Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Staged Reading of "Over the River and Through the Woods"

It was a bit of a whirlwind for me, and for my cast. Though I had been granted the privilege of directing a staged reading of this play at the Winchester Little Theatre more than a month ago, several factors contributed to it's being a difficult project to get off the ground.

To begin with, a project that absorbed almost the entire talent pool for the WLT was scheduled for the same day. Those few that were not in said project went to see said project. Which meant that from the start I had fewer people available to me. Casting it required a few weeks, and some help from a few insiders with connections I do not have with the community. (The play only has six people in it.)

Once it was cast, the schedule conflicts were a disaster. There we no days when the entire cast could meet on the same day. And I had only envision two or three rehearsals anyway, given that it was a reading. So after much moving around, I was able to set aside two days this month, each one only missing a single person.

Some unfortunate events prevented me, however, from attending the first rehearsal of my own reading. Thankfully the cast seemed to like each other, from the reports I got, and had great chemistry. I saw this first hand a few days later when I finally was able to attend a rehearsal. (The second one.)

I never intended to give notes and suggestions of great complexity and depth in regards to character and motivation issues, due to the limited time we would have together as a production. Readings can be creative exercises, but unless you've got the same amount of time to rehearse them as you do a regular play (and that is rarely the case), I feel that directors best serve the project by focusing mostly on mechanics. Volume, pacing, even the set up of the chairs and podiums and such. Coordinating rehearsals. Explaining the overall vision of the piece. Being available to actors for concerns about nuances in scenes and within speeches, but basically allowing such things to form naturally within the well maintained structure of rehearsals and the performance.

That being said, I of course had hoped to have a bit more time with this cast than I did. However, once I finally saw them all (minus one) read the script together, I knew the reading was in good hands. The reports I got via email were correct; everyone played off of everyone else quite well. I did have some mechanics to take care of, and a few rough spots that needed polishing, but I was pleased with what I saw from the beginning. I had even less to do in regards to performances than I had imagined.

That second rehearsal was only a few days before the one and only performance of the reading. Due to availability, we had yet to rehearse it on the actual stage it would be performed on. So we decided to have one more run through, on the actual stage on the very day of the performance. It was the first time the entire cast and myself were present. It was even the first time I had met one of the cast members, as crazy as that sounds. But such was the nature of this experience.

I gave a few notes, mostly mechanical again. Dusted off a few things, cleaned up an aspect here and there. There was not much that had to be done, however. The directions I gave were incorporated into the reading, and after the extra run-through on the day, I was satisfied. There is always more you can do, if you have more time, and I am sure more things could have gone even better, had we had another few rehearsals. But we didn't have that luxury, and I wasn't going to let that bother me, or the cast. I reminded them all that we were story tellers, first and foremost, and that if it went as well that night as it had gone during the final rehearsal, the audience, whoever they may be, would enjoy themselves.

After a brief "speech" to the cast before hand, wherein I thanked them, and hoped they had had fun, I left them backstage while I went out to the lobby of the theater to await my short pre-show announcements. Believe it or not, I was anxious and nervous for it all to start. Not because I feared for the quality of the show, but because I was excited to see how it would all turn out on such short notice. (I had been together with them for less then a week, officially, and it was all about to end in less than two hours.)

The crowd, much smaller than it otherwise would have been if not for the other project I mentioned still managed to fill one of the three small sections of seats in the little theater. They were warm and receptive to my introduction to the piece, and remained so throughout, laughing quite a bit at various places. Their responses made them sound like a crowd twice their size, actually.

At intermission I went backstage and told the cast to keep it up, and that I had received compliments already before it was even finished. They did not disappoint in the second half, and neither did the audience. Everyone, myself included, had a nice time that evening. I could tell something had gone right, given that the cast wished they could do it all again. There was even talk about trying to put together another reading of it at another venue. (Only a theory at this point.)

Over all, this experience had some problems, but we overcome them. So much so that looking back over the last week, it almost seems as if there were no real problems leading into this reading after all. I know some things could have gone better. I regret the schedule conflict with the other project, and a few other things. But given how little time we actually had, the size of the production and the size/responsiveness of the crowd that came to see it, it wouldn't be absurd to conclude that, by proportion at least, this was one of the more satisfying theater experiences I've had over the last few years. Nothing can replace a true production on stage, but i have said before and will again that staged reading can be a source of great enjoyment in their own right for everyone involved.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One-Man Learning Process

I just finished up a session of working on my one an show. (As yet untitled.) As I've mentioned before, it is a show that incorporates Shakespeare speeches, particularly from the histories. My hope is to make some of them seem more accessible to every day people than they are generally recognized as being.

I am at this point totally off book for the first half of this presentation. Originally intended for a presentation this fall, plans changed and I will now perform it locally at the end of February 2015. Given the time frame I did slow down the preparation pace a bit, but I am still making progress. Frankly, I think the first half of the presentation is the harder part of it anyway, though much work remains to be done.

There have been many things I've learned on many fronts during this project. On the Shakespeare front of course I have learned something new, or discovered a potential nuance in the writing almost every time I review the speeches. As is so often the case with Shakespeare, it opens up the more you do it, as opposed to some writing which closes down, shrinks, and becomes less palatable over time. Whether you are experienced with reading/performing the words of Shakespeare or are tackling them for the first time, there is an internal gratification that comes with the almost constant education and near-limitless possibilities that open up the longer you study the speeches.

I am also learning on the one-man show front. I have never been in a one man show written by anybody, let alone one I have written myself. Except for an intermission I won't be off stage at all, of course, and that requires constant energy on my part, more so than in a standard play, when I can go off stage for a time and re-calibrate and brace myself as it were. I'm still a ways off from doing this with all the props and costume on the actual stage, (I've been rehearsing and workshoping it in my home), but the skeleton of what it will have to be like is coming to me now. It  helps that at least for the debut of this show, I am intimately familiar with the stage I will be performing it on. I'll rehearse on it here and there in the months to come.

Willingness to edit is an invaluable trait in any writer. I've always known that, but it is especially true for a one man script such as this. I find that many one man shows over indulge in lines. There has to be enough there to make the show worth doing, of course, but there is a common conceit that audiences will be willing to absorb as much talking as possible out of sheer appreciation for the fact that someone is doing a shoe all by himself. I think that's a tad obscene in a way, and certainly self-important on the part of the playwright. I perhaps may have the willingness and energy to talk for hours about something, either as myself or in character, but that doesn't mean an audience is willing. I don't believe in catering 100% to a future audience, but at the same time they are going to be the ones I am performing this for. To assume they will give me undivided attention for as long as possible would be foolish.

Then there is learning about myself. It's not as navel-gazing as you may think. I;m learning what my strengths are as a writer and actor. I'm learning the boundaries of my persistence and creative energy. Though the concept of my one-man show is not revolutionary, it is the first time that I personally have tackled writing, performing and directing my own production. (Ideally someone else would direct even a one-man show, but nobody was available to me.) I'm learning as I go the value and the cost of going alone when I want something to happen on stage bad enough, and don't have others willing or able to help me do certain things. This entire experience was born out of the supreme difficulty of getting others excited about or interesting in participating on my ideas. So I turned to myself, and have learned that it is sometimes the only way to get creative enough. I don't know how the final product will look, or be received just yet, but I know I made the right, and possibly the only decision to undertake this task, given the shifting promises and willingness of others.

So it is, and will continue to be, a learning process for me on multiple fronts. now that a great deal of the memorization is complete, I have at last begun to delve into the nature of base character, as well as each of the Shakespearean ones I use in the show. Once I get further into that, a who new set of things to learn will emerge. In the end, that's the second best thing about doing this, the learning.

The best thing, of course, is the possibility of entertaining other people.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Booing the Applause?

I've never seen he Hobbit films. Nor have I seen the Martin Freeman production of Richard III discussed in this article. I do think I'm qualified to discuss applause, however, both appropriate and inappropriate.

Assuming of course there is any truly inappropriate applause, and there's the rub.

In the case of Freeman, many Hobbit fans have come to see his Richard III just for the chance to see him live and, it would appear, express their appreciation for said Hobbit movies by giving him enthusiastic applause. Every single time he enters. It would seem that this is ruining the play for Shakespeare fans who have come to the production to actually watch a Shakespeare play. The applause, they say, takes them out of the story, and should be reserved only for the curtain call.

I don't agree that applause should only happen at the end of a production, even of Shakespeare. Applauding the first entrance of an actor of renown has been a part of the theatre for quite some time. An appreciation of their stature in the theatre world, and an acknowledgement of their previous body of work, though not required is nevertheless acceptable as well as understandable.  Each actor has only one initial entrance, after all.

Nor do I mind, and in fact as an actor I welcome applause at the end of a scene well done. If the drama or comedy of a scene has particularly moved an audience member, we do the theatre a disservice if we discourage applause between scenes. The theatre can't continue to beg for active audiences and then proceed to silence them at every turn.

There is of course a limit to the acceptability of applauding, though, beyond which it becomes meaningless. I'm right on the border when it comes to applauding at the end of every scene in a production, a growing trend among casual theater-goers, especially of children's plays. On one hand, a well written and well performed play will build tension after each scene, and applause may be a way to relieve that tension and express gratitude for a job well done. On the other hand, not every scene warrants applause, and as I said, it becomes cheap after a while.

Applauding for a specific actor every time he enters the stage? Infantile. By giving standing ovations complete with hooting and whistling every time a certain actor merely walks on stage, and again whenever he walks off, a patron is broadcasting to the world that they have come not to consume theatre, but merely to be in the same building with someone who contributed to a movie with which they are currently obsessed. It's fandom, not appreciation. Such behavior commandeers a production and converts it into an impromptu comic convention. Only a pathological egotist, even by theatre standards, would take any joy from it.

It would detract from my enjoyment of such a production as well.

That being said, I doubt anything can be done about it. The Hobbit-fanatics have paid for their tickets like anyone else. They're the audience at that point, and so long as they aren't preventing the play from moving forward, one can't charge them with heckling, or true disruption. Even if one could, how does one go about ejecting a few hundred people from an audience in the middle of a performance? The logistics would be a nightmare, and the inevitable fallout would be a nightmare within a nightmare.

Theatre companies might just have to get cute if they hope to stop such displays. They may have to limit their shows to smaller, more intimate settings, where such screaming would feel less socially appropriate. One thing a teenager doesn't want to feel is awkward, and a smaller space may play on that fear. But then the show makes far less money.

A theatre could put an age limit on the show, but that only caters to the suspicions that Shakespeare isn't for young people. Further, plenty of full grown adults who are too old for such behavior willingly resort to brainless fangirl status when faced with their obsession. The much talked about extended-adolescence of young adults today may have many causes, none of which I'll discuss here. I mention it only to point out that an age limit would not be a limit on such behavior.

The most effective potential remedy for such screaming would probably be a cultural immersion in theatre etiquette. But etiquette of any kind has taken a backseat in recent years to constant and unbridled self-expression and digital distraction. Combine that with a population that is already seeing less theatre, and etiquette education seems silly. The arts as a whole allowed etiquette to fall by the way side for too long, and it may be too late to bring it back. Even if it were brought back, it's not likely to mean much to people who come to the theatre once in their lives not to enjoy acting or appreciate nuance, but to inhabit the same general space as Martin Freeman, or Daniel Radcliffe, or any number of other actors who dare to star in fantasy-oriented material with a slant toward children and teens.

I'm out of ideas myself. I agree, as I said, that such activity is obnoxious. But as it represents a stark social shift in what is acceptable at the theatre, I suspect that only a stark social shift on the part of theatres in how they deal with such distractions has any hope of stemming the tide of rabid fandom leaking into arts culture.

"Do control yourself, and show some respect, for this is the theatre," may be the dignified, classic arts way of addressing the issue, but when a few hundred people are still screaming and clapping and whistling their love for Martin Freeman an hour and a half into a show, something tells me such admonitions will not be enough.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Free of Charge Is Not Free of Quality

This piece from The Guardian hit home with me. In it the author counters the sadly common perception that if a theatre production is free, it must not be good. The production values, so go the assumption, are low, because there is likely no budget to the piece, and the producers would be embarrassed to charge people money to come see it.

That way of thinking ignores several facts, not the least of which is that paying sometimes exorbitant prices to see a show does not guarantee quality of a production. Why then should we feel that a free production can not be also a fantastic one?

Most of the production I've been in have been either pay what you can or low cost. Not all of them, I must admit, were fine productions, but the majority were. That's because the quality came not from the money spent and money made on the show, but on how much I and the rest of the cast and crew wanted to do well. When their is no financial incentive you can bet the money you are not paying for a ticket that people are in the show because they want to be, and that matters.

Quality is a decision to work hard, nothing more. When that decision is made by everyone involved in a show, and all of the same people enjoy one another's company the quality of every aspect of the production increases. That chemistry and that pride can't help but show through to an audience. Audiences, whether they realize or not, respond better to shows where the cast and crew enjoy what they're doing and enjoy one another.

This is especially true with audiences who don't come to the theater o a regular basis. Audiences who in some location may not be able to afford the average price of a ticket. And since free shows would allow more people to enjoy a production, the better the experience is for all involved. It's cyclical. 

Some may argue that those who see shows for free have made no investment, and hence have no incentive to behave well or to respect the actors. That may be true for a certain element, I concede, but then again such people are not likely to show respect for something even if they did make a small investment in same. A decent person either respects someone's work, or they do not. With few exceptions I've not in my years as an actor detected a noticeable drop off in how receptive or well-behaved an audience is when admission is free or low cost.

In either case, that speaks to the quality of the audience, and not the quality of the performances.

The piece goes on to mention a few professional companies offering free performances for limited time. That's nice, but I don't think it's the same as producing a show that is free from the start. If an otherwise expensive company throws a few bones out there, people are not likely to assume that there is a poor quality free show in the offing. They will merely take note of the fact that the company is giving away seat for a few days.

We see many different types of art for free, in museums and galleries. Our parks host free concerts in summer time on a regular basis. The fear of poor quality in those cases doesn't seem nearly as strong as it is for free theater. Perhaps it is a side effect of theater as a whole being beyond the means of so many people for so long, I don't know. I do know that those who skip theater because they aren't paying much, if anything to see it are depriving themselves of some wonderful experiences. If it's bad, then of course they haven't lost anything, and can leave. But if it's wonderful, (and if often is) they've received for more than a free place to sit in a dark room for a few hours; they've had their humanity confirmed and might just feel a bit less lonely in the world after the show.

Sounds like a decent trade in for nothing.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Thoughts On Watching Theatre With Someone Else

Actors do in fact sometimes sit in the audience. Granted, I haven't done much of that over the last several years, and when I have done it, it's usually in the exact same venues in which I perform. (Which can be a distraction sometimes, if you get to a pivotal moment in a performance and find yourself wondering if they've fixed that wobbly part of the stage as a friend of mine makes his entrance.)

But whether in my local playhouse or in major professional venues, I enjoy being in the audience, when I can shut out my inner actor and just watch. When I do, and it's a quality performance, I remember why I choose to act in the first place; the imprint a show leaves on those in the seats.

I came across this piece last week, in which the author asks about the ideal date to take to see a show. I hadn't thought much about it. I have been since I read it though. My natural inclination is to see theatre by myself, to be frank. That way I can absorb the experience and interpret what is going on, letting it wash over or pour into me without impediment, in whatever fashion I choose. I can even get up and leave if it comes to that. (It hasn't yet.) The author of the piece is of a similar mind, as she points out in a previous article she wrote years ago about seeing shows alone. That piece is linked within this one, so I'd suggest reading both.

But for the sake of the subject, and the question posed by the article, I'll speculate on what my ideal theatre date would be like. For the purposes of this question, let's suppose this isn't limited to a romantic date, per se. (The author placed no such limitation on her question.)

First and foremost, somebody who would be talking the whole time, or even at key moments is out. The rudeness factor aside, I can't connect with what I'm watching as fully as I'd like if I have to allocate energy to responding to my companion's question or observation. It's too rude for me not to, but I'm there to see a play and I can't do that if I'm diverting energy to what a companion is saying. If there must be commentary, it needs to be brief, declarative as opposed to interrogatory, and should happen during some break in the action. Sustained applause or laughter, or during a scene change black out.

I also prefer to be with someone who either already does, or is willing to enjoy the show for its own sake. I think that friendships and certainly romances are built upon sacrifice and accommodation of the other's needs and desires from time to time, but I don't want the theatre involved in all of that. I don't want someone I am with to come with me to a show just to make me happy, or to do me a favor. Nor do I want them doing, as so many parents on Christmas Morning, getting most of their joy out of seeing my joy. I feel like I have to be "on" when a companion feels that way, and if the production isn't good, I don't feel as free to respond accordingly.

That doesn't mean I'll only go to a show with someone who is as much into theatre as I am. I'd go with a novice, or someone that rarely goes. So long as on that day, for that show in that place they are excited about being there.

I also don't enjoy seeing theatre with someone who has already seen the show, or at least that production of the show. If someone has already seen Hamlet, that's fine, but if they've seen this production already, I won't enjoy seeing it with them. True, live theatre is a little different every night, but not different enough to feel as though both I and my companion are discovering the show at the same time. I'm the same with movies; if I haven't seen a movie yet, I dislike going to see it with someone that already has. It takes away from the experience. Especially if it's a lesser known play or a new play.

Finally, as much as I want quiet during the show, I want to be able to converse about the play afterward with a companion. There are so many things that go into seeing a show with someone else that if I do so, and they have nothing to say about the show on the way home, or at drinks after the fact, I feel I would be better off having seen it alone. This isn't to say they have to like the play, but if they aren't willing to talk about why they didn't like it, or why they did like it, or who they thought was the strongest performance, that sort of thing, it's quite the let down for me. "I liked it," or "I didn't like it," don't work for me as a post mortem. Be eager to talk about the show, or let me see it alone.

There are a few minor characteristic of the ideal theatre date that i won't mention here, because I think those mentioned above are most important. The other things are preferences at best. If not met, i could still enjoy the experience. But if any of the above concepts are lacking it will take away from my theatre experience. I'd rather see shows alone than with people who don't meet these qualifications.

What about you? What makes a good audience companion at the theatre?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Book Launch! Some Theater Fiction.

Hello, loyal blog readers. On this, my theater blog, I wanted to that I launched an ebook today. It's called, Thank You for Ten; Short Fiction About a Little Theater. It's a collection of ten stories, all of which take place in the same community theater. You can by it for 99 cents, either for the kindle or for other devices. Check out my main blog at to find out how to get it.

For this collection, I've minded my experiences and perceptions over the course of 15 years or so as an actor. This blog has been here for more than half of that time, and those who read my posts here will find, at least I hope, many parallels. A lot of what I feel as an actor has been expressed here in the blog, and it informed my creative decisions as I wrote each of the stories in this collection.

And of course if you are a theater person yourself, (and chances are that if you come here, you are), I'm confident you will find something familiar with in many if not all of these stories. The excitement, the worry, the planning, the artistic vision, the wide cast of characters both on and off stage at a community theater. I know many of you can relate.

So if you enjoy fiction set in your favorite place, the theater, click the link above, and get yourself a copy today, please. I would be very grateful, and it would be particularly satisfying if theater types like myself discovered and enjoyed this small collection.

If you do read it, please, please let me know if you like it!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Career Lessons From the Theatre? Maybe...

I came across this short piece by Robbie Hyman. Ostensibly it's about lessons we can take into our jobs that the author learned from watching so much live theatre. While I agree with his larger applications, I find his observations about theatre itself more interesting.

His first observation, "Perform at every a talent scout is watching," rings true to me for the most part, though I don't but so much work into honing my craft thinking of a talent scout. (Not that one is ever likely to show up where I do most of my plays anyway.) I do however put my best foot forward with every role thinking that a great audience is watching every time. As this blog has mentioned many times over the years, sometimes an audience isn't good, and sometimes it's almost non-existent. But if my advice over 8 years on this blog can be distilled into one or two things, one of them would certainly be to give of yourself as much as you can to whatever role you are playing in any given production.

I almost never use the cliche' for this truth, "There are no small parts...," though there is of course truth behind the statement. I confess being in small roles in poorly directed productions that are not well attended is difficult, on a good day. Laborious and tedious on the worst of days. But if my name is going to be attached to something, that something had better be worthy of my name.

Also the experience of a show is far more rewarding for each person, if all the other people are putting in maximum effort each night. I'd add that this is especially important in amateur productions when one isn't getting paid. I've often written about people who blow off rehearsals, or phone in their performances in amateur productions, and I do so with disdain each time. As the author of this article says, "...that's what you do when you're an actor. You act." That's what I strive to live up to.

Next, Hyman advises the read to "find something to love about your job." While I think one should of course do this, the examples he gives in the article to me point to something other than finding an aspect of your job to love.  

He mentions a highly paid, well-renowned television writer sweeping up the lobby of the tiny theatre that was performing his latest play. Even I was impressed by this fact, though not shocked. True dedication to the theatre means a desire for every aspect of a production to succeed. One of my favorite take-aways from my early days in theater back in college was this work ethic to serve the entire show. Almost always, minutes before a rehearsal would start, some one from the cast without being asked to do so was running the giant broom across the stage. Even on dress rehearsal nights you'd find people in costume undertaking this task. Not the best way to keep a costume clean, but it speaks to the ethic I picked up from college. 

Hyman points to this as an example of lousy things people do in order to have a chance to do the things they love about their job. Again, I agree with that sentiment, but the famous writer sweeping the floor to me speaks more to this notion that nobody should be too important to take on the necessary tasks of keeping a theatre ready for a show. Some things are going to be beyond any given person, of course, (I, for example, cannot now, nor have I ever been of much service to theatrical lighting issues.) But anyone can pick up a broom, throw away trash, keep the house clean, and so on. That's not what we are there for per se, but it should be a part of what we are all there for when in a show; making things easier and better for everyone involved.

Hyman's last point about theatre as it related to the workplace is, "Remember, there are lots of talented people out there." He goes on to marvel at the high caliber of acting he found in most "hole-in-the-wall" theaters his visited, and determines that it must be due to the actors (some of whom are famous) wanting to stay sharp, and keep the up and comers from replacing them.

This lesson I think misses the mark the most in Hyman's article. I very much agree that to remain good at acting, as with any craft, one must continue to work and practice said craft. And I can't deny that acting, like many field can be cut throat on the professional level, with younger, fresher faces literally waiting in the wings to replace the currently famous. But I don't think these are the main reasons Hyman and other can find terrific acting in tiny, obscure, poorly attending places. I think for most actors, the true reason the turn in great performances in such places is the same reason that writer swept the lobby floor; they are committed. Again, Hyman had it when he said, "...that's what you do when you're an actor. You act." 

I won't be naive and deny there is ever a career consideration when big-wigs enter the small venues, and I of course am not a par of the professional movie or theatre scene in Los Angeles. But I can say that good acting is no accident. People don't roll out of bed turning out a great performance. It does indeed take practice, and it may be aided by keeping one's self relevant. But in my estimation neither of those things alone can motivate the best art from a performer. Only a sincere love for the material and the work can produce that kind of awe-inspiring result night after night in the tiniest of forgotten venues. If Hyman finds actors of all fame-levels turning in such performances so often, it's probably because, like me and many of my colleagues, they love what they are doing, and respect it, and their reputation enough to not phone anything in.

By and large, though, Hyman's conclusions about live theatre, or in this case small live theatre are valid and affirming to someone who has been an actor for a while. If those lessons can be applied to one's non-theatre career, that's great, though only one of many facets of life that can be enhanced by taking in a show. Yet even if there were no career lessons to be taken from his attending the plays, I congratulate Hyman for bringing so much out of his experiences as an audience member in so many holes-in-the-wall over the years.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Progress Report: My Scripts.

As of last night, I've committed all Shakespeare monologues from the first half of my one man show to memory. I still have to add in my own line between them, which are half-improvised much of the time anyway.

For those of you who need reminding, I'm developing a one-man show based on the history plays of Shakespeare. I've always admired those plays, and regret that they are performed so rarely. I figured that if I ever wanted to perform some of the great speeches from the histories, I'd have to create my own show around them, and perform it. So that is exactly what I've done. I've been working on it for most of this year so far.

It takes places in sections that are dedicated to the specific history plays. The first section, about Richard II, is by far the longest, because it establishes the premise of the show, introduces the audience to who I am playing, and sets up the plots of the histories. I've been running that to myself at regular performance speed for about a month or so now, and it regularly takes about 40 minutes. Now that I've for the most part committed the Shakespeare in section 2 (Henry IV) to memory, I'll be adding my own lines in throughout the next week or so. My hope is that the second section takes no more than 20  minutes to perform. With blocking and pauses and audience reaction added in, my goal is for the first half of the show to last no more than one hour, ten minutes. It will be a while before I know how long section 2 will take, however.

There's still a lot of work to do, to be sure. But now that I have all of the Shakespeare for the first  half memorized, and it will be only a matter of a week or so before I can perform both of the first sections with all of my own lines added, this is a milestone. Being off book for the first half of a show that I've created and studied for most of the year will go a long way in establishing momentum for the rest of this process. Just something about being "halfway done," even though some of the longest speeches await me in the second half.

At this rate of progress, and considering other projects I'm working on, I'm guessing it will be ready for performance by mid-autumn of this year. It's designed to be easily transported to just about any venue, but in all likelihood it will make its debut at the Black Box Arts Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. (Of which I am one of the managers.) Eventually, though, a traveling affair. Or something I can due annually for a weekend or so. That's the beauty of it being a show that easily travels and has a cast of one. There's more work for me but I'm also only responsible to myself, and that has its advantages.

May seems to have been a month of first halves, as I also completed act one of my standard play, "All the Admirals." That has a cast of five, and is related to some short stories I've written here and there. Takes place in a television studio. It's mostly a character study, and I look forward to finishing that, which I plan to do before the end of this calendar year. (I doubt it will require the rest of the year, if I truly apply myself to it.) I hope to gather some actor friends for a test reading of it once it is done and I've completed the first round of edits. But that's quite a ways into the future for now.

So my theater writing had proceeded at a steady clip in 2014. Except for this blog, of course. I continue to collect articles and other theater miscellany about which to write here, but with everything else going on, (plus my actual paying writing work), I tend to fall behind. Don't give up on me though. You know I always get back eventually, loyal blog readers.

In the mean time, I'll go work on acr one of my one-man show, (which I hope to name by the next time I talk to you about it.) Until then, loyal blog readers.

Anyone out there write their own plays? I'd love to hear about that.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Throw the (Phone) Bums Out

I came across this article the other day. One like many in our digital age, discussing the problem of distracting cell phone usage by audience members of theatrical productions. It certainly is one of the most common, and most annoying problems in theatre today. Or for that matter in any function that requires some kind of quiet decorum. Cell phones and tablets are now everywhere, even where they should not be. As indicated in the article, there is much hand wringing about what to do about this.

Some theaters, such as this one, have experimented with "Tweet Seats". Special seating for those who agree to tweet about the performance with specific hashtags. Though I think that's a bit silly in some ways, I can see the value in it in others. Promotion is promotion after all, so long as it's not interfering with the performance. But "Tweet Seats" only work for those who respect their boundaries. If boundaries were respected in the digital age, the entire cell phone/tablet flap would not exist. People would, as asked numerous times before the start of a show, shut off their cell phones, so as not to interrupt performances.

Yet a percentage of people in each audience these days refuse to do so. Not only that, they get belligerent when it is pointed out to them. Then other patrons who are playing by the rules cower, and huff as their theatrical experience is lessened.

My question is, why are theaters not throwing such people out?

Be indignant if you must, worshipers of instant communication. Pontificate once again on the supposed need your life has to be reached instantly and to reach everyone else instantly. Bloviate a little more about "personal freedom." You'll not sway me on this issue. So I say again, as an actor and a patron of theatre; If you are a repeat offender with your cell phone or tablet, and degrade the experience of the performance through use of your devices, you should be thrown out. No refund either.

Look, I know that in some ways theatre seems archaic. In some ways, perhaps it is, and I am in favor of modernizing it to a certain extent. But there is a far cry between modernizing an institution, and letting it be subsumed into the mores of an emerging digital culture that sometimes seems to bend over backwards to leave it behind or destroy it. I'd honestly rather have smaller audiences that are respectful of the performance, than larger audiences filled with people who can only bothered to attend theater because someone dragged them to it, or because they see it as a chance to catch up on texts, tweets, or whatever the latest app-based smart phone game happens to be. At least the smaller crowd is there because it wants to be. The larger crowd, in my scenario, is there because they can be, and speaking as an actor, I don't feel excited or honored by such a presence.

It's quite simple, really. What I'm advocating is not without precedent, even within the theatre. If someone is heckling a show, they can be asked to leave, and forced to do so, should it come to that. Plenty of theatres do not allow the personal freedom of eating or drinking in the house, and none of them in the United States allow the personal freedom of smoking in the seats anymore. (As far as I understand.) These rules have caused grumblings in the past and continue to do so. And a certain portion of the would-be audience vowed never to return to the theatre, given these restrictions. So they did. Theater survived, and a little bit better off, in my opinion.

We have commuter trains, such as Maryland's own MARC system, that provide "Quiet Cars" for the morning commute. No loud talking on cellphones, no shouting, no music without headphones. From what I've been given to understand, the quiet on such cars is enforced on a regular basis, both by train staff, and by the culture that has grown up within such cars. People go to them because they expect quiet, and those that cannot comply are quasi-shamed out of selecting the car in the future. That's what we need in theaters regarding cell phones: more shame.

If proprietors of theaters were to adopt a low or even zero tolerance policy for such behavior, eventually so would patrons. The theater would be seen as a place once again where a quiet respect both for what is happening on stage and for those who paid to enjoy what is happening on stage would take root. People with cell phones glued to their heads at all times would him and haw, give a few speeches and write a few letters about their personal freedoms. Then they would just stop coming to the theatre altogether, not being that worried about it in the first place, I dare say. Or they would leave their cell phones in the car, if theatre truly did mean that much to them. In either case, no big loss for the theatre.

Theater attendance, especially at the regional and community level, is down. Some studies indicate that participation of and appreciation for the arts in general in the United States is falling. If so, it is a tragedy for several reasons, not the least of which being that arts organizations are closing due to lack of income. But even in the current fragile state of affairs within the arts community, we mustn't allow ourselves to cater to every possible element that might attend a show. I implore theaters and other arts institutions not to be so desperate for the money a ticket brings as to allow buffoons who barely care about what they've come to see to dilute the experience. We can adjust without surrendering, adapt without capitulating. We owe it to actors, directors, patrons and donors, indeed to the thousands year tradition of Western Theater itself to maintain decorum and etiquette within our walls. We must stem the tide of digital encroachment for the sake of encroachment. If we don't demand it, nobody else will do so on our behalf.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Open Letters and Birthdays.

Once in a while, loyal blog readers, something I post on my "regular" blog nicely cross-relates to this blog. Today is one of those times.

On my regular blog, every other Thursday this year, I have endeavored to write an open letter to someone I either do not speak to anymore, or could never possibly find. Partly to gain closure, and partly to show gratitude where it is due in retrospect. This week, being the 450th "birth week" of Shakespeare, I wrote an open letter to the man who first truly complimented my abilities to perform Shakespeare well. He was an audience member in one of my first quasi-performances of Shakespeare. (Read the letter to find out what I mean by that.)

And, Happy (Belated) Birthday, Shakespeare.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Here and There...and a Poem!

I write poems and post them on a website. I go by forms, and I'm currently working on acrostics. Today's was particularly appropriate for the subject of this blog, so I thought I'd post a link to it. Do tell me what you think, either there, or there. Check it out.

In the last month since I posted here, several theatre balls have been rolling with me. To begin with, I am off book for the first section of my Shakespeare-based one man show. For the most part. The lines are partially ad-libbed each time, so an exact timing is difficult to determine, but the average seems to be about 40 minutes. Truth be told that is running a bit longer than I thought it would. I may be able to trim some off of it, but it seems to be in love with that 40 minute presentation. So what I'll probably do is leave it as it is, and make sure the second section, which is shorter, takes no more than 20 minutes. Then I'll throw in an intermission. I hadn't planned to use an intermission, but given how long the first section is, it clearly needs one.

The first section should be the longest by a few minutes. So with some trimming and practice, all of the others should be much faster. Better to open with the longer section, I dare say. It needs to set the tone for what I'm doing. Then once that ball is rolling the other sections should go by quicker. And intermission won't hurt anything, and I have a natural breaking point for one. I won't be sure if it works until I am off book with section two. I'll start memorizing the Shakespeare speeches for that section sometimes in the next week.

The good news is that the show is starting to come alive to me. There will be tweaks along the way, of course. I'm still trying to find a good presence for the one-man I'm portraying between the Shakespeare. But now that I can recite all of the Shakespeare for section one, and can present the other speeches and commentary in an organic way, I have for the last week or so felt like I'm truly performing it. There's a lot of work left to be done, but I've gotten over a major hurdle...the end of the beginning, as it were.

Speaking of beginnings, I have also in the last ten days or so begun writing the script for a conventional stage play, that is to say one that is not a one-man show. There are in fact five characters in this play, and I've been kicking the idea around in my head for about a year or so. It will explore art and acting. Performing. What parts of art we do and do not own when we create them. That sort of thing. This will be my first sincere attempt at writing a full length stage play, so I'm in uncharted ground here. But I like what I have so far, and thanks to some tips online, I've created a script format template for Word that makes it look like a script as I write it. Believe it or not, seeing it in script format helps. I get the sense I am creating something to be acted. I can see future actors highlighting the words as I am typing them, and that's a satisfying thought.

I have about 5,000 words of that project done as well. I have some fear that the material may be too thin for a full length play, but I have a lot of room to play with for now. The goal is to have at least a first draft of the play completed before the end of 2014.

I've also just started to gather theatre related articles or blog posts from elsewhere that I can use for future commentary here on the blog. I mentioned I planned to expand the scope a bit by commenting on certain things and I mean to do so. I just want a bit of a collection of potential topics to build up before I launch into that in earnest. (If you have any ideas or questions or links you think I should check out, do let me know in the comments!)

That's all for now, loyal blog readers. If you're still out there, please let me know it. I'd very much appreciate a comment here and there to let me know I'm still reaching somebody.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Broadening Horizons.

I know it must be difficult for anyone who reads this blog to believe, but I am still around. In fact, if you visit my main website, or if you follow me on Twitter (@TyUnglebower) you know I haven't disappeared. but as my time off the stage begins to stretch into a two year period, (which would be approaching my personal record since I first started acting), I have fewer things to write on this pages.

I often have mentioned my intention to start posting more opinion pieces regarding theater and acting in general, to make up for my time off stage. I have yet to make 100% good on that plan, but I have not abandoned that goal, either. It may just mean that I have to work extra hard to cull material for such things, and to include the time in my regular writing schedule for same.

Reviews of plays may also be on the docket in the future. While I have done that here and there on this blog, it hasn't been a regular feature. I won't be able to attend live performances as often as I may like, but I do plan to read more plays this year, and I can review the scripts at times, even if not actual performances. I continue to consider that.

Then I have also pondered writing my own analysis of more classic plays. That of course takes time, so I won't be able to crank those out weekly or anything like that. But it may be a source for features in the future here, if I continue to not have a play to appear in.

Truth be told it's probably a good idea that I expand some of the scope of Always Off Book even if I do get back on stage more regularly. This blog has been around for quite a while, and I have no plans to shut it down any time soon, but it may call for more than a few pieces of acting advice, and a running report on any given play I happen to be appearing in or directing. The commentary I do give on actual plays when the time comes may also change somewhat, but I can't exactly explore that possibility until I am in the midst of a play again.

Whatever it is I do with this blog in the coming months or years, it will remain a place for my honest, passionate and at times unorthodox take on acting and theatre from the trenches. Jackasses will always complain, as they have often on this blog before I turned off anonymous posting, that I am not a real actor. But in fact, I, and people like me, am more of a real actor than they, and many others, simply because I wish to be. I strive to be. I seek to improve, explore, and challenge myself and others through my presence in the theatre, and I hope to reflect that here on the blog in a broader fashion in the coming months and years, and I hope that you will join me for that journey. (And comment a bit a long the way...I measure comments by the year around here...a polite conversation would certainly help out around here sometimes. But we'll get into that in due course.)

So it may take some adjustment time on my part, but I hope to hit a new rhythm here on this blog. Until then, stay tuned and check out my adventures elsewhere as well!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Two Shows, No Shows

Believe me, I am working on a title for the one man show, so I won't always have to refer to it as such. I have some ideas but I just want a little more time to think them over before I start using one in public. (I want to make sure none of them are currently in use already, too.)

By whatever title it shall be known, the show is going well. I have begun committing the Shakespearean passages to memory. I have a long way to go, of course, having only started earlier this month. But I'm off book or near to it for about four speeches, all from Richard II. I've opted to memorize the Shakespeare first, and then work on committing my own words to memory later, though there's a decent chance my own words will be more of a guide than a precise script for a while. I imagine as I begin to rehearse it regularly the best selection of words will emerge, but until then, I'll keep an outline in mind and let the words of the base character come to me.

But like I said, that's in the future for now. I plan to memorize all of the Shakespeare in the first section, then add my own words, and rehearse just the first section for a while, before moving on to the next section's Shakespeare followed by my own words and so forth.

My own words as written are decent, I dare say, after about three drafts. But the more familiar i get with the Shakespeare speeches, the more meaning and nuance I find within same. (Which is, of course, what often happens to a lot of people when studying Shakespeare's works.) I consider this a positive development, one that will enhance the overall experience of my show, for both myself and the audience.

The purpose of the piece, as I have said, is to humanize the kings of the history plays. Naturally each of them has their own human moments within their respective plays. That, I dare say, was one of Shakespeare's purposes, so I am not revolutionizing anything here. But my goal is to sort of gather (almost) all of them together in one place, and present their humanity as a unified concept to my audiences. Furthermore, my aim is to do so without giving the appearance of a lecture. That is why humanizing each king is so important; if they remain merely literary devices or monoliths from which I cull things to recite in a room, I might as well not have a one man show at all.

My other major theater-writing project continues as well. I mean to begin writing the actual script sometimes next month. For that I must consider the typical traits of good theatre: dialogue, character, dynamic, pacing, etc. I know right off, at least for now, that it will not fir into the precise theatrical structure insisted upon by so many critics and professors of the theatre. But as with my one man show, I feel strongly that if interesting characters say memorable things within the course of a play, one is already 80% successful as a playwright. i intend to make my characters, by way of their lines, missed by audiences at the end of the production. I can't wait to get started on that.

As for acting, I am sadly still within one of the biggest droughts of my life. Having not been in a play as an actor in over 18 months, I begin to feel part of my artistic side atrophying. Doubt and worry as to my readiness for my next role, whenever that may be, creeps in from time to time. Despite my increasingly busy writing schedule I may be forced to look outside of my usual venues and start auditioning for less desirable roles just to keep my head in the game, as it were. I have no idea who is producing what lately, but I am now looking around. I haven't looked outside the usual venues in years.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Short Story Collection: Thank You For Ten

Greetings, loyal blog readers. It's not often I have a chance to cross post between my regular website, and this acting blog. But today was the perfect chance.

Last year I wrote a series of ten short stories, all set in a theatre. The same theatre. Later this year I plan to self-publish this collection, and make it available to you, and of course to anyone else. I think anyone who knows and loves theatre, or who just knows and loves the artistic path can enjoy something from these ten stories at which I worked so hard over last year.

Learn more about the project over on my main website. I hope that when the time comes, you'll give these stories a shot.

Thanks everyone. And ore updates on my one-man show are coming soon as well!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

One Man Show: Progress Report

The other day I sat down and delivered my one man show out loud to myself, in its entirety for the first time. (Stage directions included.) It took one hour and 20 minutes, which is quite close to ideal this early on.

That time will of course expand once stage movement and other performance factors are considered. But that time will also contract once I become familiar with the text and can deliver it by memory. So I'm thinking an hour ten to an hour twenty is close to the actual final performance time, barring any major changes I would make to the script.

Right now, I don't foresee any major changes to it. The sequence works and the nature of the non-Shakespearean speeches have a good mixture of information, reflection and entertainment, which is key.

There are many Shakespearean speeches in the show. That's the point, after all, to examine the kings in the histories. But if the line I deliver between those speeches ring false or put people to sleep, it simply wont matter how well I deliver the Shakespeare.

I still need to evolve the nature of the base-character for the same reasons. He has to be someone with whom an audience wants to spend time for that hour and 20 minutes, without being someone that overshadows the drama of the Shakespeare. I had a vision in my head of what sort tone to set with who I am calling "The Actor", and my first full-reading showed me it could work in some ways, and might not work in others. Part mad-scientist and part Olivier and part Woody Allen is how he comes off right now. Nothing intrinsically wrong with any of those components in their own right, but the balance between them could probably be adjusted. That's what I will be working on the most in the coming sessions.

Through it all, I think of lines off the cuff that would sound better than the ones I have written down, or at least enhance them. I will eventually write down some of these, I suppose, and will continue to polish and tweak the writing. But the general flow seems to be in place now, and seems it will work, once individual sentences are polished.

Long way to go so far. But, to paraphrase a famous observation, it is perhaps the end of the beginning. Keep coming back here to see how it progresses. I might even have an official title for it the next time I post...

Monday, January 06, 2014


Happy New Year, loyal blog readers.

I want to start of by saying that last year was the least active year in this blogs history, and I hope to change that this year. (Namely, because I hope to be doing more theatre this year, hence having more to write about.)

I may not be writing a play by play rehearsal sort of blog anymore for every show. I know that's sort of been my bread and butter here for much of the time, but unless there is a particular problem or revelation on any given night of rehearsing or performing, (and let's face it, often there is anyway) a weekly round up of rehearsals is probably enough. It will also make my posts, hopefully, more thoughtful than just, "I did this tonight."

There was a time when each rehearsal was somewhat exciting and profound in its own way. Should I find myself in such a show I will of course blog accordingly. But over the last few years, not only have my chances to be in shows decreased dramatically, (my main theatre company shutting down over the summer), the shows I have been in over the last few years have not always been a rich source of thoughtful material. Richard III was because it's Shakespeare, but a few other recent activities have been fun but not necessarily intriguing.

And that's all part of theatre too; it runs the gamete for the actor. They can't all be life changing shows, not do they have to be, so long as I try to learn something from each of them. What I learn can probably be better explored with less than daily posts now. Though of course I could be wrong, and find I need to blog every night the next time I'm in a show anyway, so moved could I be. (Wouldn't that be great?)

Right now, I don't know what my next experience will be. The Christmas Carol reading I mentioned in my previous post was called off due to weather and never rescheduled. I continue to be a manager of that same facility, but for now, there is nothing occurring there, as we try to get off of the ground, and get people to notice us. So keep that in mind.

I am working on my one-man show based on Shakespeare's histories, however. My goal is to have it ready to perform there by late summer or early autumn. (I haven't picked a date yet.) But I'm sure that experience, especially as I finalize the writing and start rehearsing it, will provide a great deal of material here on the blog. I hope you will join me for that adventure throughout the year.

And of course I still plan to post some opinion pieces, and maybe links more often than I have been known in the past to do.

So, will less be more in a way for Always Off Book this year? Tune in to find out. As always, I thank everyone who stops by here.