Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Long and Winding Road

That led to last night's rehearsal. Literally.

I mentioned previously that due to various difficulties, rehearsals for Radium Girls had been moved to a back-up location about 90 minutes drive from my home. I went there last night to get blocking notes. More on that in a moment, but one big item to mention is that from here on out, our rehearsals will be in the Black Box Arts Center, where the show will be performed in June.

The director told us this not long after I arrived. I won't lie about this; I'm quite relieved. Every show and every venue has its issues, but the prospect of that long of a commute twice a night three or so night a week for the duration was to me a daunting one. I found myself willing at first, but after making the trek two times in a few days, I confess my resolve was faltering.

Would I have quit? I doubt it. Would I have had to miss more rehearsals than I like? Possibly. But for now it is a moot point. My commute is back to less than half the length. I don't know what exactly changed to allow it, but I'm happy it did so.

As to the rehearsal itself, it was mostly a blocking session. Blocking sessions, as I mentioned last time, don't generally provide interesting fodder for commentary. I'll mention I need to be in a crowd scene now, that I didn't think I was in previously. It will require a quick shift, as the scene comes right after a scene in which I play one of the two characters on stage. I actually have several instant shifts like that throughout the play. I don't think it will be too bad, once we get into the flow of things, but of course, I'd rather have a longer break between characters. But I have more than one long break in this show, unlike my previous production, so I can't complain too much.

Besides, in the above example, I don't have to do anything but sit down, for two minutes, and clap at the end of a speech. I almost don't even count it as a transition. Because I like to be thorough, I'll probably give some form of identity to the guy I'm playing in that ultra-brief appearance, but he's not my focus for the time being.

It's makes for a good reference, though. An actor should attach something to whatever character he's playing, even background roles such as this one. Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a big proponent of everyone on stage any given time having a story to tell. It may be a story that only the actor knows, but a story should be present, to give even the tiniest of performances three dimensions. I've quoted my late stage-directing professor on this topic several times. "You can't put a cardboard maid on stage." Indeed you can't. I'll have more on this item later on, probably.

As for my larger roles, I've been doing character work on them. IN fact I've been using methods for character creation that I haven't utilized in my last few shows. Not that I was lazy in previous shows, but over the years you try different methods and tricks to make more of what you're doing. In this case, I'm writing down some personality traits, and a small bit of backstory for my characters. I use that depth on a regular basis, but it's been a few years since I wrote it down as a visual reference i can review in its own right. I rarely get complicated with this process, but it nonetheless has in the past provided an anchor to performances, especially for small(er) roles. I'm in the early stages of it, but already I feel some of the benefits.

One brief example. There is a famous photograph of a young Thomas Edison, taken after he'd worked 72 hours straight on the phonograph. His exhaustion, frustration and determination are clear. That is the sort of weary persistence I want to give one of my characters at times. (Berry, the court advocate for the sick girls.) The picture doesn't tell his exact story, of course, but it does convey a type of presence similar to the one I wish to project with Berry at certain times. So I can refer to that photo as a general lighthouse of the human experience, calling me to the port of the goals I have for my version of Berry. See it below.

The director told us we needed to start "doing our homework" on such things as building characters, as well as getting off book, because it looks like the entire cast will almost never be together in one sitting before tech week. That is to say, may not have as much time to work on nuance together as would be ideal. The director advised us that if she found any of us going in a totally misguided direction she would pull us back, but in general, she trusted us to come up with things, and that she'd liked what little she had seen of character so far in the blocking rehearsals. (Where character work isn't the main goal.)

So here's hoping I don't need to be pulled back or course corrected with any of my decisions.

It appears I am in goof shape for the character I was given only a few days ago, Flinn. (A scientist of dubious qualifications to make medical statements.) I'm only just now beginning to explore what to do with him in his only scene, but I knew a certain arrogance should probably come through. It must have, as the stage manager moaned several times while I ran the scene and just how much she disliked the character. I pointed out I didn't like him either. But I'm happy that kind of reaction took place, as was the director. So I'd say I'm in the ballpark with that one.

So, some time has been lost, and there have been some obstacles. There will probably be a few more before all is said and done with this show. But it's my opinion that despite some of the difficulties, being able to rehearse in the same venue as the performance will start to smooth things out here and there. We'll see.

Next rehearsal is tomorrow night.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Radium Girls: Additions and Subtractions

There have been three blocking rehearsals to date for the show. I generally don't post much about such evenings, as there is very little to report. Everyone gets told where to stand and when to sit and such. Not intriguing stuff.

However, in that same short amount of time, quite a bit has happened with the show.

To begin with, due to some remodeling at the Black Box, as well as some other reasons, most of our rehearsals will now be at a school that is an hour and fifteen minutes from where I live. (Black Box is about 40 minutes.) So a great deal of time has been added to my commute, and I won't likely ever get there at the start of rehearsal. That is what it is.

The bigger news though, is that someone has already quit the show. They came only once as far as I know. The initial table read. After that they didn't show up and didn't call...until I suppose yesterday, confirming they were out. Never met them before. Always a jackass thing to due, absent an emergency. (And there doesn't seem to have been one in this case, from what i have gathered.)

So, his roles have been divided up among others, while certain roles have been shifted. I was asked if i wanted to take on two of them myself. I agreed to take one more, as I thought five characters in this production was too much for me to give my full attention to. So I'll now be playing Flinn, for those familiar with this show. He's got one scene, so my work load hasn't increased too much. I just glad it happened this early, and not, say two weeks before we open.

I don't rehearse Fridays, but today's planned rehearsal for others was cancelled, so the director can take some time and rewrite the schedule. Hopefully once that's done, we'll find we don't need to be rehearsing at the school as often as initially believed, and will then be set for a while.

It's been a bit of a chaotic process so far, sadly. But again, better it happen up front, then in the middle of even worse near the end of the process. Here's hoping this latest hurdle is the last of the big ones for us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Radium Girls

Well, the theatre process begins anew for me. I've been cast in a production of Radium Girls.

Actually, I was cast officially about a week ago, and auditioned about a week before that. But the director had to search for people to fill some of the roles after auditions were complete. Not enough people tried out initially.

I didn't post about the auditions. I tend not to do that here on the blog anymore, preferring to post about shows once I know I'm in them.

For those who don't feel like clicking on the link above, Radium Girls is an ensemble piece. Set in the 1920's, it tells the story of young girls who worked in a factory painting watches with radium based paint. Such painted glowed in the dark, and make the faces easier to see in the dark. The dangers of radium were not widely understood at the time, but when the girls all begin to suffer from severe radiation illnesses, they seek compensation from the factory, and to spread the word on the dangers. The factory of course resists, and there is the basic conflict in the play.

Generally, each actor in a production of this show plays multiple roles. (With a few exceptions.) I'll be playing three characters, two of which I stated I liked in my audition sheet. The third has only one paragraph in the whole play. If you are familiar with the show, I'll be playing Reporter, Berry and Lovesick Cowboy. Smaller, but interesting roles that I look forward to exploring.

The story is told in a series of minimalist vignettes. Sort of like Our Town or The Laramie Project, but more politically significant than the former and less intense than the latter. The fourth wall isn't broken as often, either.

I've met the director before, in passing, in my travels in local theatre circles over the years, but have never worked with her. I have one friend of mine who is also in the show, and one cast mate I was in a show with once, years ago. The others I saw for the first time either at the audition, or on Sunday night during the initial table read at the director's house.

The reading went well. It can of course be difficult to determine who well certain scenes will go based just on a reading, before most people are in full gear. But for what it's worth, I didn't notice anything to cause concern about who we've got for the show.

Schedules are bad. So bad, the whole cast never meets on the same day. I have offered to alter my schedule at home if it will be helpful. I haven't heard back on that yet, but I don't want to stand in the way of progress if I can help it. After my previous show, I believe getting as much rehearsing done with everyone as soon as possible is best.

Though we have lost about two weeks of the process already, because the director had to fill the missing roles. We're set now, though. My first rehearsal will be tonight (Tuesday.) As with my last several shows, this one will take place at the Black Box Arts Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

I will start studying lines right away, as I think I fell a tad behind for a while in my last show, and I won't have much time. I have far  fewer lines than I did in my last show, but they won't get into my memory by themselves.

I am in fact happy to have a smaller presence this time. In the last show back in February, I had a large role in one of the short plays, and, arguably I was the lead role in the second short play. And I had almost no down time. This time I will have long stretches where I will get a chance to relax and gather myself between scenes. I really could have used that in the last show, and I relieved I will have it in this one.

So, this marks the first time I've been in two shows in one year in quite a few years. Let's see how it goes.