Monday, November 12, 2012

"Art": A Director's Journey Comes to an End.

Well, loyal blog readers, yesterday was the third and final performance of "Art", which I've been working on since the first week in September. As I mentioned here previously, I opted not to do a full scale daily update of the experience here, as this blog is about my acting adventures. As I do more directing and other theatre related activities I may decide to expand the focus of Always Off Book to include more regular updates and thoughts on other things theatrical. In fact I'm leaning in that direction. But in this case for now, I kept my updates about my directorial project broad and infrequent. It being over now though, a post mortem of sorts is in order.

It was an experience with many bumps from the very beginning. Audition turn out was lower than I had hoped. I hadn't hoped for standing room only, but I had hoped there would be more interest than what I got. (Though two of the three roles were cast from those able to show up on the actual day of auditions.

All was well for a week until one of the leads, who for some reason decided not to let me know about his work schedule while auditioning, opted to quit on the very first day. They were "sorry" for nearly running this show into oblivion with one single decision that for whatever reason could not have been made days before. I suppose it's not what happens, but the way it happens that can bother me. The way that happened caused me quite a bit of anger that took me some time to get over. (Truth be told, I will probably always be a little angry about it.)

The next few weeks were a string of disappointments as seven other actors approached to take the role turned it down for various reasons. During those rehearsals I had to read the role myself while also trying to give notes. That essentially doesn't work. I desperately did not want to be in the show myself, as the last time I got to direct, I had to do that. Around this time, I set a deadline for the show. If no actor could be found by Date X, I'd convert the show instead to a dramatic reading on a single weekend, instead of a standard production over two weekends. If that date passed and we still had no replacement, I was considering taking the role myself. It was still not appealing, being in a reading again that I was trying to direct. But a reading made it at least possible (though very difficult) to proceed. Having to be off book was never going to happen.

At last someone emailed me and asked to join the show. I'd met them a few times, but not worked with them directly. Usually in musicals or working backstage, it would be their first experience doing a "straight" show, albeit as a reading. But they took to the role well from day one, and showed fine instincts. At long last, regular rehearsals were underway.

Though not as regular as I had hoped. You see the theatre in which I do most of my acting is small. It has two rooms. The stage, and the green room. When I chose the timing for this play, I operated under the assumption that we would have access to the green room while the show before ours rehearsed on stage. As it turned out, that show needed both the stage AND the green room. Meaning that for a ten day period, we couldn't rehearse, or had to rehearse in a tiny waiting room usually reserved for the medical practice that shares the building. Had I understood that months ago, I probably wouldn't have done the play in November.

When at last, about two weeks before we opened, the stage became ours, things started to improve somewhat. One of the cast member's husbands made for us some perfect podiums to replaces the clunky wooden boxes we had been using for the purpose.(Complete with shelves for some props.) Now the rehearsals began to take on a more solid, consistent feel. We began running the whole show in one night around this time.

Advertising for a stage manager did not bear fruit, (just like so many other things about this experience) so I took on that role myself. For the first time ever, by default, I was a stage manager. A week ago this evening, for the first time ever, I gave a ten minute warning to a cast. After years of thanking stage managers for 10, I received my first ever thank you for ten.

Not that I had time to consider that. For due to lack of interest, I also had to run the lights myself. Luckily there were only about four light cues, all of them requiring only a general wash of the stage. Lights up/lights down kind of thing. That much even I could do on the light board, and I did.

All the while, there was another independent show that would be appearing a week after our show. Not affiliated in any way with the theatre or the venue, they were given permission to use the stage for their performance of some musical. Didn't bother me any...until we could all begin to feel their hot breath on our necks a bit. Many requests to rehearse on our stage when we weren't there came into our producer's office. I allowed one such rehearsal, but finally, in as respectable terms as I could muster, requested to them personally that they not ask for any more time during the run of my show, because I was disinclined to give it to them. I, like anyone else, needed my actors to have a tech week run as smoothly as possible. It did.

The set looked great, thanks to some help from my mother in painting everything black. (Some of the walls had been a beige-like color from a previous production.) Black and minimalist, just as I like it. That is how it would have been had it turned out by my original plan to do the show off book. Just in this case, I had nicely built podiums for the actors.

All three shows had tiny, but receptive audiences. Especially yesterday, when only seven people showed up, but nonetheless laughed heartily and many parts of the play. The previous night was ten people and the first night about 13. (The house seats 100.) I had hoped for the actors' sake that the turn out would be better. But with few exceptions that is the average attendance rate at this particular theatre these days. Other than a reporter who interviewed me about the show (but never ended up running the story, much to me irritation), our show was advertised in the exact same way as the other shows on that stage are advertised. We weren't stuffed in that department, and lord knows I put in as much extra effort to spread the word on Twitter and Facebook as I could. But very little came of it. (10 people out of 400 invited on the Facebook page showed up.)

On the whole, I'm satisfied with the production, despite its bumpy ride almost from start to finish. I am proud of the cast, and grateful to them. They worked the hardest in all of this through some less than ideal circumstances.

Here are a few things I took away from the experience personally:

-I have had less influence, respect, and esteem in the local theatre community than I previously thought. The lack of interest in various stages of this production taught me that. The cult of personality has a large impact on one's numbers, both in auditions and in audience for productions in communities like this, and I lack charisma enough to build one around myself. I accept this in me, for the most part, and knew I was not especially popular on a personal level. But the idea that I command that little attention did come as somewhat of a hurtful surprise to me.

-I am more resourceful than I thought. I've always been proud of my ability as an actor to "take a sad song and make it better" if you will. But until I was forced to do so many things by myself in one show, I hadn't realized what i could make happen by myself in a non-acting position within theatre. The knowledge and perceptions I have built up during my participation in some 30 or so productions over my life has served me better than I would have imagined.

Granted, it is a specific brand of product I had to bring about as a result of all the complications and lack of on the ground help. There are things I did, and left undone that I am sure other directors would have driven themselves crazy trying to avoid. And perhaps they would have succeeded. However, I made a decision early on that my approach was be actor-oriented, no matter how battered the rest of the production would be. If I had to do almost everything backstage, then I was willing to sacrifice the smoothness of some things in order to bring more attention, thought and inspiration to the actors. I simply wasn't going to fall too much in love with some "big picture" perfect scenario that wasn't going to happen. If my lighting was less smooth because I spent less time experimenting with it, and more time getting the actors to think about scenes, so be it. I'd do it that way again.

We all have a specific theatre-style that is inside of us, on which we will fall back if other things don't go right. Mine is a simple, visceral, actor-based and audience-tuned style. When all else fails, explore the humanity. That is what a discerning audience will remember long after the awkward fade is forgotten.

-I've gotten better over the years at not getting outwardly upset. It happens still, and it did with this show's outside forces that continually seemed to throw bumps in front of me and my cast. But had I been doing this five years ago, I would have been angrier, I think, and each obstacle than I was now. Or at least more outwardly angry at them.

-Community theatre on the whole, in my region, is suffering. Stories of 5-10 people showing up for a show are apparently not limited to the tiny theatre in which I do most of my work. Another theatre in the general area seats maybe 500 people. Aside from big name and old fashioned Broadway shows, their plays, it would seem, do not attract the attention they used to. 10 people in that place is far more depressing than ten people where I did "Art". This makes me feel somewhat better about the turnout for my own show, but rather depressed about the prospects of community theatre around here in general.

-George S. Patton was right. "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." 

-I may need to talk endlessly about my next project for months in advance, as opposed to weeks in advance. Maybe.

-Those few that do believe in me and what I do, are invaluable to these experiences.

There are more things I learned, about myself, theatre, this community, and other people. I don't need to get into them all. I think the above list covers the major lessons. I hope to direct again, either there or somewhere else. If i do I will take these lessons with me, and temper my approach accordingly. I'll never be personally popular are esteemed enough to command a great deal of interest in my projects around here. But perhaps, with these lessons in mind, I can have a smoother run operation, for both myself, and my actors, the next time I take the helm.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Production Update

Hello, loyal blog readers. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was directing "Art", and that despite this being an acting blog, I'd give you the occasional update. Here's one.

For the last two rehearsals, the cast has been on the stage for the first time. Not alone, as the set for the current (and soon to be concluded) production is still there. But by the time we rehearse again, the stage will be 100% ours. This is good news, as we have practiced in more than one place under some trying circumstances since we got a full cast. (Which didn't even happen until three weeks into the production, given that a lead quit on me five minutes into the very first meeting.)

This is to be a dramatic reading of the play. But a stylized reading, if you will. I will have three podiums on the stage, and if all goes well, each will have a shelf for the few props the script requires. The actors will be free to move around a bit within the "orbit" or their particular podiums, thus making the presentation neither simply a reading, nor a full out production. Rather my goal is to have it taking place in this sort of parallel dimension of theatre, wherein the actors are reading, yes, but are able to present, interact with one another (and the audience) and most importantly invoke the story being told. It wasn't what I originally envisioned, but I think it will work out nicely. Based on the results so far after two rehearsals on stage, anyway.

I have actually been in favor of dramatic readings for other works. They are faster, require less time and less money, and with some imagination can still be a moving experience for an audience as well as for an actor. Not every script would be suited for a reading like this, but I feel a good deal more of them would be, if directors and theaters would be willing to attempt them.

The key is for the actors to make the characters as alive as possible. To make the performances more important than the source of the lines. (A script in front of them as opposed to their own memory.) If actors can do that, and I know my actors can, audience will respond.

That's one reason I made it stylized in this fashion. I've seen readings wherein it the actors simply stood at a music stand and read from a script. Otherwise they worked around with a script in their hand. Good things can happen from either approach, but the limitation of those (particularly the second one) is that the audience feels as though they are watching actors read scripts. They may concede that fine actors are reading the script, but reading nonetheless. Put another way, many readings emphasize the reading as opposed to the acting. I am aiming to reverse that with my stylized presentation.

Much like in a musical where one accepts the conceit that people will at key moments break into song, the goal of this type of reading is to make the audience accept the conceit that these characters are real and interacting in a sort of undefined space that nonetheless represents an actual location. When the performances are real, this conceit becomes acceptable. That in a nutshell is my goal for this. Based on what I have seen so far, my cast is well on its way to achieving that vision.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


Hello again, loyal blog readers. I have not been here on Always Off Book in a while, having come to the end of my last production back in August. But there are several things that were/are going on I wanted to fill you in on.

To begin with, I am directing now. Actually I have been directing for the last few weeks. Art by Yasmina Reza, at the Full Circle Theater. (Though it is not part of their regular season. It is to be a fundraiser for the educational component of the company, the Young Actors Theater Lab. I haven't mentioned here until now for several reasons.

To begin with, I am not in it. I am directing it. I have been afforded the chance to direct only twice during the entire time this blog has existed, and I haven't decided if this blog about my acting experiences is the proper place to talk about directing. The last time I didn't blog much about it, but some, and I imagine I will do the same here. But, much like the last time I tried to direct, it has not exactly gone smoothly.

I had a lead actor decide to come to the first rehearsal in person to tell me he quit. I spent weeks afterward trying to replace that actor, only to have four people turn down the role for better gigs, or other reasons. As time passed, and I filled in for the missing role, I first knocked one weekend off of the performance dates, leaving it as just the one weekend. Then, as more and more rejections to help me rolled in, I converted the entire thing to a staged, dramatic reading.

It was not at all what I wanted to do. But I had hoped that drastically reducing the rehearsal time, and the mental energy required, (no memorizing required) would convince some people to reconsider. It did not. So I prepared to take on the role myself. Something that would have been totally impossible in a standard production, but was somewhat doable in a staged reading.

Thankfully, about two weeks ago someone finally contacted me and agreed to step in. I am grateful to them, and they are fitting in quite nicely, despite having several fewer weeks to work on the script than the other two actors. (There are only three characters.) So at long last, after taking several gut blows and being reduced in ways I did not want to reduce it, this production is on, and promises to be an entertaining evening of theatre, staged reading notwithstanding.

As for my plans to start my own company of excited, motivated actors, which I announced at the start of this year? That is no more. I officially discontinued the idea on the company's Facebook page, when virtually zero interest was expressed in the endeavor. I left open the possibility of looking into it in the future, but didn't make any promises. Very frustrating and sad to me. Because I had been building the foundation for that for three years or so. Art had been in the works in some fashion for four years. Nothing makes one feel more like a failure than dumpipng a great deal of passion into something, and finding that nobody (or almost nobody) has the slightest interest in helping you succeed.

I learned from these two events that I need to give less of myself to the local artistic community. I misjudged the amount of goodwill I have build up over the years by stepping in to help other people when their own visions and projects are in danger. I therefore made the conscious decision to not be there as often for as many people anymore. The time, effort and heartache is clearly not worth the investment, seeing as how when I needed something and want to succeed, nobody in the community was at all there for me. I will now be far more selective in the projects I will undertake. At least until/if I find myself in a more cooperative circle.

To that end, I have begun look into the idea of one-mans hows. This is not a new idea for me. I may have even  mentioned it previously here on this blog over the years, I'm not certain. But one thing I have learned is that if one can only rely on himself, one needs to seek out opportunities that involve only himself. I of course will still require the cooperation of any given theatre for a chance to perform such shows, but if I do it in future years as a fundraiser for the YATL and nothing else, that should still provide me with a venue. I don't need to take any show all over the town or anything. (It would be foolish to try, as I would also receive little to no support for that.)

There are one or two one-man shows already published I'd think of doing, and I am making early notes on writing one of my own. That is much too far away to get into any detail here, but I wanted to mention it as something actor related that I have been up to lately.

I will try to keep you semi-updated on Art, even though I am only directing it. A director must have certain discretion that an actor need not have, so I will not go into detail. But I may make a video here and there that I will post here, as well as to the as yet unmade Facebook page for the production.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Final Performance: Richard III

As promised, today I cover our last performance of Richard III.

Not that there is a lot to cover, actually. I will say first and foremost that for a poorly attended matinee, (and it was) the energy was surprisingly high all around. (Especially when one considers how late some of us stayed out the previous night.) The energy didn't rival the evening performances, but I am not sure how often that ever happens anywhere for a matinee. Yet given the circumstances, I think we went out on a high note. (In front of about 15 or 20 people I'd guess.)

All of my major parts went well, though my execution speech wasn't as good as it had been. I am not ashamed of it, but I know it was somewhat weaker the final time. I would have preferred to finish strongest, but as I have said, that is rare. (I think I have been in one single show where the final performance matinee was the best run. Ever.) I may have been a victim of my own somewhat lower energies on Sunday. I didn't bomb anything, but in an attempt to be subtle, I think my voice dropped a bit too much and I had to overcompensate to get back where I wanted to be. one of those things an audience probably doesn't know, but an actor does. Oh well. I didn't miss any lines, at least.

Indeed I am happy to report that in the entire run of four performances, I bungled only one line in a noticeable fashion. (I talk about that in the post immediate previous to this one.) That doesn't mean I didn't trip up anywhere else, only that the trip up was obnoxious and noticeable just one time. Given that is it Shakespeare, I'd say I have something to be proud of.

"Shakespeare is in your blood," said an acquaintance of mine after the Sunday show. She knew, she explained, I was a fan up until then, but didn't realize how much a part of me it can be until she saw this show. I replied that I am glad it shows, given how hard I work at it.

In the end, I have to say it all comes back to that. I did put in extra work and concentration for this role. By now I hope it is clear that I work hard at all of my roles in all plays, yet sometimes even I go the extra mile. From the start I had the intention to put more thought into my Buckingham, because I feel it is a role that tends to get lost or overlooked by audiences and director's alike, despite the large amount of stage time the character has. how easy to simply write him off as a fiddle upon which Richard plays to get what he wants. I saw more to him, and thankfully so did our director, and Richard. Because of this, I was able to explore the role in ways others might not have allowed me to.

Part of that exploration was going the extra mile in ways I don't always go in a show these days. Like writing a character back story, marking up my script with notations, ideas, and questions, and keeping to myself between scenes. This last one is of particular note since I often in the last few years have opted to keep company with my fellow actors in the green room when I am in between scenes. (It becomes more necessary when one has 45 minutes between scenes as I did in my last regular play.) Yet this time I made an effort to withdraw to the dressing room between my scenes. I was uneasy about doing so at first, in fears of being seen as anti-social. And yet, given the complexity of my version of this character, my desire to make it stand out differently than do most productions, and the fact that it is Shakespeare I thought that keeping myself on an even keel, mostly alone was appropriate.

This alone time, combined with the other extra work I mentioned seem to have brought about the desired affect. A memorable performance that got people talking, added something to the show, and expanded my perceptions and abilities as an actor. Not every role in every production does this, loyal blog readers. I have to believe that a good portion of the thanks for the impact this performance had goes to the extra preparation I put into it from the very start. Preparation that I admit I have not always put into characters in the last two years.

Buckingham afforded me a chance to be different types of Shakespearean characters at different times. Stoic and distant in the background at first. Then when he starts to conspire with Richard, perhaps a bit of Iago. (not as loathsome.) For the speeches at Baynard's Castle in front of the crowd, we had a bit of Marc Antony. The off stage action wherein his armies are swept away by a sudden storm, and he wandering off to "nobody knows where", could be seen as a King Lear moment. My favorite moment, the execution scene is certainly in the vicinity of Hamlet. Finally, as a ghost, we get a smidge of Banquo thrown in for good measure. I don't mean to suggest that Buckingham taken as a whole is like any one of those characters taken as a whole. But his moments had shades of the type of moments those others experience in other stops along the canon, and I feel I touched a bit on each from time to time.

Thus far, Richard III was my third regular Shakespeare production. (Love's Labor's Lost and Romeo and Juliet being the others.) Each provided their own rewards, but so far I do not think it is a stretch to consider this turn as Buckingham to be, for all of the reasons I have mentioned here and more, my top Shakespearean experience thus far. Is it ironic that I should say that about a character that is not considered to be among Shakespeare's most memorable? i think not. For the experience was memorable and valuable because it was unique. Because it challenged me to dig deeper than one has to dig to find say Macbeth or Lear, roles that are front and center. It is at the top of the list because I feel I elevated it beyond what most people see in the role. And if I can do all of that and still maintain loyalty to The Bard, how can I doubt that this was a big step forward for the Shakespearean aspect of my acting portfolio.

In theory, Hamlet is next, as I try to build a production on my own for that play next year. It isn't looking good so far, as I have not gathered much support. But in years to come the director of this play has expressed a desire to do even if I cannot, hope is not lost. I shall play Hamlet one day, regardless. But until that day, another chapter in my Shakespeare portfolio is concluded, and I thank you, as always, loyal blog readers, for following me on this journey.

Next stop, directing a play in the fall, and teaching an eight week teen workshop. Stay tuned for more on those things, but for now, the Richard III section of this blog is concluded.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Richard III: Saturday Night

Richard III is now concluded, and as has been the case with just about every play I have been in since starting this blog, i didn't write about the last evening performance before leaving for the closing matinee. Unlike normal, however, I am opting this time to write about Saturday night today, and then tomorrow write about Sunday afternoon. It is just too much these days to cover two performances in one entry. So on with Saturday.

"Elizabeth" asked me afterwards if I thought Saturday or Friday was better. I came to the conclusion that both were good for different reasons. Friday's energy was high right out of the gate, and remained so throughout the play, thanks in no small part to the large crowd we had. We shaved nine minutes off of the show's running time that night, as I mentioned. It felt good to get that "bam!" performance for the first time. Even though there were some medium-sized snafus here and there, it was a show to be proud of.

Saturday night's crowd was a little bit smaller. (About 50 as compared to 60 from the previous night.) Yet they were more responsive in a way. The few moments of humor brought more laughs than the previous night. I don't want to say they were more engaged than Friday's crowd, but they seemed more at ease with responding vocally to what was happening on stage. In that sense they were different.

Energy for the Saturday started a bit lower than it had on Friday. (Despite our director warning us against "second-night syndrome". It did pick up as the evening went on, however, and there were fewer mistakes. So from a technical standpoint I suppose one could say Saturday was better than Friday, even though in other ways it was Friday that felt more invigorating, if you will.

All of the scenes about which I have written went very well on Saturday. Crowd scene. Death scene. Break-up. Ghost. You are familiar with them all by now, and I am happy to say that I was at last able to add a bit of the extra I had hoped for in the death scene. Maybe not 100% of what I had envisioned two months ago, but as close I have a right to expect given the circumstances. I am satisfied. (I was told later some people applauded after the speech, but I never noticed that, honestly.)

Also overheard was that I was, according to an elderly gentleman, "one of the best Buckinghams I've seen." I believe I met this guy briefly at the end of the show, out in the lobby, as I was approached by an elderly gentleman bearing compliments.

I did make a line error in one of my scenes. "Lord Hastings had pronounced your part, I mean, your voice, for crowning of the king." I made it, "Lord Hastings had pronounced your voice...I mean...your voice for crowning the king."

I didn't panic, but I had hoped for a better save than that. Yet oh well. It didn't confuse anyone on stage, and  the consensus was that the audience didn't catch the error. Even if they did, one line mistake like that in four performances is nothing to be ashamed of. Even for me.

Two highly successful evening in a row, by almost any standard. So much so that later that night the cast voted to request a second weekend. Sadly, it was not to be, as not everyone's schedule would allow for it. But the desire was there, and that indicates a growing confidence in the play.

Tomorrow I tell you about our final performance...the always dreaded matinee.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Last night after I got home I sent a single text to our director:

"Now that is how you do Shakespeare."

She replied with, "Bam!". I think that covers it well.

Last night was indeed the best we have ever run this show. Energy was way up, lines were better, people connecting with their characters, and very few mistakes at any time. Even better, it was in front of an engaged audience of about 60. (In this small venue that is a terrific showing. In fact, it is the highest showing on that theatre for about a year or so.) It was especially nice, because I had a handful of friends in the crowd as well.

Richard III is by no means a comedy. There are, however, a few ironic moments that can be played for a bit of a laugh, and most of those moments received a laugh last night. My own character's moment of levity didn't receive as much laughter as that of some of the others, but nonetheless someone did laugh at Buckingham's ever so brief moment of goofing off.

In my opinion one could tell how the audience was responding to Margaret upon her first appearance. By the time she got around to interacting with my character, the tension was both clear and helpful for what I had to do. That moment has gotten better each night, as far as I am concerned. I don't say much in that scene, but I love being in it nonetheless because of those non-verbal moments I get to create. (Both before and after Margaret shows up.)

The my "meh" scenes, as I have called them lately. The one's wherein I am there, and moving things along, but  not providing anything memorable or moving. All went fine. So we move to the "Big Ones".

Crowd scene. Best it has ever been. I played to the real audience more, now that I feel more comfortable with the scene as a whole. I am not getting complacent with it, never fear. Yet last night I felt better with it than opening night, and I imagine tonight will feel even better. I still have a lot to juggle, (and I am not sure how the audience feels about Buckingham appealing to them...), but now that I have done it in front of an audience twice, one of which being quite large for the venue, I am even more at ease that all is well with it. I can do a tad better in a few small places, but if I do it just as good as last night from here on out, I will not be displeased.

"Break-up" Scene. Richard and I both commented later that it seems to go faster than ever last night. We both wondered for a bit if we had skipped something, but we had not, it turns out. Just the force of everything before it moved it along faster than before, I suppose. (The whole show was almost ten minutes shorter than normal, without major line drops.) i think it may have helped the scene, though. Gives everything an even greater urgency.

Execution speech. To begin with, the tech crew seems to have at last found a way to make almost no noise during this moment, and I greatly appreciate it. As for the speech itself; I was correct that having a larger audience there would help. I am not playing it directly to anyone in the audience. At least not yet, (I have thought about it). Yet having them there and absorbing their energy gave even more to this speech. It was a little bit closer to my ideal than the night before, and hopefully will get even closer tonight. It's probably my most relaxed moment in the play.

I also added a small limp for the scene last night. Why? Just one of those list minute inspirations one gets on the stage. I felt, just before I went on, that it might indicate even better a Buckingham that has been on the run, caught, hauled to Salisbury and then drug to execution. His clothing and hair I already mess up a bit before that scene. Why not his body a bit as well? I think I'll keep it. It's adds to the contrast with the clean, proper, in control Buckingham of the earlier parts of the play.

Yet whatever happens, I know that I have brought that speech, both outwardly and inwardly, further in the last two weeks than I did the previous six weeks, and I am pleased with that realization. The preconceived notions of Buckingham may be too great on the part of audience members to sympathize with him as much as I'd like, though I don't know. It is written in such a way that I feel they audience could easily do so.

The ghost scene. I had a little less time to get ready for it last night between scenes, but I wasn't late. I just like to collect myself a bit before the other ghosts come on, and I didn't quite have time to do that last night. But it's of no true consequence, as I am comfortable with the scene, and it isn't a lot of work to get into ghost mode as I watch the other ghosts go out before I do. Perhaps it helps to not have as much time to think of the scene?

As soon as the lights were out at the very end of the play, the clapping started. That is always a good sign. As is hearing your friends hoot for you when you come out for curtain call. The energy from the audience carried over into the show, and after the show as many in the cast hung around to discuss things and enjoy some food and refreshment.

I wonder if part of why I did so well last night was do to my spending more time alone in the dressing room. I am not one of those, "don't talk to me!" types, and usually I can socialize, mildly, and still be in character when needs be. Yet last night I went back to my practice of withdrawing between scenes, (and just before the opening). The audience and everyone else of course had much to do with how well everything went, but I can't ignore that my best night with this show so far was the same night I kept more quiet to myself than I have been lately.

I have no idea what the numbers for tonight are supposed to be. My hope of course is that they are at least as good if not better than last night. Truth be told, Saturdays are usually better than Fridays in my experience, but I don't want to get my hopes up. I will say, however, that if we can get provide tonight's audience with as good a show as we gave last night, we will be in excellent shape. (And of course, I will be working to make better even the things that I did well last night. I am close to being able to see I did everything I could. Just a few more pushes here and there, and I think I can make that claim. No doubt I am at the point where if I repeat last night two more times, I will not be disappointed. I have done quite a bit with the character. Yet I always want to give just a little more...and we will soon see if that can happen in the remaining two performances.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Richard III Opening Night

Last night we opened Richard III in front of a crowd of about 15 "pay what you can" customers. (Turns out that total that gave us 71 bucks which isn't bad.) The show was rough in places, especially the first half, with one or two bigger mistakes and low on energy. The good news is that in the second half energy picked up and flubs decreased. Overall I would call it a success that needs work for the rest of the run. Now that it's been done in front of an audience, I think this production can now begin to excel.

It certainly feels that way with me. I made no major mistakes last night, and in fact am proud to report that the crowd scene went fine for me. I even threw in a few more looks to the audience here and than I have up until this point. Yet I was still somewhat more nervous than usual before coming out for that scene. As I have been saying, it is that scene that has made me feel a bit concerned this week. I know I will continue to feel somewhat worked up right before I begin it over the next three nights, but now that I have performed it in front of an audience without making any major mistakes, my nerves will be lessened from here on out. I have proven now that I can do the scene in front of people without tripping up. That does not by any means inoculate me from the possibility of errors, but it does give my confidence a slight boost, which I needed.

In keeping with my tendency over the last few entries to not go over every scene I am in, I will comment only on selected moments. (Other than to say each of the other scenes were satisfactory.)

Margaret and Buckingham's encounter. I continue to enjoy playing this scene. The actress (whom I have known for years) gives me much to work with in those moments. I look forward to this early moment in the play each night.

I got a single laugh from a friend of mine in the audience during the "counterfeit tragedian" scene. It's one of the only comic moments Buckingham has. (Unless you count the entire crowd scene which in general I am not playing for comedy, though it often is played that way. Or at least played for irony.) At a certain point in the speech I flash an intentionally corny smile, and my friend laughed at that. Though nobody else did.

The "break-up" scene. I felt a bit off during it at first. Just for a moment or two in the second section. Not lost, as I knew where I was, just off. One of those things the actors notice that the audience almost certainly doesn't. Truth be told I may have been the only one to feel it. I didn't ask Richard how he felt about the scene. Once I left and re-entered the scene later, things felt better. I really want to punch the one moment of anger I give Buckingham in the play. ("Made I him king for this?") I think I have been doing so during rehearsals and last night I believed I did as well, though I'd like it to be even more dramatic. There is only so much I can do, though.

Execution scene. I don't know if the intimate setting is having an impact on the audience in the way I had hoped/thought it would. But it was a small audience, and only one night of four. Plus it is a little more difficult to judge dramatic impact than comic impact. All that aside I can say, with all sincerity that last night was one of the most satisfying performances of that speech for me so far. Probably the most satisfying so far, in fact. I was relaxed. My enunciation and projection felt just right. I found the meter well. My pauses were well timed for the dramatic effects I wanted. Duration was pretty good. (Even the backstage noise was not as bad last night. I sure hope that keeps up.)

My inner feelings during the scene were acceptable. I would ideally like to feel it a little deeper than I did last night, and again that may come with the remaining performance. But to get it to where it was last night is an accomplishment in its own right. I want it to be even better from here on out, but if it ends up not being so, the audiences this weekend will be in for a good scene.

Ghost scene. The most pure fun I have in the show, probably. Last night, as always, it went well. I have been able to let myself really get into it now. Last night I could feel some energy from the audience during this creepy scene, and that added to it for me. Not that the audience wasn't invested in other parts of the show, but I think the eerie scene makes it more palpable. But then again I am standing among the audience during that scene anyway, so I am sure that contributes.

To sum up, there was much to be proud of in this first performance, and a few things we'd all rather not think about. I am proud of my own scenes, but know that in most cases they can get even better, and I will attempt to make them so. Yet as I said at the start, perhaps the biggest benefit to us all is that we have now performed this show in front of people. It will not make us invincible, but that novelty of showing outsiders what we have done is now behind us. Hopefully this means we can all now begin to truly weave masterful performances.

The adventure continues tonight at 7:30.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Last Rehearsal

Last night was it. From here on out it for keeps for Richard III. Once again the moment of opening a show in front of people is upon me and my cast mates.

As such, I don't think I want to spend a great deal of time on dissecting it. I have said previously in this blog over the years that I don't believe in that old theatre adage about final; rehearsals. (That the better they are, the worse opening night will be.) That being said, I will mention that last night went well. Several of my scenes, especially in the first half seemed to have more energy, and the director later agreed. She said it felt faster, though upon timing it it was still an hour and fifteen minutes for the first half, as it has been the last several time we have run it. It would seem that An hour fifteen is as fast as it is going to go. The director pointed out that it was a fast hour fifteen though. Few dragging parts. The action was moving along nicely. That's good to know.

I got one note about something to try for the rest of the performances, and I will do so. Margaret and I worked out the moment we were asked to create the night before last, so that's solid.

As for my biggest scenes, they went as follows:

My longest and most draining scene. The offering of the crown to Richard. I remembered most of the edits for the scene. Enough for them to make sense to the audience. nothing is a sure thing in theatre, but I feel confident I can remember to do it tonight and the rest of the performances. As for the rest of that scene, it was probably one of the best runs of it. I still get somewhat nervous before it begins, and I still think I can give more, but it is much more solid to me than it was even at the start of this week, and I cannot ask for much more than that. I go over that one in my mind each night before rehearsal. (I don't have time during the run, as I have no breaks of significant time in Act III.) What needs to be there is there in my mind and heart. I need only bring it out for the next four nights.

My execution speech. To begin worth it was quieter backstage when I was giving it last night than previously, but it seems it is impossible to keep it quiet at that moment. I even asked the ASM about that. He said he tried. Some improvement is better than none, I suppose. It just means I will have to be all the more compelling and focused during the scene.

I'd like to report that last night was the best the speech has ever been, but I can't. It wasn't poor. There were no mistakes, yet it felt somewhat flatter or more shallow or something. I won't say I am worried at this point because I know what I am presenting to the audience is a good performance. But I want very much to reach that place I have been looking for within myself during the short speech. We will find out in about eight hours (as of this writing) if having an audience will provide what I am looking for. It often does, after all.

The ghost scene. Now that the timing for the costume and minimal make-up has been ironed out I need only think about the actual entrance and speech. If the crowd scene is one of the most important for the audience, and the execution scene is one of the most important for me personally, the ghost scene is probably the most fun and satisfying. I suppose many actors would enjoy playing a vengeful ghost, so I claim no unique perspective in this.

Yet it isn't mere about being the bogey-man in the scene. As in life, Buckingham travels comfortably alone in the ghost world to take care of his business, perhaps recruiting the other ghosts in this torment of Richard. Perhaps he spearheaded this haunting. But even if not, as I am playing him he is almost a satisfied ghost. As though he, of all of them, would have been free to move on to the next life, but actually opted to stick around between worlds just long enough to deal a blow to Richard. His language in the scene is different than that of the other specters and furthermore, as I said, he stands alone in our production. Physically. So why not play him in a different fashion as well? Last night this scene felt right on target. There may be a few nuances I can add tonight and in front of subsequent audiences, but by and large it is right where I want it to be. (Richard likes the way I play it as well. It seems I cannot be seen, except in shadow, under the stage lights, until the last minute.)

After rehearsal some of us went next door to the theatre to the British pub for a drink. (Yes, really. Kicks ass, doesn't it?) We toasted our future audiences being good ones. I don't know if toasting such a thing can make it happen, since it is up to us to give the audience a good show to respond to. But surely a bunch of actors coming into a British pub after doing Shakespeare all night can't possibly hurt the matter either.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Penultimate Rehearsal

If you count the public preview on Thursday as a performance, (which I do), than last night was the second-to-final rehearsal we will have for Richard III.

It was somewhat rougher than the previous night. Nobody got locked out of the building this time, but there were several tech issues. And though I didn't notice them myself, (as none took place in any of my scenes), it seems there were line issues throughout the play. Both other actors and the director commented on this. The director feels it is anomalous, as they cast has been a lot better with lines in the same places that were flubbed last night. Let us hope it was indeed an anomaly.

Two things of note. To begin with, the crowd scene. I ran it for the first time last night with the edited lines. (We have taken the tiny role of "Lord Mayor" out of that scene for logistics reasons.) This required me to change some of my lines in places, and to take on one of the Mayor's line's myself. It worked last night, and I have been reviewing it myself at home since last night. I don't anticipate much difficulty, though I still have to get it correct in the heat of the moment. I did last night, and I will feel at least somewhat better if I do so tonight as well.

I also hope to be more energetic and emphatic from now on when I run that scene. It went without major incident as I said, but I still tread a bit softly when it approaches. Probably because I am ever so slightly nervous whenever it comes around. (Such a huge part of my performance...)

Second thing of note is the ghost scene. I mention in my last entry that I would have a quick costume change between Buckingham's execution and his appearance as a ghost. It turns out I underestimated how much time I have. In my head it felt like it would be a lot shorter between scenes, but in reality I was able to comfortable cross to the other side of backstage, put my costume pieces back on, receive the short and sweet ghost make-up application, and get to my place. With time to spare, even. I will not have time to dawdle, but I will have time to walk. Briskly.

The ghost scene itself feels better and better almost each time I do it. I have it that Buckingham almost enjoys being a ghost at this point. At least for a few minutes to torment Richard. "A different type of ghost" as our director described it early on, I am going more for smug and loud, than slithering and creepy like most of the other ghosts. (I also enter from a different place than they.) I hope to convey someone that, through the lens of ghostliness, is eager to arrive, and then highly satisfied with the outcome as he take his time to torment.

Sadly, an actress was missing last night due to illness, and I was unable to perform Buckingham's execution speech scene in the proper way. (She is the one that is on stage with me at the time.) The speech itself I think went well, but I always feel rushed, even if I am not. The slams and bangs of the tech crew moving stuff backstage as I speak probably doesn't help. Nonetheless I feel I can add more.

Jumping out of order here all the way back to my first scene, the director gave Margaret a note in regards to her interaction with my character. She didn't give many specifics, but it involves making use of my personal hand prop. In theory I should be able to hearken back to what Margaret does there during the execution speech. We will see how that goes.

If this update seems fragmented, it is. This week we are all to behave as though we were performing in front of an audience, which meant we are no longer able to watch anything from the house. The only indication those of us off stage get as to what is going on is a fuzzy baby monitor stationed in the green room. I can say that it is coming together, and should be in good shape from Thursday, if we all stay focused. But specifics, outside of the scenes I am in, are difficult to determine as it stands now.

Also somewhat difficult to grasp is that this very night will be our final rehearsal. So often they seem to sneak up on actors and directors. But we are ready. once everyone gets well again (soon, hopefully), things will be set.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"We have a show."

So said our director last night during notes after a long and somewhat bumpy rehearsal. (Which included an actress being locked out of the building somehow right before she entered for a scene I was in. We improvised around it.)

Several good things were happening. To begin with, we were in costume for the first time, and that is always a plus. I'm in a simple charcoal gray suit. I opted for a black neck tie. Right before I went on for my first scene I felt the outfit needed something more. After scrounging around in some boxes, I located a white lady's glove that served quite well as a handkerchief for my break pocket. I can't ever remove it, of course, but I never have to. If I can find a real hanky I will of course use that instead.

Another good thing is that I starting to get a feel for how much time I have between scenes. Not as familiar as I would like to be, but I have at least determined that I don't have to rush from any given scene to the next.

All lights and sound were in place last night. There are still some issues to be worked out with those, but that's what tech week is about after all. The effects are solid, and will add a lot to the production without distracting from same.

My biggest scene went the best it ever has last night. There was a minor foul-up, as there are several lines in that scene that have never been assigned to anyone, and the actor had been delivering them. Last night she yelled one of the lines from the lighting booth, but was drowned out by the cheering crowd of the scene. I wasn't sure at first if she was shouting a direction of some kind. From the look on his face, neither was Richard. That caused me to skip one of my lines, but Richard went on, and I simply jumped into my next speech. (Of which I have about four in this scene.) No harm done.

It was decided later that those one liners that the director delivered will be cut from the script. I will admit I am a little nervous about altering what I will and will not say this late in the game, as these scene has always made me a tad nervous anyway. However, I have two nights to iron that out. (Though I have to talk to the director tonight, as I am not sure if I got all of the edits correct. Things were moving pretty fast during intermission notes.)

Other than that, however, I am pleased with the scene. I am slowly working in more acknowledgement of the audience during those speeches. My back is turned to them for most of that scene, so not only do I want to make if feel as though the audience is part of the gathered crowd outside of Baynard's castle to offer the crown to Richard, but also because I want them to be able to see my face at some point. That isn't ego talking, though. It can be frustrating not seeing the face of someone who is speaking on stage.

Act III is a semi-blur to me. It is the section of the play wherein I am on stage the most, and have the shortest breaks between scenes. I don't have much time to catch my breath or orient myself before I head into the longest scene. So I need to be quite geared up once Act III begins. Thankfully the speeches to the crowd are my final duties in the first half of the show, and I can leave that scene and start my intermission right away. Still, it is quite a 20 minute span for me. None of the rest of the play, as of yet, makes me feel the way that segment does as it approached. Especially that crowd scene. I am not afraid of it, but it feels a bit like a first date each time I am about to enter for that scene.

One of the bigger stories about last night may have been my performances in the second half of the play. After intermission, we see Richard crowned in a short coronation scene. Right after that we have what the director has been calling "the break-up scene." It's the scene wherein Buckingham cannot go along with the murder of the Princes in the Tower, and is therefore ousted as Richard's number one. Though I skipped a single line in the scene for the first time last night, the director made special note of how well the scene went. It did indeed feel good. Somehow it felt more powerful last night. more dramatic. One cannot always know why. Maybe some of it had to do with my small mistake, I have no idea. But I am glad the scene was of particular note last night, because it is of great importance.

I am not seen again until the top of Act V, as Buckingham is being led off to execution. This scene felt different last night, i think for two reasons. One, the lighting was set, and not quite what I expected it to be. Darker than I am used to. This doesn't bother me, and in fact made the scene more real to me in a way. As did the second difference; I was in costume, but with permission has removed my jacket and tie, and unbuttoned several buttons on my dress shirt. (It was also untucked.) This gave me a weary feeling of having been captured and imprisoned for a while. (Which is exactly the case for Buckingham.) I used that feeling to inform the so called "execution" speech. I am proud of how far that speech has come, but I still think I can do more. I am not sure how just yet. Pacing is part of it. The internal realization of what I am saying is another. It may in the end never quite reach what I have aspired to until the audience is there. But the attempt  goes on.

My biggest improvement last night with in the ghost scene, I think. Still in the disheveled outfit, (though the director would like me to try to get back into full costume for that scene), I hit the balance between off-putting, threatening, and almost smug that I have been looking for in Buckingham's ghost. According to Richard it looks good from where he is standing, and does what it is supposed to do. I look forward to seeing myself in the minimal ghost make-up I will be wearing. I hope someone gets a picture of me in that scene.

We also ran curtain call for the first time. It's a simple affair. Some go out in groups and bow. Others, like myself, go out as individuals and bow. I am second to last, just before Richard. Thankfully, it is the actors who take the bow, and not the characters. I never liked in-character curtain calls.

And so began hell week. Long. More draining that most rehearsals up until this point. And it had it's problems. Yet we are well on our way. Not bad at all for three days out. (I am counting our free public preview as opening night for these purposes.) There is more work to do, and we have only two nights to really do it, but it seems we know where the trouble is, and are working on it. Tonight is to be run exactly as a performance. With all costumes and make-up, start times, and such. So it begins.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Final Thursday Rehearsal

I am a bit behind on updating, but not by much, so bear with me.

Thursday was indeed the final time we will rehearse the show on a Thursday. Or not, depending on how you look at it. I suppose technically this Thursday will also be a rehearsal, but since it is open to the public as a free preview, I am not quite considering it a rehearsal in the traditional sense.

It was also, as far as I am able to remember, the first time so far that the entire cast was present in the theatre at one time. After terrible schedules, illnesses, recasting and other loveliness, Richard III's entire cast ran the entire show for the first time. Exciting? Well...

The director, who spent most of her time in the booth working light and sound cues, was not altogether happy with the rehearsal. There were moments, she said, but overall it was a slower, less energetic rehearsal than the previous night's. It is difficult for me to comment upon that, since I don't see much of the play when I am not on stage. But the director knows what she is talking about, so I imagine if she felt it was lethargic, than it certainly was so.

I suppose that means myself, as well, though I received no particular note. Yet when a whole show is slower, and individual performance usually follows suit in ways that the actor is unaware of. I know I once again flubbed in my big scene, and that is starting to annoy me. Not concern me yet, as I have been going over it, and I have three more nights to get it right. Plus it is the only section that I have consistently tripped during. That being said, I have to truly focus in these final nights to get it correct. I have an escape plan if it comes to that, but I am not going to let it come to that. (There is a section in every show, it seems...)

Hopefully everyone else will begin to iron out their own little difficulties tonight as well. For the director told us on Thursday, (we didn't rehearse Friday) that come Monday there were to be no more books on stage, and no more calling for lines. That may present with a bit of a struggle tonight and even tomorrow in certain aspects of the production. But when you get to that point, you get there. Nothing can be done about it except to plow through and fix things.

I am still getting used to how much time I have between scenes. In some, I have quite a bit of time. In others, I go right back out on stage after the end of a scene. I don't miss cues, but I feel better when I know exactly when I am going and staying. One truth is forming in my mind though; at no point do I have to rush. I have enough time to get my bearings in each scene change. Not always a great deal of time, but it's there. Further, in all of the moments where I need the most time, I do indeed have it. If I remind myself that I have a few minutes when those scenes end, I won't run around crazy looking for the script.

If we were doing Hamlet I'd know by default where we were all the time. But before appearing in it I had read this play far less often, and so some of the sequences are still fuzzy. It's improving though. I am not worried about that either.

Tonight we try performing in costumes, to see how they work. And thus begins a week that is longer than most. For each night we rehearse, and then jump right into the one preview, the opener, nd the two shows afterward. And then this production will "bid the world goodnight." But that is quite a ways off for now in theatre time. First things first..onward to tech week.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Fatigue and Revelation

It occurred to me as I was at rehearsal last night that I had not remembered to blog about the previous night's rehearsal. So today I will attempt to cover everything that happened over the course of two nights of rehearsal.

On Tuesday night, we had another full run-through of the play. (Excepting a few small moments that required an absent actor.) I won't go through each of my scenes this time, but I will say the play as a whole went better than on Monday night. We didn't go without stopping yet, but that is no surprise. The tech crew is still new. Nor has the entire crew been present for a rehearsal yet, so those kinks are still being worked out, as the cliche' goes. There aren't many complicated scene changes in this play, but those that are there require several pieces of furniture to be moved on and off the stage. (The performance space as well as the backstage area being smaller than most, it can be a bit of a challenge.)

I cannot complain about my performance that night by and large, though I once again had to call for a line in my biggest scene. (Act III, Scene 7.) I also had a difficult time speaking over the crowd at times without straining my voice. There will be more on that later in this entry.

The biggest problem with Tuesday night was how fatigued I was. I have for the last week felt a bit off physically, and while I think and hope I am on the mend now, rehearsals have been more draining than usual. Not that rehearsals should ever fail to drain an actor, because that would mean he wasn't trying, but compared to my usual levels of fatigue the last few practices have taken a bit more out of me than average. I can't say for sure if it affected my performance, though I don't think it did. (And the director mentioned nothing about it.) Still, I like to be a bit sharper at the theatre than I was on Tuesday night.

Energy in general was a bit low on Tuesday, though, based on what I heard about various scenes. There may be all kinds of reasons for that, but we are at least aware of the situation.

I still need to slow down on the delivery of some of my lines, because I get slightly tongue tied here and there. Not in all the speeches, but a few lines are written in such a way that for whatever reason they are a tad "slippery" if you will.

Also on Tuesday, during my execution speech I tried something for the first time with a prop that I was asked to do by the director on the night before. The timing and mechanics were left up to me and the one other person in the scene. I talked about it with that actress beforehand, and we worked something out. We did it during the running of the scene, and given that we were not told to change it, it can be assumed it was fine.

Something that still didn't feel fine on Tuesday night was the "betrayal" scene, wherein Buckingham refuses to be complicit in the killing of the Princes, and Richard dismisses him. I have mentioned this scene in almost every entry on this blog lately because of how important it is, and because of how much I feel it is currently lacking on my end. I deliver the lines in competent fashion, if I may judge so myself, but there is still not the shift inwardly that I'm looking for. I still do my best to express it outwardly, and hopefully it is working. Still I want that depth to be present that is currently not there. By no means do I feel the scene is terrible, I just want more for myself. I'd also like to give Richard more. The second half of this scene was discussed last night, which brings me to last night's rehearsal.

To begin with it was not a conventional rehearsal. The director had warned us that it would be an evening of specific and at times intense exercises for some of us, both physically and emotionally. It turns out I personally was not required for much of that intense set of exercises, however. I did serve as a physical presence for someone else's exercise, and almost took a header down some steps in the aisle. (Thankfully a mass of cast mates broke my fall.)

Then one exercise was not so much of an exercise as a focused rehearsal on one specific scene I am in. Act III Scene 4 requires several of us at a table to meet about the coronation of the young prince. The director wanted us to sound more urgent than we have been so far. To that end she had us run the scene a few times, without allowing any space between the lines of each character. One speech after the other. We aren't to perform the scene in this way obviously, but it got across the message that the scene needs to have an urgency to it.

The rest of the time I spent going over things by myself in my head, or, fore a few minutes, conversing with actors about the nature of the character in a given scene. It wasn't until he end of the evening that I got the most out of rehearsal.

The director finished up about an hour earlier than she expected, and dismissed everyone, other than those who wanted to work specifically on a given part of the play. I don't usually stand in the way of people going home, but last night I did want to run, with everyone, the biggest scene for Buckingham. The director said that it looked fine in previous runs, as did Richard. I mentioned, however, that I have been feeling hallow in the scene. Almost mechanical. After some chatting about who should and should not stay, the entire crowd was kind enough to stay a little longer to let me run the scene.

It felt somewhat better. Part of it may be due to my decision to move around a bit more during the scene, particularly while Richard was talking, and the crowd was clapping. Richard commented on this afterwards, so my movement must have been noticeable. I am glad to hear it, because it means that the scene felt different both to others and to myself. I have some ways to go before it feels how I want it to feel, but the chance to run the scene on its own without the pressure of the entire play surrounding it did me some good. It may be my last chance to do that with the scene, so I am quite happy I took it last night, and again am grateful to the others for staying behind a bit.

Once most of the others left, Richard asked me to stay behind to work on the "dismissal" half of the scene I talked about before...the one where Buckingham doesn't agree to killing of the Princes in the Tower. At first he just wanted to run the scene once or twice, but before we did so it became a discussion both on the nature of the scene and on the nature of the relationship between Buckingham and Richard. Such a discussion cannot be disseminated in its entirety here, but I can say that some of the conclusions we eventually came to has made that part of the scene easier for me. While my motivations for the scene remained constant, we did experiment with Richard's. Ultimately we decided on the most powerful interpretation for him to take. And while technically Buckingham doesn't know exactly what Richard is thinking at that point, Ty is pleased to have had the conversation, and to have learned what the other actor is up to in the scene.

And so, that is where things stand now. All and all, I feel I am in better shape now than I was before last night's rehearsal, for more than one reason. I wouldn't declare myself in opening night shape just yet, but any rehearsal that ends with an actor feeling better about his role than he did before hand is a successful rehearsal  indeed.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

First Run-Through of Richard III

At least almost. We had to skip a section here and there because of a missing actor, but for the most part, we did the entire play last night for the first time in one sitting.

The first run-through of any play is always somewhat clunky, a tad chaotic, and certainly longer than the finished product. Such was the case last night, and yet it went better than I think most people expected it to. Despite being about an hour later than our normal rehearsal endpoint I can't complain about our progress.

One problem is that I have yet to commit to memory the exact order of the scenes I am not in, so i have to keep referring to the script. This isn't a big deal of course, but I prefer to know it cold. I assume by the end of this week I will. It's important not just to prevent me from missing any entrance cues, but also so that I can get an idea of how much time off stage I will have available at any given point. I like to know if I have time to get a drink, use the bathroom, sit down and have a breather, or just barely have enough time to go check something in the script before I have to be back out there. And of course the timing for that won't be absolute anyway until the whole play is running smooth. Yet now that I'm offbook and we are rehearsing everything at once, it's something to which I need to start paying some attention.

It also means that I will probably have more to cover here on the blog after each entry. I don't feel I need to go into great detail on every scene I run, however. If there is a specific problem or noteworthy breakthrough I will get into it.

My first scene in the play, the one with Queen Margaret, continues to improve. I had been quite concerned about it, and rough edges do remain. However it feels as though I have located the balance I want for that encounter. I just have to work at getting to that place, and I get closer each time we run it.

The second scene is mostly incidental for me, save for the end, when Richard approaches me in conspiratorial fashion for the first time, and my perceptions on him, for a moment, appear to shift. I don't anticipate much to report about my performance in that scene from here on out. The moment I described required very little time.

My third scene requires me to console the members of the royal family upon the death of Edward IV, and to suggest that his son be brought to London as soon as possible. The only changes I have made to that are allowing myself to move around the stage as I deliver those lines, as opposed to standing in the same place the whole time. Makes it feel more urgent and alive.

I next appear in a scene welcoming said Prince. I stay in the background for most of this scene, so it is vital I remain aware of my inner monologue, and the more subtle, silent performance. As I am playing him in this production Buckingham remains unaware that the young princes will eventually be killed. It is possible even that at that moment he doesn't yet no that the young prince will be discredited. Merely under the manipulative influence of the Lord Protector. (Richard.) In either case Buckingham is impressed by the Princes, or at least enjoys them, and I am working to make that clear to the audience. (Though it may be difficult to truly project this, as Richard is pretending to feel the same way at this point as well. But for the audience that may just add to the intrigue of the scene...not knowing who thinks what in the grand scheme.

That scene, near the end, has a line with 13 beats in it for Buckingham. We discussed it a bit a few weeks ago during a session on scansion the director held for the actors, and it was concluded that it is quite unusual, at least in this play. (Another one has not been located at the moment.) I have determined, and I have touched on this here on the blog before, that the large amount of beats in the sentence may indicate a slight excitement on the part of Buckingham as he addresses Catesby. Not a kid in a candy store type, but certainly someone who has just lined an RBI double to centerfield, if you will forgive the sports analogy. Plus, I think Buckingham likes Catesby, for whatever reason. That line was a bit of a chore to memorize, and I still trip over it here and there, but last night I had it.

The next scene, wherein we meet at the Tower to ostensibly talk about the coronation, was more comfortable last night than it has been before, because we had a table for the first time. I don't know if it's the actual table we will be using in the production or not, but it worked for me. Up until then we had been hunched over a single layer of crates and boxes to represent a table, or otherwise had to pretend a table was there. It felt good to actually have something on which to rest the papers I had Buckingham reading. (Though the director felt the scene was a bit flat, and needed more urgency. She is right. It did go kind of slow.)

I enjoy that scene mostly because Buckingham gets to subtly mock the Lord Hastings, whom I have concluded Buckingham has never liked at any point in time.

In the next scene I have one of my favorite speeches. The "counterfeit the deep tragedian." One of the few moments of near-comedy for Buckingham. He gets to goof-off a small amount as he describes how he can give a performance when needed. I made several exaggerated faces that the crew seemed to enjoy judging by the laughter I heard. Just a little looser moment before my next appearance, which is my biggest responsibility of the entire play. The oft-blogged about crown-offering scene.

I almost made it through this long scene last night. But dammit, I got tripped up in one of the speeches. Of course, it was not the same speech that tripped me up the last time. That only confirms that I have all of the speeches down, I just need to iron out some of the wrinkles, work it a few more times, and concentrate a bit harder. I am proud that I have that much of it, but I know I have all of it, and won't be satisfied until I can deliver that whole scene without issues.

One problem is that the crowd interjects here and there now. I need to get used to that. Particularly because they don't always shout at the same times each night. The ideal scenario would be that no matter what noise is going on around me, I can get where I need to be in every speech. Which of course is the goal for all scenes. But because this one will have distractions built in, I must be extra diligent.

I also want to convey, at the end of it, that having played this part and given these oration, Buckingham is exhausted. I don't have a lot of time to make that clear and I am not sure the audience will notice. But I am trying to just sink into fatigue and relief as I exit my longest scene of the play. Hopefully that will convey what I want it to convey.

Then we have the "betrayal" scene. Buckingham, loath to consent that the princes be murdered, loses favor with Richard. I still want to give more to this scene. I must find a way to make that huge transition between satisfied and relieved that the plot is over, to disgust and horror at the suggestions of murders. on top of that, the director wants me to take more time to register shock later in the scene when Richard declares he is "not in the vein." This is a pivotal moment in the play, as Richard has jettisoned his only true ally, and Buckingham has been denied everything for which he had been working up until this point. For surely he knows that he will not be allowed to simply return home to his lands and pursue the quiet, country life now. So he does the only thing he can do, and something that my version of Buckingham is not known for...he will go and raise an army against Richard.

So much is going on here. Such huge changes. Almost all of the extremes of Buckingham are touched upon here. Most of which we have not seen at all in the play until this moment. And the scene moves so quickly. I have a lot of work to do in order to get this scene where I want it to be. The key will be to make the shock visible, but not distracting. Yet how shall I do so? The anger later in the scene I have covered. But the shock..the disgust over killing the children. It must be clear why he has turned, so that everyone can realize that Buckingham has that line. That he is not merely along for the ride, but has a compass guiding what he does, and that once done, he wants out. Murdering children very much crosses that line for him, and the audience needs to know. This will be one of the top tasks I will be contemplating for the rest of the rehearsal process.

I am not scene again for quite a while. I think it is the largest section of the play wherein Buckingham does not appear, in fact. Not until the opening of Act V, where he gives his farewell speech if you will, before his execution. I have talked about this speech before as well. I memorized it early on, so that I could own it as soon as possible. For the most part this has helped me, but I still want it to be more tender, or at least more reflective than it is coming off now. I am pleased with the scene, as is the director. She said last night in fact that the scene is always good. But for me, I do want something more. I am getting closer, though, as I play with pacing and facial expressions.

There is a small gesture we had talked about for Buckingham to deliver towards his jailer (Catesby in our version, due to cast size.) I forgot to implement it last night, so I have to remember to do so from now on. I might ask "Catesby" to go over that small moment a few times to see how it feels. But if that moment can be timed well, it may in fact give me some of the extra to the scene that I am seeking. I won't give away too much detail here, though.

Then I come back as a cocky ghost, and that is pretty much that. (Buckingham's ghost doesn't do all the crazy dancing about stuff the other ghosts do. He is, as the director said more than once "a different kind of ghost". Somewhat less tortured than the others perhaps. Almost satisfied. So I deliver that speech in a self-satisfied sort of way to start, and then accusatory at the end. Even then with a slightly different edge. As though betrayal of the one that helped him is among Richard's worst sins. Perhaps it is...

And so begins the stretch of longer, more tiring rehearsals. Truth be told, sometimes this is my favorite part of rehearsing, because it is the biggest investment. People get cranky, and I can't swear that I never will. Yet looking back on my career as an actor I have often had less of a problem with the later, longer rehearsals than most other actors. Perhaps that is because the entire experience is beginning to come into focus. It is do or die time. It can no longer be half-assed. Or maybe I just like the atmosphere. In any case, we have come to that part of Richard III, and that means the real deal is not far off now.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Bad News and Good News.

The bad news is that with two weeks of rehearsal left in Richard III, our set must be torn down, and painted over for a kids show that will be taking place in the same venue. Efforts to compromise and prevent this were unsuccessful. So we will be rehearsing Shakespeare near the end of this process amidst the colors and characters of Dr. Seuss...the director doesn't sound too worried about it. I think it is a gut blow. One can stand up and fight again after a gut blow, but not without some wheezing and staggering about. I'd say that is where we will be for a while. Not much more can be said about that.

Onto better news. Rehearsal for the second half went well, despite missing two actors. Of particular note was the ghost scene. I had mentioned earlier in the week that the director had some new ideas for it. With the relevant actors present last night those ideas were tested out, and deemed a success. The changes will be kept.

Not that any of them affect my part in the scene. Like so many other aspects of Buckingham's presence in this production, my character's ghost will enter and behave somewhat differently than the rest. I won't get into too much detail about that, but it is nothing wild. Just that I will be set somewhat apart from the rest of the group of specters, physically.

Back to the beginning of the second act is probably my second most important moment in the play. When Richard reveals, much to Buckingham's internal disgust, that he wants the child princes murdered. I must find a way to express that disgust. I haven't hit it quite right just yet. I need to internalize the moment more than I am, i think. The scene and mood changes so quickly, my performance has to start catching up. I believe that it can, but I need to start making a more conscious effort for it to do so. Not that I have gotten any complaints about it, but inside I know I can and should do better there.

Later in that scene, (and I believe I have talked about this before here on the blog), I allow Buckingham to express rage for the first and only time in this play. And it is brief. One sentence, in fact. The director wants me to build up to that rage more than I am doing now, so has suggested I express the rage on one or two words at the end of the sentence, as opposed to the whole sentence. I will try that the next time. (I also have to work on screaming from my diaphragm, and not my throat. I have been getting better at that, though I still need work. I will start practicing that at home when I can.

The only other thing I do in the second half is my execution speech, wherein Buckingham ponders the notion of the universe as full of karmic justice, as he faces the "determined respite" of his wrongs. If you have been following this blog you know that I started work on this speech early on in the process, so I could have it down cold as soon as possible. The scene with Buckingham pleaded with Richard to take the crown in Act III, or even the scene I just described above with Richard turning on Buckingham may be more important to the audience.

But this final speech by Buckingham while still alive is most important to me. I think it gets better each time, but something continues to feel missing. (Last night it was the actress who is in the scene with me.) It is not poor by any means, (I rarely get instructions on it from the director, which means so far she must be pleased.) Yet I still want something to it that is lacking right now. It may be a pacing thing. Perhaps if I slowed certain parts of it more. Or maybe if I entered more slowly. I think part of it may also be how I am delivering the two tiny lines in the scene before the speech. (This suddenly feels like a very real possibility.) I must discuss it with the director.

I want the speech to be reflective. A man who came close to being a full man in life, but didn't quite make it. Someone a little too removed from society. Someone a bit too focused on being left alone to know what was going on. The final self-indictment, as well as an ironic praise of a universe that does provide consequences for actions after all. A satisfaction, or even a peace with that knowledge.

Monday we return for our first full run-through of the entire show. On a green set for a kids show, as mentioned.  Distraction or not, this is the time to start kicking everything up to another level. As our director said several times lately, it is time to stop thinking and start feeling the play. I intend to do so.

Friday, August 03, 2012

First Half "Stumble-Through"

Last night we ran the entire first half of the show. It was a stumble here and there of course, as is to be expected for a first run through of a half. But it wasn't as rough as the director expected it to be.

The dynamic between my character and Queen Margaret was better last night. I am still not where I want to be, but after talking to the actress and experimenting a bit with some of my delivery in the scene I feel I am getting closer. Last night I felt I was conveying more of a nervousness and uncertainty, mixed with fatigue, as opposed to a straight-up cowardice. No doubt it is still one of my scenes that requires the most work for me right now, but by no means hopeless.

After that scene are two scenes in which I don't do much. The "pipe-laying" nature of Act II. Those 10-15 minutes of short scenes are just setting up plot points by and large, and while I play a part in that foundation-laying, it is not the most interesting section of the play for me. In fact, though I hate none of the scenes, Act II may constitute my least favorite section of the play. There are some subtleties I am working on for Act II, they are probably a bit too much inside baseball to get into here. Personal preferences in my performance that I'd like to accomplish. Important, but possibly tedious to try to explain here.

There is one moment of potential artistic significance for me, and that is a moment at the end of Edward IV's only scene. As we have staged it, (though by no means would this scene always have to be staged this way), Richard and Buckingham are the only two remaining in the room after the rest of the court leaves to tend to the sick Edward. It is here that Richard speaks of the alleged duplicity of the queen's family. Buckingham has no reply, but we want this to look like the first moment that the two begin their conspiratorial relationship. For by the next time we see them, they have obviously plotted things. So I want that small moment to indicate that perhaps Buckingham's interest in Richard has been piqued. At least insofar as Richard may prove useful in getting Buckingham what he wants most. (To get the hell away from court for good, as per my interpretation.) So I do enjoy that moment in Act II, and hope to perfect it soon.

Then of course, we came to Act III. (Which is the last thing we do before our intermission.) Act III, where the pace begins to pick up considerably. Act III, where I do most of my work.

I tripped over a few lines here and there. (This is the first time I ran most of this without the script.) For the most part, however, I am pleased. I did get totally lost for a few moments in scene 7, which is by far my biggest scene. (Buckingham "begs" Richard to accept the crown.) But I recovered quickly. I know that I need to slow down those speeches a bit, despite them being animated crowd-pleasers for the citizens of London that have assembled. Part of my slipping a bit was due I think to my going a bit too fast without the book. (Again, the first time I did this huge scene without the script in my hand for reference.) I will say though that the energy is already quite apparent in the scene. (The director confirmed this.) Once I get my speeches smoothed out, and the crowd of townspeople hits a good rhythm for cheering, the scene should not only look good to the audience, but be quite fun to perform.

I think perhaps I should incorporate the paying audience into some of this. Firstly because, by necessity I will be giving those speeches from the house. Secondly, the audience will never see my face otherwise. (Unless they are in the first row, my back will be to them for most of the scene.)

I wasn't exhausted by the end of the scene last night, but I can predict that once it is at performance levels, I will be a bit winded and ready to take a seat by the time it ends. It is fortunate for me that this is my final scene before intermission, and I will be free to head to the green room and scope out the best couch while the final scene of the first half goes on.

All and all, despite one of the actresses being missing last night, I'd give the rehearsal solid marks. Tech stuff needs to be ironed out, and scene changes made smooth, but as for the acting, I'd say it is on course. Now I just need to commit to memory the order of the scenes. (We've only recently begun to perform them in order, you see, and I need my script to reveal which scene is which sometimes.) But that will come.

I also tried on some costumes. Two suits. Both the director and myself preferred a dark, charcoal gray suit to a lighter blue one, and so this is the suit that was selected. It needs alterations, but I at least know now what I will be wearing for the play. (I won't have a costume change. I guess Buckingham has many similar suits. Which actually sounds like him, when I think about it.)

Tonight we stumble through the second half, as well as have head-shots taken for the lobby display.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Balance for Buckingham

I was mistaken in a pretty big way in my last entry. For last night, we did indeed spend some time on my first scene in the play, wherein Buckingham interacts with Queen Margaret. We ran it twice, and had time permitted the director would have run it again.

It felt better this time than the previous times I ran it. What I am trying to do is establish a balance in Buckingham between fear, repulsion, and fascination with Queen Margaret. An insane, intense, and potentially dangerous woman, Margaret enters the scene as a queen deposed, and desperate woman who nonetheless sees herself still as queen. Buckingham for his part, had no particular hand in her deposition, or in the killing of her family, at least. (So say Margaret herself in the scene.) She seeks to be "in league an amity" with Buckingham in fact. The plot doesn't allow Buckingham to embrace this, of course, but as I am playing him I am hoping for a moment or two or internal doubt here, before Richard, in later scenes, enlists Buckingham into his plots.

The scene is a tense one, and I can feel the tension physically my my neck and head when I play it. I don't want to give myself a headache at the start of every performance, so I need to find a way to convey what I am conveying without tensing so many muscles. (Even if those are in fact that muscles that would be tensed in real life scenarios such as these.)

I must not let Buckingham appear a coward in this seen. Exhausted, wary, perhaps a bit creeped out, but not a coward. If the audience sees him as a coward this early, the will think of him as such throughout the play. This is the most important thing I will do as I work on this scene, for I can't imagine anything more deleterious to my presentation of the character than for him to be labels a coward from the start. It is among my top three concerns heading into the final two weeks of rehearsal.

In addition to this scene, we ran all scenes wherein Rivers appears, to accommodate our latest cast member. I am in some of those scenes, but not many, and we didn't even run all of those scenes from beginning to end. So while I had things to do for the first half of rehearsal, my activity was limited for the second half.

Richard, though still ill, was able to attend last night, which is good news.

Initially we were going to run the ghost scene, but two of the actors were missing, so the director opted to experiment with some of the choreography of same. A major inspiration struck in regards to placement and blocking of one of the characters in the scene, but could not be tested, as the performer was absent. We may run the scene tonight, even though it is not on the docket, just to see if the director's new idea will be doable.

The initial agenda for this week has been thrown off somewhat, so despite checking the calendar, I am not sure what awaits us tonight. We my try stumbling through all of the first half. I thought I heard mention of that at some point, but I am not sure. In any case, the rehearsals from here on out will be longer, more intense, and more important than they have been up until now. But also, hopefully, more satisfying.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Cue-to-Cue...Sort Of.

Last night it was back to rehearsal for me, having been to only two rehearsals last week.

For the first time last night, some members of the technical crew were present. Well actually only one, but he knows what he is doing. Which is why we did a sort of modified cue-to-cue. That is to say in most cases we only staged the moments at the very start and end of most scenes, so that the techie could take pictures and get a sense of what sort of set changes took place when. The light and sound operator also benefited from this.

"Richard" was ill, however, so some of last night was a bit awkward. There was also one other actor missing. In better news, however, the play is now entirely cast, what with "Rivers" finally being cast. So we are set in regards to actors.

Other than those two I mentioned, the entire cast was present last night, for one of the few times, if not the first time. (I'm not sure.) Certainly more people were in the theatre last night than at any other point in our rehearsal process thus far.

We did run my very first scene in its entirety last night, because it was the first time that almost all of the characters in it were present. Specifically, it was the first time Queen Margaret was present on the same day as I. I am playing the scene wherein that character speaks to me as though Buckingham is somewhat disturbed. In one way because Margaret invades his personal space, and my Buckingham is quit private and introverted. In another sense, because Buckingham, though usually agnostic, is somewhat wary of Margaret's power to curse. (Even though he is not a target of same in this scene.)

My reactions here will require more work, and I can only assume they will improve as we do the scene more often. I wasn't terrible, but I felt stuff. I don't want stiff, I want unnerved. I must strike a balance between unnerved and catatonic. I will have to work on that a bit on the fly, as it were, because beginning next week will start doing entire run-throughs of the whole show, with no time to go over any given scene individually.

One thing that helps the scene a bit is that, as staged, the royalty and nobility are in private, and hence they are not required to keep up their public personae. Hence I can allow Buckingham to be a little more vulnerable than he otherwise would appear in most other scenes. Yet I do not want to overdue this. Much of his response to Margaret will be due to the fact that he is exhausted from having spent much of the night socializing...something he can do only in small doses much of the time.

So this is one of the points I must work on the most in the coming days.

Earlier in the day I had been at the venue to present a workshop/lecture once again. This time of one-hour duration, as opposed to the two0hour length of my last one a few weeks ago. You may recall that for that one my topic was mistakes, and how to correct them on stage. Yesterday morning's topic was how to make sure your experience as a background character is a valuable one.

The group I spoke for this time was much larger, and skewed much younger than the first group I addressed.   Yet the message I intended to impart was the same. In essence, to not feel that the background is a lesser place to be in a play. In fact, I mentioned, one can sometimes have a bit more fun and creative freedom in the background, with two or fewer lines than one can as a principle, or even a supporting role. I proceeded to list some don'ts and do's in regards to honoring the stage and taking the tiniest of roles seriously. It seems to have been well received. Hopefully I will have made some of them feel better as they are assigned their roles for this late summer theatre camp production.

Tonight at rehearsal we will be running all scenes that include Rivers, so that our latest cast member can get caught up. After that, I am not sure all of what we will be doing, but I do know, based on the director's comments near the end of last night's rehearsal, that it will be a night of hard work. All of them are, but this one, as more elements come together, is going to step it up a bit. As always, loyal blog readers, you can find out all about it here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

New King and New Rooks

This week has felt a bit off in regards to rehearsal. For after last week's rehearsal every day, There have only been two rehearsals this week, hence why I have not blogged until now.

To begin with, some props I ordered came in the mail yesterday.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I felt that Buckingham, introverted intellectual that he is in my interpretation, should carry with him some sort of touchstone. Something to fiddle with while engaged in thought, or just while waiting for the next aspect of things to unfold. I considered several ideas, but went with a chess piece. A rook, specifically, because symbolically it seemed to make the most sense.

I didn't want them to look cheap. Buckingham would probably own very nice chess sets. These pieces are solid plastic, but do appear ivory or perhaps marble from stage distance, even in our tiny venue. Not the fanciest design ever, but for 75 cents a piece, you can't really beat it. I didn't want to risk damaging or losing one from a complete set, so I ordered individual rooks. (Which was more difficult than one might have expected.) Two of course, in case one does in fact become a casualty. I don't expect that to happen, however. It will be on the prop shelf, and if everyone behaves themselves and doesn't play with props, I will have it in my hand as soon as I enter the stage area, and likely not relinquish it until the end of each evening.

They may be slightly large, but they probably need to be in order for the audience to understand what it is. I have been getting used to moving one around in my hand and playing with it. I think it will do just fine, and the director approved it last night.

In addition to new rooks, we also have a new king. Of the living, breathing kind. The newest member of our cast was on hand last night to rehearse Edward IV single scene. I worked with this gentleman years ago in "The Crucible", which he did recall when I brought it up to him.

The scene went well, given that we have not rehearsed it much. In it, the sickly Edward makes "peace" between the bickering factions within his court. Then the death of Clarence is revealed, and the king gives an excellent monologue, shaming all of those present for not standing up against him for Clarence. If I had only been able to have a small part in this play, I may have requested this one because of this speech.

Also significant in this scene as we are playing it, the first stirrings of alliance between Richard and Buckingham. Previous to this they know each other and may have some degree of respect for one another, but have not yet plotted together. Yet with Richard's final line in this scene directed at Buckingham, who is the only one left on stage at that time, we see the partnership forming. The next time we see these two men they have already devised "complots" off stage.

We also rehearsed the dumb show that opens the play, wherein Richard and Clarence crown Edward, as the rest of the cast silently makes its way onto the stage before the opening speech. (A creation of the director.) I believe last night marked the highest percentage of the cast present at one time thus far. (One actress was missing, and the role of Rivers has yet to be cast, but otherwise everyone was there, I think.)

I left early, because then it was time for some combat rehearsal, and I have no combat in this play. I stuck around to watch how a few of the murders would be staged, and then headed out.

Unfortunately, I will be unable to attend tonight's rehearsal of Act V, due to a long standing previous commitment, and nor will I be able to attend on Monday. I feel bad for this, especially since my favorite speech is in Act V. They good news, however, as that after Monday, all of my predicted conflicts will be over, and I will not have to miss any further rehearsals. I feel a little better about it given that the last two Mondays, both of which were originally conflicts, we able to be shuffled about to allow me to rehearse. 

Plus, I am officially off book. I will have to call for line in a few places, but it's all in my head somewhere now. The true fun and excitement begins once the books are out of hands, and I look forward to jumping into that aspect of rehearsal head first come Tuesday.