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?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pick-Up (And Put It Down Again) Rehearsal

This post is strictly archival in nature, as there is nothing substantial to report about today. Five cast members were missing, including one of the leads, so running the show would have been fruitless. We didn't even go out to the stage. Instead we stayed back in the green room and reviewed lines for those scenes wherein the leads were not alone on stage. So I reviewed all of my lines, and didn't have any trouble picking up where I left off. Those that were good at their lines were still good. And those that had to write their own lines because the ones provided in the script were too difficult, continued to struggle.

My hope is that the second weekend will of course be better attended than the first. It usually, though not always is. I don't think the second weekend for A Thurber Carnival went much better than the first, now that I think of it, though this production is in much better shape than that show was.

Second weekend are often a more laid back affair. We will see if that holds true for this one. As usual it feels like both more and less than the actual three days it has been since we last ran the show on Sunday.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hot Ticket

I wish the title referred to how many people were beating in the door to come see our matinee. But no, i am actually referring to the fact that the AC was not functioning out in the house, and that made for a rather sweltering experience for the audience. Which consisted of about 12 people. There are only 11 in the cast...

The performance was alright. Several people thought it was the best so far. While good, I personally think Saturday night's went better overall. But that could be because there were virtually no laughs from the few people yesterday, while there were several people Saturday night that understood some of the subtleties, and hence were heard laughing. I can't be sure.

I am sure that my energy in some scenes was lower than it should have been. I'm not talking lethargy here, but I could have used more bounce in a few of the scenes. My most animated scenes were fine, but I think I slipped a bit in my more passive scenes. (If Hamlet is ever passive...)

The umbrella business went easier than on Saturday night. I can't remember the exact mechanics of what i did, but I hope I can repeat it for the rest of the run, because it was much easier. Even though things were in a somewhat different position than previous nights.

One thing that wasn't in position was a barrel of swords in Act Three. These swords play a critical role in one hectic moment of the scene, so an interesting challenge arose.

I start off Act Three hidden on stage behind an umbrella for about 15 minutes or so. During that time I clearly see the area where the swords are supposed to be. And as the lights came up I noted that they had not been placed. I knew this would require some kind of ad-lib later on. But what, exactly?

What is supposed to happen is that eventually I walk up stage, notice that the "ship" is being boarded by pirates, and yell "pirates" to the other on stage while turning and grabbing a sword from the barrel. I then yell to the others, "To arms," and they grab swords. Brief slap stick hijynx then ensue. Having a good 20 minutes or so to ponder how to make up for this I went through my options.

1) See if I could somehow signal to actors waiting in the wings across from me what the situation was. This I dismissed quickly, as I would have no idea how to sign out such a scenario.

2) Instead of walking up stage before yelling "pirates", I could walk off stage and yell same, and hopefully in those few moments locate the swords and then bring out enough for everyone when I entered the stage. For much of the time I thought this would be my plan. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered what would happen if I wouldn't be able to find the swords? I figured they couldn't be far, but I couldn't be 100% certain they were right off stage.

3) I thought about ignoring the missing swords altogether. Playing out the scene in exactly the same way, only "To arms" would mean to look for, but not actually find any weapons, and then proceed. This is almost what I did. But what I went with was...

4) I did everything as normal. I went upstage, yelled "pirates", and then turned to the others and yelled instead, "find me a sword."

You see at this point I don't know if the other actors have noticed the missing barrel or not. Ideally what I figured this would do would be to cause us all to run around in the exact same manner, looking for a sword, before exiting, instead of brandishing swords and then exiting. So I proceeded to run to the places I normally would have done. The other three ran off stage, muttering, "sword! sword!", and actually came back on with the swords. Turns out they were not far off stage after all. They handed me one and I took it. But I wasn't sure if I should then begin the blocking over again, or, as the nominal leader of the half assed charge, I would just cut to the end of the blocking, and exit. This is what I did, and everything turned out fine. I would be very surprised if the audience knew it wasn't supposed to be that way. I must commend the other three on stage for their excellent cover.

Live theatre. At least in this case I had plenty of time to ponder the improvisation. I have many times had to work through a mistake instantly. I am just glad i had time to think this one through.

I must admit I look forward to a break of a few days from doing the show. Despite the great improvement we saw over the last week I was getting tired. I should be refreshed by the time we do the pick-up rehearsal on Thursday. (Though three people, including one of the leads won't be able to attend it, unfortunately.) Then onto the second weekend, which will hopefully be better attended.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Saturday Night's Alright

In a reversal of the norm, tonight's audience was actually even smaller than last night's. And I feel pretty certain that several of them left at intermission. There were about ten people there by the end. This is frustrating.

However, several people, including two friends of mine, were tuned into the jokes of the play, and hence this tiny crowd was more responsive than the bigger one from last night. That made things a bit easier to swallow.

The best news of the night for me is that I got to do all of my scenes! Nothing was cut off. Further, I got into no more scrapes with certain individuals.

Somehow the cast was high energy for most of the affair. Perhaps we were buoyed by the several laughs, or maybe we just reached the right point tonight, but either way the show seemed a bit tighter, at least from my view.

I really felt I began to connect with Hamlet on that "extra" level that I have been talking about. I won't say it was transcendent just yet, but I felt as though each of my scenes had a depth which previously had only shown up in places. I truly felt for those few moments on stage that I was out there performing Hamlet itself. Which was one of my goals for this show. With four more shows, I like to believe I will have at least one night where I feel at the top of the game. If history is any indication, that will be a week from tonight, mark me. For now it was nice to feel the lines come forth trippingly from my tongue, to paraphrase Hamlet from the source material. Not only is the character showing up more, but the language is becoming more natural as time goes on. I am catching a lot of the rhythm.

A friend of mine, and one of the founders of the theatre told me she loved the way I was presenting the Prince. This was very encouraging, as I have a great deal of respect for her theatrical viewpoints.

I totally botched my mini-set change in Act Three, though. I can't really see anything up there on the pod in the dark, and moving a lamp, lawn chair, letter, magazine and giant beach umbrella in such a small space has been a bit of a challenge this time, though it had worked out previously. This time when the lights came up, the umbrella was sideways, and the lawn chair was on top of the magazine. I tried to yank it out, but couldn't. So I had Hamlet sleep instead until my cue came up. Awkward and annoying, but really the only trying part of the performance for me tonight.

Tomorrow is a matinee and to be honest I don't expect much in the way of attendance or energy. I could be proven wrong, and I hope to be, but Sundays in general, and in this venue in particular rarely seem to break the mode of being poorly attended and somewhat flatly performed. Plus our director won't be there. Still, I think I will be able to take some of the internal lessons I learnen tonight about playing this version of Hamlet and apply it to tomorrow's show. It may not be a stellar day for the show, but I now feel I have a reference point for how I want things to feel for me. I have honed in on a few things now.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Opening NightMARE

Before you panic too much I will say the majority of our first show was alright. But to quote one of my cast mates, after a certain point things went rather "pear shaped" for me personally.

I have mentioned more than once during my posts for this production that one of the cast mates is very difficult to work with. I won't pretend anymore, for this is my blog and it is really no secret to those in the know that I find this person not only a terrible actor, but a pathetic human being. He never gets anything right, blames everyone and everything but himself for his mistakes, and is very mean spirited when he doesn't get his way. And this is the second time I have had to work with him. I previously worked with him back in October. (See the archive of that month, as well as September for more details.)

His screw up was so big tonight that one of my entire scenes was skipped. Just flat out entered two pages early, and bingo, I had one third fewer lines than I was supposed to. Kudos to the quick thinking of the two leads for covering the foul up seamlessly, but needless to say I was very displeased.

Mistakes happen. And when hard working, honest, decent people make them, I forgive them. I make them. Everyone makes them. But it is hard not to be irritated when I miss so much of my stage time because of such a large mistake by a small minded, ill tempered individual,who already has people putting in extra energy to make sure he hits his mark on time. People whom promptly ignores when he blunders on stage. I dealt with this face to face in the fall when we shared scenes. I thought, foolishly, I was safe from this sort of shambles when I didn't share any scenes with this guy this time around. I was wrong.

In the wake of the last show and our chemistry, I told him to never speak to me again. Yet he continued to try then, and now to do so. When he attempted to talk to me tonight, I told him to leave me alone, as I have done over and over again by now. In response he blew up with all sorts of foul name calling in front of my friends. I am happy to report I walked away without further comment or confrontation, but it sort of ruined my mood for my first night as Hamlet.

I really hope I don't have to deal with him getting in my face again for the rest of this run...

As for the show, it went well, other than moments like that. The crowd was small. (And in it were two other people I despise...). They laughed at a few places, but overall didn't engage much. If I had been one of the leads, I would have found the quiet exhausting. But I don't know what the real leads thought of it. I didn't ask. I hope it is better tomorrow, though. There was a lot going on in town tonight, so that may have contributed to the small numbers.

I did manage to get to a separate place in my head, mostly. I can't say I am as lost in the character as I would like to be yet, but as curtain approached I was in a zone-like place. And I feel committed on stage. I just wish it were slightly more internalized for some scenes. Though for others, such as "It hath made me mad," I feel quite connected to Hamlet. Maybe because I am yelling, and it is a dynamic scene.

I am not yelling when I mouth "to be or not to be" silently to myself. I have longed to time that speech perfectly to end when my first spoken line of the scene shows up. I have experimented with starting the speech at different places when I enter. (Hamlet is said to be in the midst of the speech when he comes on.) Only once, about three days ago, did I time it perfectly. My hope is to find the right rhythm at least once or twice during the actual run. No big deal if I don't, as I know when to stop, and deliver my line. But it would sure add a nice authenticity.

As would memorizing that speech at the end of Act Two. Or at least the first few sentences of it. ("How all occasions do inform against me...") But once I get up there to pretend to say that one, I forgot most of it. Again, it is not detrimental. Just one of those challenges I give myself that I would hope to achieve by play's end.

In summary, I think that all by one of us has a lot to be proud of tonight despite some goofs. "Ophelia" forgot to take her modern eye glasses off when we entered...something that even I didn't notice during our scene. A tiny light snafu in Act 3. I screwed up placing the chair and umbrella a bit in the dark. But this is a long, at times complicated play, with much to remember. The progress that most of the cast has made this during this non-hellish hell week is to be commended, even if the audience didn't seem to get it.

The opening is under our belts, and I look forward to the second, and in some ways more "real" performance tonight.

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Final Approach

Last night was our final rehearsal. I don't buy into the notion that a final rehearsal is the opposite of what opening night will be, but even if I did, I wouldn't know how to categorize it. The energy was low, but we didn't bomb or anything.

This is one of those shows that needs an audience. Yes I realize that they all do when you get down to it, but what I mean is that I have discovered that certain shows get to a point where rehearsing starts to get a bit pointless. So invested in the presence of an audience is the script that beyond a certain point one can only guess as to how prepared a show is to go on, and I think we have reached that point. It needs an audience.

My best guess is that there are some tricky spots and pot holes here and there, but that each rehearsal has filled some of them this week. An extra week would have been ideal, but I would gather the show is ready to tentatively take off tonight. I think perhaps the first 15 minutes or so may be slow in going, and then the show and the audience will commence to thaw.

Silly as it is, I am proud to report that none of my snaps came undone during my scenes last night. I think I have finally mastered the limitations of my movements in same, and can gesticulate without causing a problem. There was also a piece of velcro added to the fly of my knickers, so that potential embarassment is no longer an issue. (I had used a safety pin the night before.)

I do think i need to slow down a few of my lines, but that shouldn't be difficult.

I also worked out some of the lighting cue difficulties I had had in Act Three. I need to give a subtle cue to the lighting guy who cannot see the whole stage, but other than that, no problem.

The only unpleasantness about last night is that I had to ask some people in the green room to quiet down do I could hear cues. There has been a lot of yelling and exuberant talking back there of late, but last night we had singing pop songs in harmony, and I really couldn't determine a thing as to cue from the monitor. I believe I angered some people, and while that is not my intention, I do need to hear my cues. Hopefully the presence of the audience will help with that as well.

I didn't time the show, but it seems to take about as long as it did the night before. We were done with everything, including notes, at about 11:00PM. The show is probably a solid two hours and 30 minutes.

For my own part, I continued to perform at about the same level as I have all week. Which is why I hope that tonight there will be that extra spark I mentioned in my previous entry. All of the difficulties and practice and such is behind me now. I am confident that I can and have provided my cast mates with what they need during my scenes. I wish everyone well of course, but I cannot spend too much time any longer pondering what is happening when I am not on stage. (Other than my cues, of course.) Despite the large blocks of time I have without doing anything, I hope to go inward tonight, and just enjoy the fact that I am Hamlet. If I can do that, it should be a fun opening night.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Altered Pants and A Thousand Words

The local photographer was on hand for last night's rehearsal. I imagine his pictures will appear in either tonight's local paper or tomorrow's. I am not certain. I was in several of the shots he took, but whether or not I will actually be in the paper, who can say? I have actually ended up in that paper a few times, but usually the picture has not been good enough to make it worth me buying a copy for my records. Oh well.

As for the rehearsal itself, I have to correct something I wrote in my previous post. I had mentioned that last night would be the first rehearsal with the entire cast. I was wrong. One of the players was still missing last night, making the pantomime scenes a bit awkward yet. Which means that tonight will be the only time in the entire process that the whole cast has rehearsed together. And of course it will be the only time that happens before we open tomorrow. Again, none of the pantomime really effects what I do much, but I imagine all of the players would have preferred more rehearsals with a full compliment, if such had been possible.

Firstly, my costume issue. After having the snap moved on my pants, the fit somewhat better, but still felt a bit loose. Fortunately, I was able to roll the waist up a bit, and that kept them in place better than before. So I was able to proceed with worrying too much about them. Near the end it was a bit problematic, what with all of the running around waiting for pirates. But that was a brief moment, and didn't give me any huge problems.

Also, the top being a size too small for me, I basically cannot bend down or gesticulate with my arms in any fashion, or the snaps in the back will come undone. That is rather inconvenient given the fact that I am unable to fasten them myself. I require assistance, and I can't have that happen on stage. I just need to hope that each time I am on stage and the snaps become undone, (and they will...I have determined it isn't possible for them to stay fastened if I decide to move at any time), at least enough of them will remain in place to keep the top on. If not, I will simply remove it in character, and toss it out of the way. (This is why I hate complicated costumes.)

As for heat, I am not as blazing hot under the lights so far as I had feared. With people in the house it will be hotter in the tiny space, but for right now I don't experience anything that a brief stay in front of one one of the green room fans can't alleviate.  I don't have time to remove the complicated top at all during Act 2, so this is fortunate.

I have been in a bit of a plateau with my performance the last night or two. I don't feel any drastic improvements taking place, and maybe in this context I have peaked in what I can give the performance. Yet I can also say that I have not experience any major set backs either. (Knock on wood again.) I do feel that with an audience I will have more to offer. not that I advocate doing any less than one's best in rehearsals. But try as an actor might, they simply are not going to feel exactly the same, or as exactly engaged in a show without an audience as they do once somebody is out in the in the house. They are, after all, a character in their own right.

That being said, I will make every effort tonight to be extra focused on what I am doing. Speaking slowly. Enunciating. Trying to decrease any tentative moments. Remembering what I have told myself from the start; I am still playing Hamlet, and the rest of the show deserves me doing so well.

Another thing about an audience being there is that the entire building will be quieter. There will be a more serious aura to the place. I don't mean to suggest that the cast is not currently taking their job seriously. In most cases they are. But everyone's focus tends to tighten once performances have begun, for much the same reasons as I mentioned in the previous paragraph. And when that happens, I find it somewhat easier to remove myself from my surroundings when the need arises.

We blocked the curtain call last night. The leads had suggested that they not show up for it, given that, as the name of the piece reminds us, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. But our director rejected the notion. (And truth be told I am not certain how serious the suggestion was.) Not only because many of the other people bowing also play dead characters, but because she believes a curtain call is for actors, and not characters. I have always very much agreed with that view. I have thankfully only been in one or two shows that required "character calls", and I didn't enjoy the concept. I like to bow at the end of a show as myself.

Our light and sound crew was in place last night. I have worked with both before. I thought the director was going to run lights, but there were no disasters. A few snags that have to be worked out, but I am confident that tonight they will be. That is the point of tech week after all. Though I will point out that this tech week has felt less like a tech week than most shows I have been in. I am not sure why. I guess because it isn't that complicated from a tech stand point.

The only issue I am having is moving an umbrella and chair in the dark, and getting into place. Believe it or not, I am a bit more nervous about doing that than I am about delivering my lines in the performance. I just don't want to fall off a platform or drop a huge umbrella back stage in front of people. Another knock on wood.

I have not kept exact records, but I estimate the show is running close to two hours 30 minutes, and two hours 45 minutes. Getting a bit faster each night, but still quite a long evening, both for actors and I fear for patrons. The script itself is longer, yes, but I still think we as a group are taking a bit longer to perform it than would be ideal. But that may just be my own perception from the perimeter. Certainly it has gotten better than it was a mere few days ago. It is hard for an audience to sustain interest passed the two hour, 15 minute mark for most standard shows. If not counting the intermissions we could as some point reach that, I think we would be in good shape. I will try to time it tonight.

One more rehearsal.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Getting Dressed

First dress rehearsal last night. I am not a huge fan of my costume, but it is okay. Except for the fact that my pants were too big. I suppose I didn't catch on to that fact when I tried them on last week, because at that point I wasn't running around the stage as I do in the show in some scenes. But they are being adjusted, and should be ready for tonight, hopefully tighter but not too tight.

I also need to secure some kind of pin for the fly, which has nothing to keep it closed.

The top I wear, or doublet, or whatever it is called, snaps in the back, and it is a bit tight on me, so the snaps frequently come undone when I move. I don't think much can be done about this, though. As long as it stays closed in the back, I will be fine. It never came all the way undone.

Underneath that I wear some kind of short, with sleeves that are tied at the wrists, as well as being tied at the chest. I opted to come out in this for my first entrance, without the outer shirt, and left everything that should be tied, untied. I also left off one shoe. (My right, or downstage shoe.) Hamlet needs to look disheveled at that point, as described by Ophelia in Shakespeare. ("His doublet all unbraced..." and so on.) I wanted to make sure I would have time to get into full costume before my next entrance. Turns out I do. So I think this is what I will stick with until directed otherwise.

I have black socks up to my knees, because the pants are only knee high.

My concern was being way too hot. And indeed it is warm in that outfit. However between all of the time I have to rest at certain points, and the abundance of fans in the green room, I don't think I will have much of a problem with over heating. I need to get some bottled water though. I should stay hydrated just in case.

Personally, I would choose another outfit, if it were up to me. It isn't terrible, but it feels like there are too many variables that are unpredictable. Many thing to come untied, unsnapped, undone. I don't fear being exposed or anything of that nature, because I can easily wear things underneath to preserve my modesty if it comes to that. But when I am in a costume, I like to wear it, and then forget it. In the sense that I don't have the screw with it. Costumes help me get into character, and in that sense I do not forget them. But I like to mentally absorb them as part of what I am doing, as opposed to thinking about if I need to do anything to them each time I go on.

To that end, though I did alright in performing, I was somewhat distracted each time. I had to move in a such a way or hold my hands in such a manner as to make sure my costume was in place. Needless to say this was not the most comfortable way to run my scenes. The good news is that despite the distraction I didn't make any major mistakes in my lines. That of course does not mean a mistake is impossible. Heaven forbid I should ever think that. It does mean, however, that the lines are in a good place in my head. Automatic, or very near so in most cases. Happy to be there two days before opening.

Not all of us are. The leads I am pleased to announce are very close. But one actor essentially still has to create everything he says once he gets to the stage. Which is difficult, when the lines are Shakespearean. Sadly, this particular person blames other people and circumstances for this lack of line commitment, as opposed to taking responsibility themselves. It is unfair to those who have to share a scene with him, and wait for a cue that never arrives. I won't belabor the point, but I feel for those who must share scenes with him. (I myself do not.)

Despite that very obvious problem, the show proceeded more quickly than it ever has thus far. I caught wind of a few things being skipped here and there by the leads, but only because I was told. I noticed nothing particular myself. And even what was skipped, whatever it was, didn't seem to effect the overall flow of the production. The leads are getting there, and with two more nights, they should be in a solid, if not totally easy place in regards to their lines. Which even further supports my believe that the second weekend should be even better. But then again it often is.

Lights and sounds were added tonight. And though it is not a tech heavy show, I have to say here that I am impressed with how smoothly that went. Often times tech week starts out as a logistical nightmare as light cues and sounds are coordinated with actors. Despite a few hiccups, (such as me almost tripping in the dark in Act 3), I have rarely felt this comfortable with the tech aspects of a show this early on. I will again add the caveat that I am not on stage most of the time. Then again if something major had occurred, I think I would have heard of it.

The rest of the rehearsals will have costumes, lights and sounds. And the biggest thing about tonight will be that, (as far as I know) it will be the very first rehearsal with everyone. That is to say all of the "Players" will be present to perform their mime show at long last. (As well as there few other speaking parts at the end.) The miming has been one of the most difficult parts of the play to orchestrate. Though I am not in any of those sections, I hope that those who are will find things falling together now that everyone is present.

Two more nights. I was correct when I predicted this show would feel like it was hardly here before it was gone. I doubt the leads feel that way, with all of their work, but for me, it is kind of going at Mack 3.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Independence Day

Independence from rehearsal that is. Too many people said they wouldn't come to rehearsal because of the holiday. Though to be honest, I really would have preferred that we rehearse in some ways. Holidays are nice, but when you have a project sometimes they need to take a back seat. We have a lot of work to do and only a few days in which to do it.

It is by no means a disaster, but it is still a bit rough in going in places. Not that I have a perfect fix on where we need to be. I don't watch every moment of the play. One thing to keep in mind is that given the nature of my role, both it's size and the fact that it tends to show up at random times throughout the narrative, I don't really get a sense of how things are going when I am not on stage. There is a monitor in the green room so we can hear cues, and I will occasionally hear if there is a mistake or something, but by and large I am rather less aware of what the others are doing, and how well they are doing it than I am for other shows.

That being said, the general feel I get based on the parts I do see, and the problem to which I am privy gives me the impression that we probably need all the rehearsal days we can get in order to be in opening night form by Friday. That point is moot, however, as we are unable to rehearse today.

We have yet to have all five of the Players present for a full rehearsal of the pantomime scenes, and we expect yet another to be missing for one or possibly two days coming up. Those scenes do take up a fair portion of the rehearsal and notes time, though I am not always sure why. Never having everyone present probably contributes to the high levels of confusion for those sections, though.

As for me, the last two rehearsals were more tiring than usual. I've been to worse in other shows plenty of times, but I was caught somewhat off guard I suppose. (One reason I didn't update my progress until now.) Saturday we started with Act 3 since we didn't get to it on Friday. Once we covered that we did the entire show in one sitting for the first time. Including Act 3 again. That was a long evening, though I myself encountered no major problems.

In fact by Saturday night I began to get into a true groove with Hamlet. Ideally I would be able to spend more time off with myself before some of the scenes. But this theatre is so small there is really no place to go. I do try to give myself a few extra minutes in the wings before I enter in order to gather some kind of focus. That helps, and I am not ashamed of what I bring to the character once I get out on stage for my brief scenes. I just wish I had more lead in time. It cannot be helped.

I still trip over one certain speech I have. Though it be Shakespeare, it is one of the most extraneous things I think Hamlet ever says. In fact few versions of the story I have scene include it, from what I can recall, though I can't promise that. Beyond that, though I have found the rhythm of the Bard within my lines. With those few exceptions, it is feeling natural now. A bit more natural than my last Shakespearean role of Friar Laurence, actually. I'm not sure why. The point being, I am now comfortable with what I am doing personally in the show.

Most of what I am doing. I have a big clumsy umbrella I have to position in the dark in Act 3 that I am still not certain about. I always feel like I am going to drop it back stage or something. I think I have honed in on the proper position for it now though.

Yesterday's rehearsal was an overall shorter experience than the last several had been. We were in and out in about 3 and a half hours. (Compared to 6.) Which means the rehearsals are getting tighter. This is good for the show, but I myself felt off yesterday. I think it may have been a combination of not having enough to eat before practice, and taking a very brief stroll outside the theatre before I made my first entrance. It was probably too hot to be doing that, even though I really didn't go that far, or move that quickly. The rest of my afternoon was affected. Yet nobody mentioned anything to me, so the degree to which I was off in my own mind must have been higher than what others were observing. (Though I did trip over a line at one point.)

Though I have not been able to go on my daily 4 mile walk in about a week or so, I do usually take walks. Yet after one scene wherein I am running about looking for pirates, I feel winded. Am I really that out of shape? Or am I doing something wrong? I am slightly concerned, but not panicked yet.

I also screwed up some of my pantomime for Act 3. But I feel confident that I finally have it down. Such a strange act for me. To be sitting, unseen for so long waiting for a specific cue.

That about sums up the last two days. I know this is a rather short update given that I have rehearsed twice since my last post. But in all sincerity things have hit a reliable stride for me at this point, and there is not much new to report. I hope to get a bit more polished in my presentation of the role in the next couple of days, but for now, entering the normally hectic and busy tech week, I am on an even keel.

But we start with costume tomorrow, so that may bring about a whole other dimension about which to write, loyal blog readers.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Two Out of Three A'int Bad

After a delay of an hour and a half, (some set construction issues) last night's rehearsal got under way at about 8:30. Despite the entire play being on tap, it was decided that after Act Two that we would stop for the night. (Which was just as well, it was 10:30 or so by then.)

But the good news is that masking curtains are now up, (though they confused a few entrances), and some platforms we needed as well. More set building and painting and such is going on as I type this, from what I understand.

As for the rehearsal itself, it was probably my most energetic performance so far. I have had some good rehearsals, but I am aware that I have been lower on energy than I should be. And I wasn't feeling 100% by the time we started last night, but I made a specific effort to show energy for my scenes, and from my own perspective, it at least felt like I succeeded. It is of course not always easy to judge such things for one's self.

From what I gather, intermission for this show will be right after Act Two, meaning that the first two acts will run together as one. We did this last night for the first time, and though I didn't make any mistakes it was a tad disorienting to move on immediately to Act Two at the point we had always paused for a break or to end rehearsal previously.

I still struggle to get a line out here and there. Usually the same ones. But my scenes have no major difficulties thus far, knock on wood. So I feel confident that the lingering problems will lesson each day between now and Friday when we open. (!)

I will keep this entry short, for I soon have to get ready to head over for today's rehearsal, which is now going to be the first full run through in wake of last night's early dismissal. There was not that much specific to report this time anyway. I think I will have more to say about tonight's rehearsal, so do check back.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Mind Your Miming

Wednesday was Act 3. In other words, my (mostly) silent act. It takes place on a boat, and for the lion's share of it, I am sitting under an umbrella on a platform on the "deck" of said ship. For the first half I am unseen. Later, after switching a letter with the sleeping Rosencrantz, the umbrella is turned, I am seen reading a book.

Eventually I do come down and pretend to spit off of the boat. (The nature of this gag is still, honestly, lost on me.) A moment later I lead a chaotic and fruitless charge against some unseen pirates, grab a sword, bump into people, and then jump into a barrel. (Yes, this is the part that is probably the least Shakespearean for me.)

Then later, for about 90 seconds I appear again at the very end of the piece as a dead body of Hamlet. The end.

Most of the rehearsal time was spent trying to get the Players set for all of the pantomiming they will have to be doing. Sadly, one of them cannot make it to rehearsal for another week, where a second one will be gone for the next 4 days. For those of you keeping track, we have had a full cast present exactly once.

Another one of the speaking roles also been absent for several days. He has only been to, at my count 2 rehearsals the entire time. But that is this particular "actor's" normal mode. I have worked with him before this very year, and he tends to not take what he does very seriously, unfortunately. I am ever so glad I don't have to interact with him as I did in the last play I was in with him.

Anyway, Act 3. My personal opinion is that once all the bugs are ironed out, it has to be very high on the energy. At least halfway through. All plays need high energy of course but I think this particular section of the play will be especially problematic if the energy is not kept way up. Pirates and pantomime, and other such things.

I am hoping the umbrella will be set up in such a way that I don't have to be directly on stage behind it right away, because that is quite a long wait to be on stage but hidden and unable to move. If I need to be there, it won't be too bad, but my preference is to abbreviate my time waiting on stage.

The times when I am silent, but visible are another matter. I can perform in character for those moments, and they will go by quickly. Actually, I am in the unique position of having to get off book for sections where I have no lines. As in, I need to commit to better memory those cues which indicate when I am to get up and do my wordless action. I also need to practice "blowing out" the battery powered lamp so that it looks realistic. It's a hard switch, so I need to come up with something.

The biggest news from yesterday though was that I got my costume. A very period looking get up. Doublet. Laced sleeves. Short pants. (I need to procure some long black socks to complete the effect.) The outfit will be hot, and it a little tight, to be honest. But so far not excruciating. (Though I have yet to actually perform in it.) Hopefully it will work out fine. Maybe not feel as tight as I wear it a few times.

Tonight (Friday) marks the first time we will run the entire show, front to back, as opposed to just a single act at a time. Such rehearsals are always a turning point of sorts. Makes everything feel more real. And the first few times, a bit more draining. But We open in a week, so the sooner we can get on with the full runs, the better. It won't give us a great sense of timing just yet, mainly because the leads still need some time with their lines, and of course we will be missing two of the Players. (And in all likelihood, "Claudius" again.) But it will give us a ball park on the running time. Rough ball park.