No previous productions I could look up online or ask around about. All precedent will come from the memories of the director.

However it was made clear that it is pretty fluid at this point. She expects there will be both addition and subtractions to the script as we all get familiar with it, and feel out what sort of show it is to be. Certain aspects are already clear, however. That the actors will never leave the stage, and hence be in character the entire time. That before the play the cast will be milling about in the lobby, interacting with patrons. (Not my favorite thing to do, but I have done it before.) And that at times the audience themselves will be a part of the performances.

And of course we will be dressed in period costumes. Or at least as close to same as we can get with our own wardrobes. I myself think I can pull off 1938 with the clothing I have at my disposal. It is going to be easier for men, than women, I would guess. I will probably just go with white shirt, black pants, a tie, (possibly a clip-on bow, if appropriate, as I have one of those), and perhaps a set of suspenders, if I can find a pair that will go along with the era. Simple enough. Time will tell if that will work or not. (It was more difficult to pinpoint what men wore in 1938 via online research than I thought it would be...I kept getting the same picture of Orsen Welles...though he was on the radio at the time the picture was taken, so it was more helpful than I thought.)

As for the reading itself, it went well. Casting is not 100% solidified yet, but it would appear I am to be the lead in the first skit---a fantasy wherein a man by use of his imagination, becomes a talking bird. I also read for one of the "dramas" (though there was much laughing during the reading), based on an Edgar Allen Poe short story. I think I like the fantasy better than the horror story, but be that as it may, those are the two I read for. (Not counting one tiny appearance in a third skit.) The final skit in the collection we did not read last night, due to the time. I have not yet read that one over myself, so I am unaware of what it is about at present.

Not everyone who is in the play showed up last night, but most did. I already know most of the people involved, so that is always a comfort.

I am not sure yet when we perform, but I think just one weekend in November. We are to meet again next week for another read through, and of course I will be looking over the script between now and then.

Friday, October 07, 2011

"The World's Toughest Community Theater Coach"

Loyal blog readers I hope will check out this write up about me by Andrew Beaujon over at He spoke with me via phone a few weeks ago and has on several occasions read both this blog and my articles over on ShowBizRadio. I think the piece is fair and accurate for the most part. To strangers I may appear a bit more morose than I actually am, but the spirit of my theatrical approach is certainly well represented in the piece. Give it a read!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Back to the "Air" Waves.

Sometimes you never know where a theatre project will come from. In the last two months, I have been asked to take part in two different projects.

The first is still in planning stages, so I don't want to say too much about that one until more is known. But the second one seems to be a go.

The Full Circle Theater Company is planning to have a radio-show production, in the spirit of the 1930's radio serials. There are several such scripts out there, and while I am not certain what the exact nature of this show will be, I have been asked to participate. I have a potentially busy November, but I agreed to take part in this endeavor. It sounds fun, and will, I would imagine, require less of a time commitment.

Loyal blog readers may recall that back during the 2009 holiday season I was cast in a production of "It's a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play". At the Winchester Little Theater. I had a great time doing that, and though I am sure the Christmas spirit aspect of that show added to the experience, the concept of a staged "radio show" was fun in its own right, and I imagine it will be again, regardless of the nature of the script.

Dates are not certain at this time, but it will be two weekends in November. And again, I have no idea what the story is, how many people are involved, or even who else is taking part. But the WLT didn't do their radio show last year, so I didn't get a chance to enjoy playing radio star then. With this I may get to again. No pun intended, but stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Summarizing Me

I don't often add photos to this blog. And in fact I believe the last time I ever bothered with doing so, it was this exact same photo. I will check on that to be sure.

The point however, is that I was recently working on something that required me to select a photo that "sums up who or what you are." I thought about it for a short while, and had a few other candidates, but it didn't take me long to select this one.

Not that I feel any photo can really "sum up" a person. But this picture, with many layers to it, comes pretty close.

It was taken in the very cramped backstage area in a building called Reynolds Hall on the campus of Shepherd University. The Full Circle Theater Company did not yet have its own space so it was renting this venue for its production of The Lion in Winter. So the theatre aspect of my personality is obvious.

Yet more subtle is the nature of the venue, which I mentioned was a bit cramped backstage. And an astute eye will see that the backstage itself is really more of a makeshift set up. The venue is not specifically designed for full fledged theatre productions, though with the aid of the temporary backdrops and portable walls, (seen to my right) a primitive set is possible. That production, (one of my favorites ever) was very much about low budgets, make shift sets pieces, and elbow grease. It had its problems, and I wouldn't want to use this venue all the time, but it really showed off the resourcefulness and ingenuity of dedicated theatre types. (You can read about my experiences in this play, in this venue right here on the blog, starting about here.)

I like that kind of "rag-tag" nature to art. Indeed I will be at last building my own small theatre company based on such principles sometime next year, hopefully. And this photo also captures that element of my theatre persona. Minimalism.

The photo is in black and white, which sums up nicely my approach to some things in life, whether wise or not. I do tend to be black and white about some things.

It also captures my sometime aloofness. You don't even see my face in the shot. You see my back as I walk away from you. Hands in pockets, probably deep in thought about something. I am not yet in costume, so I am not yet in my performance preparation mode. Yet I am certainly distant, and unto myself here. Which again, though not 100% accurate for all of my time, is accurate enough to much of my time to make a good representation of my persona. Not that anything and everyone is too good for me, and hence being ignored. I knew the picture was being taken. Just that I am often a step to the side.

This could get far beyond the scope of theatre and this blog, so I won't elaborate much further on the nature of what this photograph reveals, but I will say that that sometime aloofness is in fact a part of my performance. An aspect of my art. My introversion at work in a venue of creation such as a cramped theatre.

You don't get the whole "Ty as actor/artist" story with this photograph. But you get the first few chapters at least.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Perfect Green Room

So much of an actor's time is spend in the green room of a theatre. In a perfect world, any actor who is not about to enter or who is not on stage should be waiting in the green room. Quietly.

Yet not all theaters, especially on the community level, have the luxury of a fully functioning green room. I have performed in several venues where no green room, or even dressing rooms were available, and it was nerve wracking. I found myself longing for that neutral space with which I could touch base when not performing, and "even out". Without it, I feel a bit more on edge than I like to be for a performance.

An ideal dressing room could make up for this, but those are even less common in community theaters than are ideal green rooms. And while I hope to explore my idea of a perfect dressing room in the future, today I'd like to confine my thoughts to the ideal green room. After all, even an introvert like myself doesn't want to spend 100% of his off stage time up in a dressing room.

To begin with, it would be just the green room. It would serve no other purpose. Not an auxiliary storage room. Not a place where the only bathrooms in the building are. Certainly not a place where friends and family of actors are permitted at any time before, during, or after the performance. It would be a space 100% dedicated to providing a place for actors and crew to congregate and "relax" as much as one can during a show when not performing their duties.

Most green rooms are not far from the performance space. This makes sense, because an performers need to be able to hear their cues, and get ready to enter when it is time. However, if a green room is equipped with a reliable audio monitor through which the performance on stage can be heard, the room itself can be anywhere in the building and still allow the actors time to get into position at the correct time. So not only would my ideal greenroom have such an audio monitor, but the room itself would be a greater distance from the stage than in most venues. That way those in the green room don't have to be quite so much on edge about making noise that can be heard by the audience. I still want my green room quiet and respectful, but if that edge that is often added to a group of people when every other laugh or excited response is met with "ssshhhh", I think everyone would be happier.

Having one of those doors that ease shut automatically behind someone would be fantastic. Something about being in a theatre during a live show turns most people into morons, unable to slowly pull a door shut. An inbuilt need to slam a door on their way in or out of the room will take over the actions of at least half the people ever to enter a theatre.

In this Utopian green room, there would also be enough individual (and comfortable!) places to sit for each and every cast member, of any size show that the venue ever hopes to produce. So adamant about this am I that if I were running my own theatre I would give serious consideration to only casting shows that were small enough to allow each actor a place to sit, should he want one, when he is off stage. That is because fewer things can irritate some people, (such as myself) more than the, "Steal his seat while he is on stage" game that so many people in a green room play. If seats were plentiful and all were of equal comfort level, (not folding metal chairs), there would be no need to fight this inevitable battle for position.

A microwave and a small refrigerator would be present, as would at least one small table. I myself do not like to mess around with food before a performance, but without fail someone will be scrambling to scarf down their only meal all day before curtain. This is messy and inconvenient enough as it is. Let's give those who have to do it as much room in the green room as possible to minimize the effort they have to put in to preparing whatever meal they have to eat. (And believe me, even if it requires putting out the entire rest of the cast, people like this will do so. Nothing is more important to such people as this meal at this time. Not even their lines.)

This also means of course that in an idea green room you could eat. I'd be happy if you could not eat or drink anything in the space, but the more content people you have in the green room, the better your time in there is going to be, and I find too many people need food while in a green room. So I'd allow it to shut people up.

There would however be no televisions permitted. That's just asking for trouble.

The room would have it's own environmental control. We freeze or roast enough as it is on stage depending on the venue. The least you can give us actors is one room where it we might actually encounter hospitable temperatures.

I am torn between tile flooring which is easier to clean during strike, or nice carpeted flooring, which creates a more cozy atmosphere and would be more comfortable to lay on if one decides to do that. I can see that one going either way. What do you think, loyal blog readers?

And finally, though I have said this already not only in previous posts, but earlier in this very post, it bears repeating because it is so crucial to my ideal green room; nobody other than actors and crew for the current show would be allowed into the green room at any time for any reason, for even the shortest duration. Nobody's kids. No spouses. No grandmothers. Not even other actors who frequently appear on the same stage, but are not in the current production. Nobody unless they are cast/crew of the current show. That is what a lobby is for.

A green room must be a refuge. As I said before, a neutral spot. A  place where everyone sharing the common story of bringing that production to life can spend time getting ready, gearing down or gearing up, going over lines, and in general just be able to feel that they do not have to be 100% "on" if they don't choose to be. Many people are involved in producing a show, but it is the actors that on show night have the most to do and the most visible job. They work hard and deserve as few distractions as possible. They are ordered about and struggle for eight weeks to bring you a show. The least they deserve is their own room that is off limits to the rest of the world.

That, my friends, is my ideal green room. I am sure they exist somewhere. And in the interest of full disclosure, I have in fact been in a few theaters that came fairly close to this ideal, with a few of my requirements missing here and there. Yet if ever I find a a theatre that contains all of these aspects, I may have to move close to it, just so I can perform in it for the rest of my life.

Did I leave anything out? What would be in your ideal green room?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Auditions: My latest piece on ShowBizRadio

My most recent column over on deal with choosing audition pieces.

In the majority of my experiences in smaller, local community theatre cold readings from the script of the show for which you are auditioning are the modus operendi. However on occasion I have had to perform a prepared piece of some kind. It can be nerve wracking at times, but not as nerve wracking as having to witness certain types of other actors deliver certain types of monologues. It can be cringe inducing, and it doesn't need to be this way.

Check out the piece to read my advice on what to choose, and what to avoid, when auditioning with a prepared monologue.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

60 Minutes with Shakespeare

I am a bit late to this party, but I wanted to take this chance here on my blog to highly recommend 60 Minutes with Shakespeare, a presentation by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

There you will find 60 audio files, each about a minute long, and each from a different professional discussing some aspect of Shakespeare scholarship. The nature of the subjects addressed in this collection tends in most cases towards refuting the notion that William Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him, though other subjects about the work and life of the Bard are also explored.

When I tweeted my approval for this project after listening to the, I described it as an "excellent collection of concise scholarship." Please do drop into the site and give a listen yourself.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bored with Boards

There are several large and well known online gathering places for community theatre enthusiasts such as myself. Message boards. Blogs. But I confess that I am not a part of any of them.

I have tried to be more than once at various points over the years. I may even try to be so again in the future, but I might now. I just cannot "get into" such online communities, even though I know that I should.

I am uncertain why it never seems to take. You'd think with all of the potential benefits of connecting with other actors like myself in other theatres around the country I would jump at the chance. And as I mentioned a few times before, I have. But after a short time it loses its appeal.

Maybe it is just the nature of message boards in general, but I tend to find the same situation in any theatre board I visit. The politics. The less than warm welcome new people receive. The dead threads that leave an open ended question unanswered for months sitting on the same forum right next to a post about something frivolous and irrelevant getting 156 responses and counting. A need to sell one's presence or one's concern before the tribe before any amount of attention is paid to what you say. It's maddening and deflating. If I wanted to bring up a subject and have nobody take an interest in it, I would just hang out in person with 80% of the people I know.

Perhaps such boards tend to attract mostly mainstream thinking. A "hotbed for the conventional" to coin a phrase. And while I am not one to push envelopes or challenge the status quo just for the sake of doing it, my ideas for acting, directing, publicizing and any number of other theatre related topics trend towards unconventional. You would think that artists, performers, and directors would be excited by such a challenge to the norm. And perhaps some are. Yet when I do express an opinion contrary to the standard acting or theatre practice, message board users have tended to respond with silence or with indignation.

Or perhaps I have just not found the right message board for community theatre.

In the end, I know that I need a fresh set of ears for some of my experiences. My theories. My ideas. I work with some talented, wonderful people in my local community theatre circle, but they are the same people over and over most times. The experiences are usually good ones around here, but at the same time I long for a different view from different people. Others who do love theatre, and know what they are talking about, but wouldn't have the slightest notion as to the politics of Theatre A in this town, or the nature of the casting preferences that are obvious in Theatre B. People who can talk of the nature of the craft and enjoyment of same, instead of gravitating towards local personality conflicts and specific tendencies of any given board of directors. I think we all benefit from new perspectives like that.

Any suggestions for such places for discussion online would be appreciated, though keep in mind I have visited the biggest three message boards already so far. Though not for years. Maybe I need to give them a try again.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Creating "Life"

Last night I finished up the first set of revisions for the novel I am writing. As I have mentioned here on the blog here and there over the last two years, this novel takes place in a theatre during a community theatre production. The product of a writer/actor that is writing about theatre. (Is there some kind of metaphysical implosion risk in there somewhere? I think not, because I have the ancient axiom of "write what you know" covered from many angles in this one.)

As I have been writing this novel, something that I always knew to be true came into even greater focus; that writing fiction and acting are cousins. Not siblings, but certainly cousins. Not that one need be an author to be a fine actor, nor vice-versa. In fact you don't find many that are a legitimate success in both. However both creative activities have similar aspects.

There is the need to create a back story in your mind, even if that is not shared with the world, before a character can be three dimensional. There is putting a little bit of yourself into the characters you create both on the page and on the stage. The sheer amount of mental work and practice it takes to become good and then great is high for both art forms. And they are both enhanced by a keen observation of the world around you, and the people in it. ("People watching" is a pastime of many a writer and actor.)

The people watching leads to perhaps the most important knowledge that both great writers and great actors require, in my opinion. That is an understanding of human nature. Motivations. Reactions. Social trends. Personalities. By no means do I suggest that eithe the actor nor the writer has any chance of understanding all of human nature, and they sure as hell cannot solve it, if we look at it as a conundrum to be deciphered. What I mean is that to understand most motivations for most people most of the time, based on reading, observing, and just plain living as much as one can will give both the actor and the writer a believable foundation upon which they can begin to build a character.

Yes, in both cases short cuts could be taken. Stereotypes utilized. Details skimmed over. Those that do such second rate work do in fact sometimes become acclaimed and rich doing so, both in the writing world and the acting world. It can be infuriating to a lot of people, myself included. But take comfort, loyal blog readers, in the notion that to be a true master of either art form is to touch at the very heart of humanity, regardless of the genre of story. To make people see themselves, or at least some aspect of themselves, in the lives represented. Yes, even the darker sides of human nature must be made familiar to theatre goers and reader alike. Second rate cookie cutter actors and writers will never actually attain this, no matter how many millions they rake in. But those like me, who care about such things will, hopefully after practice and commitment as both a writer and an actor, are able to do so.

I will always strive to be a master of writing as well as acting, kissing cousins that they are.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Latest ShowBizRadio Post

Last week my actor's advice column over on Showbiz Radio dealt with the need to keep our individual characters as I main focus, as opposed to the overall arc or presentation of the play in which we appear.

It's easy to get caught up in the bigger picture, and of course we want our shows to do well for everyone involved. But that end is actually best served by taking care of our individual responsibilities as best we can. Check out the column.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

More From the Ground Floor

Last night I took part in the private reading with some fellow actors and a playwright, as I mentioned I would in a previous entry.While the details still must remain confidential, I will say that I enjoyed the experience, for all of the reasons I predicted I would.

The playwright said that the reading was very helpful to him, and that is gratifying to me. I didn't have much to say in person, even when I was asked, because I wanted a chance to let things sink in a bit. I promised the playwright I would email additional comments, which I plan to do today.

Even though I have met the playwright several times over the last two years, I was still slightly nervous during the read. Not petrified by any means, but as a writer myself, (though not of plays just yet) I know how important the process of reviewing drafts can be. So I wanted to be sure to deliver each line exactly as presented, so that the playwright could truly hear how it sounded. Don't get me wrong, I always try to deliver a line as written of course, but it is one thing to flip a line or have to paraphrase in the heat of a moment on stage if the play is by, say Ibsen, as opposed to the guy sitting four feet from you.

The good news is the playwright was pleased with the reading, and was satisfied that each of the actors had honed in on the characters in the way he had hoped we would. Meaning that they are written in such a way as to convey that to an actor without having the entire background story.

Later in the summer this same script, in tighter form, is to be given a public reading at another theatre. When that happens, though I will be unable to attend it, I hope that some small improvement to the script was possible because of the reading and the comments I have offered as an outsider to the work.

I'd be happy to take part in a reading like this again for any playwright that would have me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ground Floor

Due to professional confidence the details of what I am about to share here will have to remain few and far between. I did however want to make mention of it here on the blog.

I have been asked to participate in a private, first-time reading of an early draft of a script penned by a local playwright. Again, I cannot say which playwright, or even what the script is about, as this is a commissioned work for which the writer is getting paid. That makes the nature of the work quite sensitive at this point. Suffice to say I jumped at the chance.

The first reading of a draft of a play, whether in public, or in this case, in private, is of no small significance to a playwright. It is the first chance they have to encounter their work outside of their own heads. Free of their own biases a playwright can, through a reading, encounter the first glimpse of what a performance of his words will sound like. Plays are destined to be performed, and unlike perhaps novels, are never truly explored until they are spoken. Not that novels shouldn't sound good when read aloud, but being heard out loud is the raison d'etre of a play.

Sometimes for these reading the playwright will ask each actor for specific feedback on the character read. Sometimes, the playwright asks for general feedback from everyone on the whole piece. Still at other times, the playwright seeks no direct feedback at all, seeking only to listen to his words from a distance. Truth be told I do not yet know what the expectations are in this case. Yet I am about halfway through the script now, and I can tell you I feel I will enjoy bringing the first semblance of life to this character.

That is what it is, too. Essentially. In some ways I am the first person to come at the character from a completely removed perspective. I won't be "originating" the character, because that term applied to he who will first perform this role in a life production, but I will be perhaps "introducing" the character to his creator in a way. I will be a mirror of sorts which will, (if I am competent) allow the playwright to asses where he wants to go with the lines, the scenes, and of course the character himself. As both a writer and an actor, I think it will be an uncommon privilege to do so.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The 5 Cardinals Rules For Backstage/Offstage

Here is my latest column for In it I share five things I would require of all actors in all green rooms and backstage areas across the country, if I were so empowered to law down such law. If you are an actor of any kind, I think you can sympathize.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern...are Closed


Another show concluded. And while the Sunday closer was not our best audience or performance, I do have to say it went better than I would have thought for a Sunday. The whole second weekend was clearly the best, and the second Sunday was better than any of the days of our first weekend.

I think we had about 15 people, including my own mother. The house was not as warm as the previous night's but they did laugh at things that most of the crowds did not. Yes, I am sure some of that was my mother laughing at a few of my moments, but I know her laugh, and she was not the only one.

It was hotter than the previous two shows. Not just because it was day time, but because the weather was hotter in general, and the house was once again not a very comfortable place to be. Neither was the stage. Even if in my brief moments began to feel a bit hot near the end.

My mother enjoyed what I feel was a good performance of Hamlet by yours truly. I can't say it was bar none the best one of the run. That honor probably does go to the night before. However the usual dip in energy, for both myself and the rest of the cast for a second Sunday wasn't as evident as I might have thought it would be. At least for those who ever had any energy in the first place. So kudos to such people.

I won't miss the umbrella bit, though it went okay yesterday. I won't miss sitting on stage hidden for 20 minutes waiting. I won't miss that costume. I won't miss the heat of a summer show. And I certainly won't miss certain individuals within the cast. But I will miss delivering the lines of Hamlet. I'll miss the pirate scene, as silly as it was.

The entire experience has given me something important, though. I have often mentioned my plans to stage my own Hamlet at some point, probably within the next 18 months if things go well. I knew that that would take work, and it well, both in terms of structure and art. Yet having this chance to be Hamlet in this play gave me a leg up on that experience. It doesn't stand in for the idea of course, but it was just enough to confirm that I do have an idea of Hamlet within me after reading the play so many times. And not just the broad strokes, either. Being in this play provided me with a preview of some of the nuance. The flourishes. The little details that can be utilized pursuant to playing one of the greatest roles ever. Staging the real Hamlet will be a challenge, as will performing the title role. But thanks to being cast in this play, I will not be approaching the role 100% cold. For that I am grateful.

It also taught me patience. Patience with terrible people, and how not to allow them to get to me too much. For while that jackass I have been talking about did piss me off, I take pride in the fact that I still said nothing more to the old fool than "Just leave me alone." I of course refuse to ever work with him or anyone like him again, because life is too short and theatre is too important. But I at least showed that I can be accosted and berated by a lunatic and not let it affect my overall performance in the production. If I may say so myself, I think that is a strength for an actor.

I don't know what my next theatre project will be yet. I am doing a few skits for a picnic next week, and for fun I may post some thoughts here on that when the time comes. But as far as plays, I don't yet know. I usually don't know right away. But when I so know, so will you, loyal blog readers, as it will be right here on Always Off Book, as it has been for over five years now. Thank you for your continued readership and interest in my theatre adventures.

Back to weekly advice posts for now. Hope you stop by on Tuesdays for those.

Photo by Martha Louden. Myself and Roger Hume as Polonious.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Trend Seems to Hold

There is one more performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I realize that. So I would be able to say with certainty that my second-Saturday theory held true. But I can say that last night was both our biggest (20...) and most responsive crowd of the run. And that despite one of our leads having a sore throat and failing voice, it was, from what I could gather, our best performance. Today's matinee could in theory be better, but in the history of my doing theatre, a closing matinee has been the best of the run only one single time.

First off, it is a matinee. Then there is too much fatigue, colder, smaller crowds, unfair comparisons to the night before and depending on the show the emotion of knowing it is about to end. The closing matinee is usually not a showcase of stellar quality. (Which is why I prefer my people not to attend them.)

But that is today. Last night I had a few friends in the audience, and many of the more subtle moments finally got some laughs. Even I as Hamlet got a few chuckles. The bit wherein I reveal I am reading a magazine got a laugh in Act Three. My spitting over the side of the "boat" got it's very first reaction. Even "hawk from a handsaw" amused somebody.

Last night my Hamlet was in top form, I would say. Now I don't want to oversell this point, because as I said, the character is just a periodic presence the pops in and out throughout the play. So it would not be accurate to call this Hamlet a huge drain on my resources. Yet through the tiny slices of Hamlet that I get to enact each night I have gotten a feel for what doing the entire role would require, and confirmed that I could hit the stride of same. In the program I describe this as a sort of "spring training" for Hamlet, and last night I feel I perfectly hit the rhythms of this version of him. Both last night and the night before I got to the place I wanted to be from the beginning: feeling for those few moments as though I am in the actual Hamlet. I was most able to convince myself of that last night, and so I give it the stamp of my "best performance of the run" so far.

The business of us running and hiding from the pirate actually got applause at the end of the scene. That was fun.

The only difficult lie in me moving the damn umbrella about in the dark again. I got it done, but almost missed the chair when I sat down. I think someone laughed. But oh well.

Not an exciting entry, I realize. But a stride has been hit. At least for the last two evening. Hopefully it carries through to today's closer.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Back

The start of the second and final weekend of this show was notable for a few things, not the least of which was a more subdued atmosphere. It may just have been me of course, but everyone just seemed more laid back last night. No doubt three days rest, and know we had a full weekend under our belt was to thank for this in large part.

It was quieter in the green room most of the time. Less tension. I think the fact that it was a cool night helped a great deal. It was actually cooler outside than inside for a change.

The performance itself also seemed tempered a bit, which I suppose could be see as either good or bad depending on one's point of view. Yet in this case it could not be avoided. "Guildenstern" was suffering from a sore throat and weakened voice. Despite it giving out somewhat near the end of the play, his voice was intelligible the entire time. But the actor's usual intense, high energy voice variations and volume were not possible. Hence the play took on a more intimate approach if you will.

Our audience was again small. 14 by my quick headcount through the curtain. Someone out there was laughing quite a bit though, which I am sure helps things a long. I still hope for a bigger crowd at least tonight, however.

My own experience was also relaxed going in. I have not been unsatisfied with any of my three previous performances, but something always seemed a bit missing. I always seemed to be looking for it. Tonight, heading into the play with such ease I think helped me smooth some of the rougher edges. I am willing to say that last night was my best performance of the run so far. Hamlet just came to me, and I proceeded to present him with even more confidence than usual. It is a small part, but I could not have asked for much more in terms of how I felt on stage. There was no moment of transcendence to another world or any such thing, but then again that is rarely my goal when I perform. No, I just felt that my movements, diction, cadence, motivation, and enunciation all blended into the best mix thus far last night. If the remaining two shows go as well as last night, the entire thing will be quite the success.

I also added a bit to something I started doing on Sunday. I tap at, "clean", and listen to the wall near me during my first entrance with Polonious, wherein Hamlet is pretending to be mad. I thought it added something to Hamlet's "antic disposition". I don't think most people have understood why I do it, but it give the scene more depth for me. When Polonious leaves the stage, I stop, as I believe Hamlet would do. After all, in the real play, just as Polonious leaves Hamlet utters, "These tedious old fools."

Even "To be or not to be..." was timed, in silence, to near perfection to coincide with what else was happening on stage. I began my entrance mouthing "for who would bear the whips and scorns of time...". That seemed to be good timing. At least last night. We will see if it will be again.

I still get nervous in Act Three when I have to move that huge umbrella and deck chair in the dark, but it went fine tonight. I did what I tried on Sunday, and I think at long last I have, knock on wood, found the rhythm to make that work.

One of only two goofs to which I was privy were discovering someone's cigarette lighter on the stage during one of my scenes. It was fortunate that I end that scenes with a low bow before exiting. I merely grabbed it on the bow and stood up as normal to exit. I could have left it there, but I thought given the nature of its round shape someone might slip on it.

The other goof was me having to exchange the letter in Act Three in the dark. Not a major problem there. Just had to move slowly and make the glow tape my friend.

Coming back to a show to start the second weekend of a two weekend run is always an interesting experience. Depending on how things have gone up to that point, the few days off between weekend can either seem like two weeks, or a mere few hours. But regardless there often seems to be a different feel to a show on the second weekend, and the second Friday in particular. A cast can either use this or be thrown by it. In this case, I think most of the cast used it to their advantage.

History indicates that in about 85% of the cases, the second Saturday is the best performance for such runs. What will this second Saturday bring?