Thursday, June 28, 2012

Backup Quarterback

Last night there was a planned table work session for the cast. The director, who is out of town for a few days, asked me to be the facilitator of same.

I was left with specific instruction and exercises to lead the cast in, all with the intention of exploring the identity and relationships of the characters. To give the actors more with which to work as the build the personalities of the play.

Sadly, only five people showed up. I knew that some would have to miss, but I admit that I had previously thought a larger percentage of the cast was going o be present for the exercises. The smallness of the group made the nature of some of the exercises more tricky. I am proud to say, however, that we did engage in all of the exercises as required, and that the entire play did not in fact collapse under my brief administration as custodian.

Reporting the overall results of such a day to you is somewhat problematic, because much of what happened dealt with questions and decisions of other actors pertaining to their characters. I can't truly comment on such things because they are not my characters, of course. I can say that t he exercises did illicit several discussions which I think were revealing, and hopefully helpful to the cast members that showed up. I can say that several of them did come up with what I felt were quite solid and intriguing points about their roles. I told them that such ideas could serve them quite well in their performances, and I meant it. Some interesting perspectives were emerging last night.

As for my own character, I didn't come to any new realizations per se, but some of my previous decisions and perspectives were solidified somewhat. Particularly in an exercise wherein we had to have a conversation in-character.

I will admit that improvisation in character has always made me somewhat nervous. I have not done it often, I will say, and it has never been a disaster for me. Still, having a conversation as my character, (or whatever aspects of my character are formed by that time) tends to rattle me a tiny bit. However last night it was helpful. I was able to "test drive" some of the attitudes I have been thinking of giving to my version of Buckingham, and based on the exercise they felt like they could work, with some tweaking here and there.

Those qualities I mentioned are the weariness of court life, the overriding desire to spend most of his time alone, a preference for quiet and order. Yet also a willingness to fight when compelled to do so, if truly there is no other course. Also, an certain eloquence in speaking that despite his usual desire to remain reticent will nonetheless get utilized to help achieve his purposes.

Buckingham's religious views come into a somewhat clearer focus as well, as a result of an exercise pertaining to the religious beliefs of our characters. In brief, I determined, based on text and my interpretation that he is probably what I have called a "deistic-pagan" of sorts at first. Something is up there, but he is unsure is it is involved in our daily lives or not. Leaning towards "not", until the end of his life. (Though Queen Margaret's curses put him on edge somewhat early in the play.)

So a few questions were answered, and one or two more question came up. That was true with several of the cast members last night after the exercises. More questions. But at this stage in a production, more questions is good. I don't know how or if any of them will answer the questions that came up, but if what we talked about got them thinking more about how they will proceed with their performances, I have to rate the evening a success overall.

Our director returns on Monday, which is when the next rehearsal is scheduled, and I believe I am in attendance for same, though I confess I don't have the calendar right in front of me. Either way over the next few days I will be pondering what we talked about last night, and trying to get off book for my shorter scenes.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Back to the Beginning

The beginning for my character, that is. Friday night we went over some blocking and character issues for my first scene in the play: Act 1, Scene 3.

As per this director's usual style, we spent some time discussing the motivations and dynamics of the characters in the scene. Not all of the actors were present, but much was decided about the scene by those who were.

It can be tricky discussing such rehearsals without giving away too much of the vision of the piece before we open. I wouldn't want to do that, but at the same time I do wish to share the nature of any given night of rehearsal, particularly if same provides a moment of particular significance for my performance. Last night certainly did so.

I think I can put it this way; this first scene in which I appear is one in which various members of the nobility and of the royalty are gathered away from the public eye. As such, the scene allows for a greater display of frankness and candor among those characters that appear in it. Thus it allows several of the actors to reveal a bit more about their character's "true" natures. It is especially so in my case, as this scene of candor is the first time Buckingham is seen by the audience. These moments give me a unique chance to establish the private Buckingham right from the start. Even if all of his secrets are not revealed here, (and they are certainly not), he can in fact be seen in a more unencumbered state.

The nature of this unencumbered state of most of the characters was the topic of discussion as we ran the scene. We were unable to run the entire scene, but much was established just by experimenting with the first half of same. In so doing I found that my idea of Buckingham being someone who wants to get far from court life and into "early retirement" as soon as possible can be presented from my first moments on stage in the show. (I brought on some props and made use of same to help with this-a choice of which the director approved.)

Indeed for much of the scene Buckingham is an observer of the spatting between Gloucester and Elizabeth/her family. I plan to use this to my advantage as I have Buckingham observe the goings-on until he is pulled, quite literally, into them by Queen Margaret later in the scene. These nuances would not be as easy to bring about with all first scenes with all characters in the play, (or any play) so I intend to make the most of them.

Which is why I do enjoy and appreciate such discussions as the one the director and the cast had as we worked the scene. It encourages me to seek treasure in the deeper reaches of my characters, and that is particularly helpful for a character like this in a play such as this. (Shakespeare.)

The blocking of the scene was by no means interesting enough to discuss here. It usually isn't, in fact.

This was to be our last regular rehearsal for a while, as the director will be out of town for about a week. She has emailed each of us some character exercises she would like us to do each day of her absence, however. We do meet as a cast on Wednesday to go over some of those exercises. The director has appointed me as air traffic control for that evening, so I will be guiding as much as rehearsing that night. Hopefully my overseeing of such an evening will yield positive results for everyone involved.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Buckingham's Paradigm Shift

Last night we blocked Act IV, Scene 2. It is a pivotal scene, for the audience as well as my character. It is the scene where Richard, now crowned king, turns his back on Buckingham, heretofore his most trusted counselor. Often, in productions of this play, it is the moment when the audience abandons whatever remaining morbid admiration it has for the protagonist. Whether or not that is what will happen in our production, one things is clear; I have an important job to do in this scene. In fact, it may be the most important moment I have in the play.

My task is a difficult one here. I must find enough within me to convey not only the deep shock of Richard's request to kill the princes in the Tower, but I must get to the place where I can convey this sudden shifting the dynamic. Buckingham has been complicit with Richard and his "complots" up until this moment. Right then, however, it all changed. Not only for me, but for Richard. I must not only present a convincing portrayal of my character's paradigm shift, but I must also respond in an effective manner to the shift Richard makes.

In short, there are several huge tone shifts happening in a short amount of time, and I need to internalize them all as an actor. I have broad strokes in mind as to how to do it now, and some decent moments so far. Naturally this will be somewhat easier once we are off book, but it will require much consideration on my part. It is one of the larger acting challenges I have had in a while, I dare say.

It all begins with a full portrait of Buckingham. I'm still working on that. Once complete, (or as near complete as an actor can expect to have in the time allowed), I will have something on which to ponder and meditate as the weeks go on. It will be both potentially exciting and potentially troublesome. I must allow no shortcuts. I must take the journey of this character as best I can. I do so for every character, but not every character I play requires as much consideration and foundation-building as this. Often a throw-away role, I insist on my Duke of Buckingham having depth, strength, intelligence, and by the end of the play, humanity. I look forward to sharing this important journey with you, loyal blog readers.

Tonight, according to the schedule, we'll be running a few scenes that have been mostly blocked already. (Though I was absent when some of them were blocked earlier in the week, if I am not mistaken.) But the schedule changed a bit last night, so tonight's agenda may be altered as well by the time I get to the theatre. It should go without saying by now that I'll fill you in here once it's over.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"The Deep Tragedian"

Last night at rehearsal we blocked most of my scenes in Act III. This is the longest, and most involved act of the play, and also happens to be the act in which I appear most often.

As is the case with most early rehearsals dedicated to blocking, there is little of interest to the outside world I can report. There was some talk of motivation here and there as we played around with one short scene. An abrupt exit provided by Shakespeare was rubbing several people a bit of the wrong way, the director included. Several ideas were discussed, and "Richard" and I at last decided that the exit, (which both of us make for a moment) is designed to give the two characters an excuse to go off and concoct a quick plan to trap the Lord Hastings. For moments later Hastings is sentenced to death on flimsy charges. It worked well on the night, and it is a motivation we will probably keep, unless something better presents itself.

Act III also includes the scene where Richard conspires with Buckingham to pretend he does not want the crown when it is offered to him. In it, Buckingham leads the Mayor and a group of citizens to Richard's home ostensibly to change Richard's mind on the matter. Buckingham, in his own words from an earlier scene must "counterfeit the deep tragedian", and play up an impassioned plea for the citizens to witness. It is my longest, and perhaps most energetic scene in the play.

It also requires Buckingham to call up to Richard from "below". The venue is a small one, and would not allow for a balcony, so I must stand somewhat in the house in order to accomplish this.

As a rule, I am not a great fan of performing from the house. It is a personal preference. Some actors love doing it. I avoid it when I can. Yet for this scene I must admit I understand the necessity. All other options would, frankly, look poor. Then there is the added effect of including the audience among the "citizens" as Richard and I speak to same. So I will have to be sure to project, as my back will be to the audience for a large portion of that important scene. (Though I may turn back and forth to them as I speak.)

I might try to post the rare picture on the blog to give you an idea of the performance space. I have never done that before.

Tonight is a shorter night for me. I arrive early, and we will block my only scene in Act IV. (When Buckingham doesn't go along with the murder of the princes in the tower.) A short but highly significant scene for my character. After that, I go home, as the other scenes on the docket don't involve Buckingham.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Table It

Last night we did table work for Richard III. That is to say instead of rehearsing specific scenes, those present engaged in conversation about their characters, themes of certain scenes, and various other odds and ends pertaining to the production. Not everyone was there, but those that were had some useful insights.

The director agreed with most of the vision I had for Buckingham. I mentioned some of those ideas in a previous entry, but in short I want to play him as someone who is clever, eloquent, ambitious to a degree, but desirous to be as far from court life as he can get. He is the real estate agent who wants to sell the biggest house possible, and then collect the commission for same and retire to his lands in the country. Or something to the effect. The point being, he may be somewhat fascinated by Richard and his ambition, but isn't enamored. He simply sees Richard as one who could clean up some of the lingering mess, and more importantly as someone who would reward him handsomely for aided him in his unlikely question to gain the throne.

Buckingham, in my version of him, is a chess player. He moves this piece to block that one. He uses deception. Subterfuge. Once in a while a direct attack, (but not often). All in an effort to capture the "king" as it were, no pun intended this time. The pieces in this game are real people. People that sometimes end up dead. But to Buckingham, that is the price one pays for playing the high stakes game of war and royal intrigue. (A game he himself loses at one point, of course.)

Discussing such things with the director not only gave credence to where I wanted to go, but also brought to mind some questions I have yet to answer about Buckingham. Questions that are important to my own performance, even if not revealed directly to the audience. I believe that an actor must sometimes have secrets in order for his decisions to have as much of an impact on his performance. It is for this reason that I won't share here some of the questions I need to resolve in my mind about this character. In time, however, I feel I will reveal at least some of them, once I come to some decisions.

In other production news, one of the actresses with a tiny role had to quit the show. This is a little disappointing, as I like her personally, having worked with her before. But such things happen of course.

Regular rehearsal tonight, as far as I understand, which this early means blocking for the most part, I would gather.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Reading of Our Discontent

The title to this entry doesn't technically make any sense. But when you try to be cute, logic is sometimes sacrificed. The point is, last night was the first read-through of Richard III.

The whole cast wasn't present, however. One or two small roles have yet to be cast, and about 5 people who do have roles were not able to attend for various reasons. "Richard" himself was about an hour late due to the email mentioning the meeting being lost in his spam folder.

But we pushed on as best we could, starting with a brief overview of the royal family tree of the time. Actually is is more of a family bramble, so many twists and turns does it have. But the director felt, and I agree, that understanding the basics of it would help keep the characters within the play, and their relationship to one another straight, I am in a way fortunate, as Buckingham falls outside the genetic entanglements. His name wasn't even on the chart the director drew for us. I am amused by that.

The director also took us to the stage to give us an rough idea of what she envisions in terms of set designs and other concepts unique to this particular production of the play. Going into some of those details here wouldn't make much sense, as one probably needs to be familiar with the venue itself. But suffice to say, in her own words, that this director "loves symbolism". I can also say that the play will be in no specific time period. "Achronic", as it were.

As to the reading itself, it went about as well as can be expected for having so many people missing. Most of the actors with large roles were there, after all, for most of the evening, and they all seem to have a firm grasp on the language. I mentioned in a previous post that there are several friends of mine in this show, but also plenty of people I haven't met before, but I get the early sense that this group will get along well.

I was already testing some of the character ideas I had for Buckingham since getting the role. (I try to infuse as much as I can even in the first reading of a play.) Right now I see him as that guy who is trying to network his way into his ideal life, and has usually succeeded. The most successful real-estate agent in the kingdom who always makes the sale. The guy who can do so because he is smooth and personally likable to most people around him. No mere sycophant, Buckingham believes he is well on his way to being a confident of a king, and in so being is thus able to accomplish all of the personal goals he has for himself. Anything from having land to starting a company and such will be made easier being the side-kick of the king, and that is what he wants to be. Right now, I don't see him as wanting to be king himself.

He does see in Richard, however, the right amount of ruthlessness and ambition to get the crown, and Buckingham, while personally admiring that to an extent is more enamored with catching this wave by helping to guide it to shore himself. And he is successful at doing so...until the end of course.

There are one or two passages in this abridged text that I trip over a bit as I read them. That, however, will of course be cured with time and practice. The director was wise enough to allow a larger amount of time for rehearsal for this play, in fact, than most plays. The standard play has about 6 weeks of rehearsal. This one will have about 8 weeks. We won't even be required to be off book until late July, because the director wants us to be worried as little about lines as possible. A generous approach that I believe will reap large dividends in the end.

Schedules for rehearsals are not yet devised, but will be soon and sent to us via email. I have more conflicts for this rehearsal period than I usually do, but not many compared to most actors I have worked with, so I don't anticipate a problem. I hope you will join me once again as I undertake not just another production adventure, but a Shakespearean adventure to boot. Check back often, loyal blog readers. Always Off Book will be hopping again in the near future.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Duke of Buckingham

Within the last hour, I received word; I have been given the role of the Duke of Buckingham in the production of Richard III.

I'm still processing everything at this point. I have not yet reviewed the edited script, as I am in the midst of a busy day. (How privileged you should feel, loyal blog readers, that I took time to write to you in the midst of it!) Yet based on the original text, there are some dangers to the role that I hope to avoid, though much of that will depend on the director's vision of the play overall. Namely I hope to avoid being a talking plot device, which is a trap actors who play Buckingham often fall into. The script as given doesn't make the role an especially poetic one, from what I recall, though there are a few nice lines here and there. So my initial impression is that stage presence will be key in order to compensate for what the role lacks within the script itself. I can do this, and have done it before with other characters. Yet it is particularly tricky with Shakespearean characters that are not well-known or often quoted, so depending on the nature of the rest of the cast and the production as a whole, I have my work cut out for me.

Several of my local friends also ended up in this production.

The first read-through is not yet scheduled, though a tentative date for this Saturday evening has been suggested. I don't yet know if I will be able to attend that or not, though of course I will try to do so.

Whatever the case about roles and schedules, I thus embark on my third Shakespearean journey with this play, and I hope you will all follow along as I blog about it here, as always.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Richard III Auditions, Act II

Last night I went back to the Full Circle Theater in Shepherdstown, West Virginia for the second night of auditions for Richard III. I wasn't needed, but was told my presence would be appreciated the second night. So I went.

I didn't read for anything different than I did the previous night, however. I read mostly for Buckingham, while on occasion reading for Richard. It was mostly to fill in gaps for those who were auditioning and needed someone to read off of.

Though I didn't get the chance to read for any of Richard's monologues on either night, I am pleased with my readings both nights. I thought about requesting a chance to read specific speeches of minor characters that interested me which were not featured on the provided sides. Yet as the train was pulling out of the station near the end of the evening, I decided to just leave well enough alone. I figure the director had already seen anything they wanted anyway.

The second night was better attended somewhat than the first night. Several of my friends and cast mates from previous productions also auditioned last night. If I am to be in this play, there will certainly be plenty of familiar faces in the cast, I'd gather.

The director said she would try to inform everyone of their fates today sometime, or Monday at the latest. Today is not over yet of course, but I am thinking it is not likely I will get any word today. If I do, I will of course post a supplemental entry here. If not, check back here tomorrow to learn the results of my audition.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Richard III Audition

Last night I attended my first audition in quite a while. A local production of Shakespeare's Richard III.

It is the same director that three years ago helmed Romeo and Juliet. (Click to read the start of the adventures for that show.)

There were not many people there when I arrived, but all of them were people with whom I have worked with before in various plays over the years.

There were about seven sides prepared, and I looked over each one, though when I was called back I read mostly for Buckingham. I read for Richard a bit, and Ratcliff for the briefest of moments.

I read the scene where Buckingham asked Richard for the promised Earldom of Hereford, as well as the scene just prior to Buckingham's execution. As the hunchback himself I read the courtship scene with Lady Anne, as well as the scene with Elizabeth wherein Richard attempts to get her advice about how to woo her daughter. (And fails.)

I am satisfied with my readings, by and large. I have read the play a few times before, and I suspected that those parts I read would be among the sides for the audition. (No prepared monologue was required for the actors.)

On my audition sheet I didn't request a particular role, stating that I'd be willing to fill whatever role the director felt would best serve the play as a whole. I meant it, though I confess than even among the smaller roles, (which all the male roles save Richard are), I have my personal preferences. I don't usually like to point that out to directors though. My thought being that if they are curious to see how I can do in a role, they will ask me to read for same. True, by requesting to read a role I could surprise a director with a reading, and once in a while, I request a role. Yet my experience has been I rarely am asked to read for the roles I request anyway, so I just leave it open ended. (Though I will sometimes mentioned a role I specifically do not want.)

There is a second round of auditions tonight which I offered to attend as well, if the director believed that would be of any help. She said that it would, as she could use the extra reader, so I agreed to drop in for a bit tonight as well. I know that many children will be auditioning tonight, for the roles of the Young Princes. Yet I imagine adults will also be showing up as well, as there are many parts to fill. After that, casting decisions are supposed to be revealed in a few days time. So here's hoping I get in, and get something good of course.

I'll write a supplemental post tonight to talk about the second round of auditions.