Monday, February 21, 2011

Six Month Retrospective

Last night was the closing show, strike, and subsequent cast party for Claudie Hukill, the play for which I have been the assistant-director since Christmas time. The production, not without it flaws and obstacles, ended up having a very good run. Now that it is over, there is a bit of a noticeable void, as always when a show ends. (It happens to directors too you know!)

Yet the end of this show has a particular aspect to it. I have been going to the same theatre several days a week, every week since August. Beginning with A Thurber Carnival, the exploits of which I will not get into here again. Go back through my archive to get up to speed on that if you weren't following me then.

The read through for A Christmas Carol was on the same evening as the pick-up rehearsal for Thurber, so there was no gap between those two shows. Claudie Hukill auditions were on the same day as one of the final performances of A Christmas Carol, and so there was no gap there either. In other words, when the previous two shows ended, I had something else theatrical to jump into right away. In the very same building. The void was still there, but in a sense it was more like one continuous loop. Striking one show, only to rehearse the next show on the same stage a day later. Remnants of the strike of one would be clearly visible during the next.

Without checking my records, I cannot with certainty state that I have never done three consecutive shows before. But I do not believe that I have. Furthermore even if I have, I can guarantee that they were never this close together before. All three being in the same venue enhances this notion that I have in a way been involved in one big theatre endeavor over the last half a year.

When you do a show anywhere, there comes a time when it becomes in a sense like a second home. For a few hours, anyway. Each person tends to put their stuff in the same places. Use the bathrooms at the same time. You know where the quiet spots are, if any. You get used to the climate settings. You begin to move about the place in your dailiy evening ritual with the familiarity and comfort of if not your own home, at least the home of a family member. The rules may be different there, but you hit that groove. And that's just for six weeks of a show. Now multiply that by six months and three shows, and you get the idea.

I will of course return to that place many times. I will see shows there, and be in them. Perhaps even direct one at some point. But each time I come back to venue after a break, it feels a tad different. The longer the break, the more different it feels, even if the venue itself hasn't changed that much. Until of course I am there again for six weeks and it feels like that second home again. Even when I am in a show again, I wonder if ever there will be another solid six month stretch at one venue like this again. Certainly not for the foreseeable future.But such is the way of the community player.

For the first time in a long while, I don't have the slightest idea what my next theatre project will be. There are no auditions lined up right now that interest me. And it is probably just as well. After half a year, I think I should take a months long break from the stage. At least until summer, when something else may show up. I need to spend those months catching up on that other talent of mine, writing.

But do not stay away, loyal blog readers. Some of that writing will be right here on Always Off Book. I am taking a break from doing theatre for a few months. Not taking a break from writing and talking about it!

And so it goes.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Opening Night: From the Other Side of the Stage

Last night, Claudie Hukill opened at the Full Circle Theater in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. My loyal blog readers know that I have been the assistant director for this show, and though I opted not to give a running commentary on the experience, opening night seemed a good time to write a few things.

To begin with, despite a rough start the show went well. And it was a medium sized crowd, which was decent for an opening night of a lesser known play in a venue as small as that one. I spent most of my time back in the green room. I didn't see a reason for me to watch the show front to back from the audience, and I also wanted to be avilable backstage in case anyone needed anything.

At that point, (and I told the cast as much) I no longer considered myself the A.D. The show belonged to them at that point, and my position was obsolete. (I don't give notes on performances.) Even with that being established, opening night was a surreal experience in some ways.

I have been somewhat on the outside during this production in many ways, despite running some of the rehearsals myself. So that has always been somewhat present. But it was particularly present last night. It's not quite as bad when you are the stand alone director yourself. You have your own energy and excitement about the show finally opening that you must contend with. Not that I had none of that myself last night, because I did. However as an A.D. I was always more of the back-up quarterback. (Actually I had more influence and importance than your average back up quarter back, but the metaphor is sufficient to the moment.) As such it is a little harder to catch that wave of energy that comes with opening night.

Also in my position of course, it was a matter of seeing the broadest picture on the night, as opposed to the more focused outlook I have when opening a show as an actor. I was making sure everything was safe, in place, ready to go, and that I wasn't needed to put out any last minute fires. When I am an actor, I am making sure I am prepared, as opposed to the entire show being prepared.

All and all, I am proud of the cast, and I do feel that spending most of my time as an actor made me better able to see and suggest certain things to the cast which would perhaps elude someone who has only directed and rarely acted. I hope that is the case. I told the cast that I hoped something I said, did, thought, suggested somehow made something better for them during this process. I tried to make them feel appreciated, and tried to inject a bit of energy into them. It's hard to know if it worked, but those are the things I like to hear and feel when I am an actor on opening night, so I gave my best effort to give it to the actors for this show.

In the end I do feel I came away from this experience as a better actor, if you can believe that. I am not often able to just observe and discuss performances of fellow actors from a distance. Directing is the only time I am able to do so. And in so doing I came away with new thoughts, ideas, and perceptions about how to proceed the next time I am an actor. It happens every time I direct or assistant direct, but for various reasons I think it was especially true this time.

In many ways it is the opposite of being on stage. On stage things start out smoother, slower, more leisurely. Then you move into an intermediate phase, and finally burn your built up nerves on stage on opening night. Directors build up anticipation, but don't actively get to burn it off on a given night. It is just...there in a way. Which is why I like to burn as much of it as I can; expend as much energy and passion and creativity during the rehearsal process as possible. That way I feel by opening night that I have given it everything I can possibly give it, and get a chance to relax and enjoy things.

I don't know when my next directing experience will be. i had hoped to direct for this company next year, and there were indications that I might be able to, but last night they announced the schedule as well as the director's for next year. So my plan in that regard won't work out. Perhaps the year after. Who can say?

Whenever I do it, I know the lessons I took from assistant directing this show will go with me.

What is my next theatre project? I don't know the answer to that yet either. I know it will not be at Full Circle, as I have no real interest in their next production, and I have been making the 30 minute trek to that place at least three days a week every week since early August. It might be a time for a brief break. Whatever happens, you will find out about it here.

In the mean time, I'll be posting a few more opinion pieces and links to discuss than I have been previously. I am taking the blog in that direction as well this year.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

My ShowBizRadio Column for February 2, 2011

This week over at ShowBizRadio, I talk about how important it is to be proud of your own stage accomplishments, even when an audience would not be impressed by, or even be aware of same.

It's easy for an audience to recognize the challenges faced by say, an advanced dancing solo or working with an animal. But most actors have something through which they struggle to work through while on stage that may be easy for others. Yet they don't let it affect their performances.

Different things are difficult for different actors. But working through them is key, and something you should be proud of.