Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Boot Camp N' Beer

Believe it or not, that's not just one of my cutesy post titles. It's an accurate description this time of rehearsal last night. (Tuesday.)

Our director had all the people who would appear in battle scenes perform exercises similar to those in army boot camp. The immediate goal was to tire us out, but the artistic goal was to give us a sense of how it would feel to be not only in an army, but also in the midst of battle. Because we ran Act V right after doing said exercise, the hope was to infuse those scenes with adrenaline mixed with exhaustion, to give a more realistic sense of people hurrying around a battlefield.

It probably worked better at the start of the run than at the end, because there were still corrections that had to be made, and lines to be called for, so that by the end of the run-through of Act V, everyone had cooled down and caught their breath. But the essence of the exercise is clear: make sure we move fast, but appear worn and tired as we are storming Dunsinane.

We also worked on proper ways to give a military salute. I myself, playing Malcolm, don't salute anyone, so I didn't really have much to learn in that section of time. As Malcolm is either the second-highest or highest ranking person in every scene he's in, I don't see the director changing any of that. I suppose she may have me return a salute at some point, I'll have to ask. Either way, I learned how to do it, if called upon in the show.

Afterward, the director paid for us all to go to the nearby bar to have a round or two of drinks. This to help us get a sense of being comrades in arms. (Even though "Macbeth" was also there.) I'm not one to turn down free beer, of course, so I did go. But to be honest, I think the cast has been fairly open and comfortable with one another already. The beer certainly didn't hurt matters, but speaking for myself, I've felt for the most part at ease with everyone in the play so far. Half of them I already knew before hand, anyway.

But again, free beer. I have to share here what I shared last night. There is an English-style pub two doors down from the theatre. I spent the night playing a Scottish prince, then went to an English tavern, and ordered an Irish beer. (Guinness.) If I could have worked in something Welsh, I would have.

I am mostly off book, but find myself stumbling a bit more this late in the game than usual. Malcolm has some odd scansion here and there. I've said before that I'm not a strict scansion disciple unless told to be by a director, but even setting that aside, the man has some oddly worded phrases, even for Shakespeare. I'll be ready, no doubt, as I am essentially off book. Just not officially off book. (Theatre people will know what I mean by that, I think.)

The unorthodox rehearsal time continues tomorrow, as most of us meet at the director's house for a barbecue picnic that is to be filmed. The footage will later be edited together in a short film to play at the start of the production, giving the audience a peek into the antecedent life of these characters. I plan to bring a board game to play with the actor playing Ross, if he shows up, because in my interpretation of events, Malcolm trusts and enjoys the company of Ross more than many others outside of the royal family. Just a choice I  made at some point that he and Ross often, in the very least, engage in games and leisure together. (Malcolm on more than one occasion mentions how worthy Ross is, so I used that to add depth to the relationship.)

I'll probably end up doing chess, as the other actor says he knows that game better, though I was hoping for backgammon. I myself know next to nothing about backgammon, but that seems a more "Malcolm" game than chess, for whatever reason. An actor such as myself will sometimes get a sense of something about a nuance of a character for which he can provide no "proof." Nor should he always have to; when one owns a character for a few weeks, some choices must simply be because it "feels" right. This is art, it isn't forensic science, I say.

Back to the point, backgammon also seems a bit less cliche' than the idea of princes/kings playing chess. I have one of those combo board game deals, so I might just bring both of them, and see how it goes. Not like we would have to actually play, just present an accurate visual of playing.

If this all seems like a mountain from a molehill, in a sense it is, and in a sense it isn't. So much time is spent on the big speeches, and costumes, and Shakespeare's scansion, and blocking, and hugeness. In this, or any other show, it;s easy to forget the small things. Theatre isn't of course an 100% realistic, note-by-note recreation of life, but nonetheless there is room in it for detail and nuance. The silence between the notes, as I often quote here on the blog. A lot of that can get lost in the rush to master all of the mechanics. Naturally if one must go with only one or the other, one must go with the big picture and the mechanics. But I try to leave room for undercurrents and personal flourishes in my performances. It can't all be memorizing lines and such.

And this is the sort of thing I have to fight for, because the default position is to learn lines, listen to the director, hit my light, cross where I need to cross, know what the scansion and the meaning is, and convey the big stuff. The little stuff takes extra effort to incorporate into a performance, and I may not quite have the time to delve as deeply into some of it as I would have liked at the start. But I will dive into some of it. That to me is what makes my characterizations memorable.

So, barbecue tomorrow, and next week, to paraphrase Churchill, it will be the end of the beginning, as we enter our final month of rehearsing this show.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Last night was in all practical respects a minor rehearsal for me. I rehearsed only the scene wherein I play the murderer, who doesn't murder anyone. But it was a combat only rehearsal, which means i had even less to do. I literally steal a flash light from Fleance, and grab the collar of hist vest, out of which he squirms and runs away. That's my entire combat in this show.

Let me say, it's still important to run such a thing, as the kid playing Fleance was only recently added to the show. (I'd never worked the scene with the kid that had to quit.) Fleance deserves a feel for what will be happening, so despite how little I do in the scene compared to all of the others, (Fleance included) I'm glad I was there as much for his sake, if not more than for my own.

That is in fact one of the traits of this director; she takes no short cuts with combat, even the smallest moments of it. (Such as my own.)

More significant for the moment is the change to the venue. Our director, who was recently made one of the managers of the Black Box, has been allowed to re-design the entire space. As a result, the stage, seats, and the risers on which the seats were sitting for the last eight years have all been removed. The performance space is to be reoriented so as to face a different direction, and the stage is now about twice as wide as it is long, as per her vision of an ideal black box stage,. A "thrust round" she calls it.

Though I myself was very briefly named a manager of this same location, my influence quickly faded, and I no longer have any official role in the regular operations of Black Box Arts Center. So the place is what it is. (Or will be what it will be) regardless of my thoughts on the matter.

That does mean that I don't have thoughts on the matter, though, and with all due respect to the friends and colleagues with more influence than I, I'm not on love with the changes.

It will certainly be a fully functioning space, that in and of itself makes sense to me. (Though I'm not great at visualizing the final shape in my head.)  But, like old shoes, I was accustomed to the way things were for eight years. Things that I confess needed on some level some improvements, but are now totally gone.

And so quickly...only in a matter of days, the space in which I've done most of my acting over the last decade was destroyed and removed, both out of sight and out of mind. If you've done any community theatre at all, you know that a performance space can both aggravate the hell out of you, and somehow feel like home. For all of it's structural flaws at times, the place felt like home to me as an actor. Hell, I was one of the very people that helped build the space in the first place. (Before my influence faded.)

If it were up to me, I certainly would have remodeled; I don't think I would have rebuilt. I'd have done what I could to improve it, but it still would have felt like home. Though lots of friends still come in and out of it, it no longer feels like the "home" it once did.

Maybe it will again. I am supposed to be directing something there next year, (it's not known what yet) and I will of course be using the new version of the space. If I am in and out of their for another eight years, this new version will probably feel like a home.

And if it never does, it's not horrible. Not everywhere one works and creates can feel the same. I just perhaps would have preferred a bit more of the same in this situation to have survived.

I'm not bad mouthing anyone, or at least not trying to. I'm just a local community actor with a minority view on a major development. The actor in me remains committed to excellence on whatever shaped stage I'm using. That's the important thing.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Act by Act Makes the Play Go Round

It seems that when I have nightly rehearsals, I'm more likely to fall behind in the blog here. Sorry about that.

Though truth be told, there isn't a lot to go over that would be interesting for general consumption. Last week, as I said, I had rehearsal most nights, Monday through Thursday. Each night we worked an act of the five. I appear at least a bit in each act, so I was there each night.

There were once again several people missing for various reasons, and that makes it much more difficult to get an idea of where to stand and walk and such, especially since that was the gist of last week's rehearsals-seeing if we remembered the blocking, and if in fact it still worked. It seems the answers are yes, and mostly yes. I'm beyond ready, however, for the whole cast to be present...

Today is off book day, though I don't rehearse today. I am not officially off book for every section, but I am close. Close enough that by the time i next run any given scene, I'll have enough to call for a line as needed. (Which it will be.) I'll be working on my lines each day for a while.

Act IV Scene 3, with Macduff, (what I have dubbed "The England Scene" is bar none my biggest scene, in terms of number of lines and intensity. There is of course intensity in the scene after the king's murder, as that is Malcolm's father, of course. But that is more internal, not at all on the surface yet. That is in fact one of the reasons he chooses to flee, ""to show an unfelt sorrow is an office which the false man does easy." Yet that's a different, though possibly trickier type of intensity than the quasi-argument with Macduff.

Just today in fact I thought of another possible dimension to all of that. Malcolm, perhaps, is angry that Macduff "let" Duncan get murdered. It may or may not truly be Macduff's fault, and by the end, Malcolm clearly holds no grudge, but for at least a little while in the process, mightn't Malcolm wonder how one of the king's best soldiers could have allowed this to happen? I don't know for certain, but it's something I will think on a bit more.

Tonight, or rather today already, reconstruction of the Black Box itself begins. The stage platform and risers with chairs that have been in place since the establishment began as Full Circle Theater Company will be removed. I hope to get there to help with that either tonight or tomorrow. I look forward to rehearsing the play on the actual space we will be using.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Rehearsal almost every night this week. Last night we worked on Acts II and III. Monday, as you can probably guess, was dedicated to Act I.

Sadly, as seems to so often be the case with me this year,  some of my scene partner(s) are absent this week. I've not yet played the post-murder scene with the actress playing Donalbain. At all. And a shorter scene, wherein I play Murderer 3 also went incomplete last night, because of that actor's absence, along with his son's absence. (Both are in the scene.) It is what it is, and we've got plenty of time left, but I'm ready to start rehearsing with everyone. The post-murder scene is especially tricky for I must be emotional but not too emotional. It's a crucial turning point for my character, for obvious reasons, and I can't slough it over or phone it in. Yet much of what I'll do in that scene will be based on interaction with Donalbain, I imagine. I can't fake my way through that, talking to an empty space.

Because of that, I can't comment much on how it went.

Not that we've been working so much on character this week. The goal for this week is to test out how well the blocking for each scene looks in conjunction with others in an act. See how well we remember it, and if anything needs changed. When this week was planned out, the director was under the impression that everyone would at last be available. They are not, as I've said.

So unavailable are some, that yet another actor has been replaced, after having neither attended rehearsals nor answered any of the director's emails since the start of this process. (Guess who this person has a scene with?)

Thankfully, those with whom I share my biggest scene are almost always there for rehearsal. Macduff and Ross and myself as Malcolm have worked the "England Scene" together a few times. That also comes up tonight. I look forward to working that again. I'm not off book for it yet, but I am very familiar with it.

I am mostly off book for the scene we worked on Monday and yesterday, though. I actually set my script aside for my first two scenes. Even though I'm not off book for the show as a whole, it always comes as a bit of a relief when I can do even a little bit without my script in my hand-the first step towards a full, free performance. We're supposed to be off book for the whole show on the 22nd, and that'll take some extra effort on my part, particularly with the scene I talked about with Macduff and Ross. But I'm working a bit on it every day, and I should be ready.

It's easier to get off book when it's time if you've been reading and reading the lines over and over on a regular basis, even if you've not been working on memorization. That's where I am now...having read through the lines more often perhaps than average since getting the part. I have the notion of what comes next in most cases, and need only a few small steps before the words fall into sequence.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

I'm in With the In Crowd.

Tonight we rehearsed a crowd scene of sorts. The Act III, Scene 4 crowd at the Macbeth house, during which the ghost of Banquo shows up.

I play nobody in particular in that scene. I've just a body on stage making it look like the party that it is. More specifically, I'm helping obscure the entrance of Banquo, as are most of the rest of the crowd.

I was the only person who delivered the like that is written for the whole crowd, ("Done what, my lord?") several times, so the line was given to me. That will teach me to do what I'm supposed to do!

To be honest, I dislike nights of rehearsal like this. Perhaps if it were the only thing I was doing in the whole play, it wouldn't feel so tedious, but as it is, I'm just a walk-on in this scene, in the same play in which I'm a solid supporting actor. I'm used to being proactive during the rehearsals I've been to, as Malcolm. If I had my choice, I'd not even be in this scene, wherein I walk around, pretend I don't see Banquo, and stare at Macbeth for 15 minutes as he acts crazy. I understand why the director needs so many people, but again, if I had a choice...

To further complicate this little nuisance scene, to coin a phrase, it comes immediately after the only other scene in the play wherein I am not playing Malcolm. I play one of the murderers of Banquo, (who actually doesn't do any killing), and as soon as I leave the stage for that, I'll need to make some kind of quick costume change into this party guest. I hate having to do that. (I did a lot of that in Radium Girls.)

On the bright side, these bit and almost-bit parts come right before intermission, and once the second half of the show starts, I don't have to do it again.

My hope is to have both the murderer and the party guest look and act quite differently from both Malcolm and one another. (Especially since one follows the other right off.) I'm hoping to have some kind of costume item for either one that is distinctive and easy to remove/put on. Not only do I want to make sure the audience isn't confused, but I want to give myself different focal points for my performances as well.

Playing two different small roles between the Malcolm of the start of the play and the Malcolm at the end of the play may actually help, in a way. Might allow me to reset Malcolm in some ways, to tweak the performance without overthinking the shift. Maybe. I'll find out when we start doing more of the show at once.

Next week is the first week we a start rehearsing entire acts in one night, and I'll be needed every day that week, I think.

So the intensity is about to ramp up, I would guess.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Five on Fire

So we ran through Act 5 last night, which the director wants to happen at a rapid pace. If last night's first ever run through of it as a whole is any indication, we're well on our way to meeting that goal.

There were several people missing, and in fact, two people had to quit the show. One mother and her son, who I only ever saw once, just couldn't make the timing work. Their roles have been covered, from what I understand.

Actually, I've not seen most of the people in this play since the table read at the start of it. It's compartmentalized in such a way that I'm not present for most scenes, and when I am present, it's usually with the same few people. This actually helps somewhat my interpretation of Malcolm as a sort of after thought, out of the spotlight, until his trip to England. Those aren't the best words to describe what I'm doing, but closest I can come for the moment. Put it another way, I can and have made use of my not being around many of the actors I don't know very often.

As for Act 5, it's mostly the battle of Dunsinane, wherein Macbeth is defeated and killed. The goal is to keep the scenes moving one on top of the other, in order to suggest the pressing forward of battle, and to suggest out numbers are in fact more than they are on stage. By this point, Malcolm is in charge of everything, and people are fleeing Macbeth all over the place. A sense of authority is to me among my top performance priorities in these scenes, for both obvious reasons and because of the fast pace which may not allow for as much nuance as some of the other scenes.

But it's also Malcolm's idea to cut down branches and to hide behind them, so his quick-thinking and strategizing is also on display. I consider Malcolm a strategist soldier, first and foremost, and his short lines declaring this idea is a prime example of that.

And of course he has the final speech of the play. Not a poetic speech, not especially memorable, but it is my longest, nonetheless, and it caps off not just the frantic Act 5, but the entire play, and I must be sure to deliver it in a way that matches the energy and tone of what came before it, while also serving notice, as it were, that Malcolm is now on the throne. Not as much emotional depth as his scene with Macduff in England, but still a chance for me to make my Malcolm something more than the usual flat plot device he seems to be in productions of this show. It's especially important to do this, as I'll not be seenin any combat, (though of course, he is involved, and if the director approves I may give him some kind of superficial wound as the act wears on, just to remind people that Malcolm is in the thick of things.

Long way to go, but a general semblance of the final product is beginning to take shape, and I look forward to seeing how the other scenes are going in the near future. (Soon, everyone will report more often to rehearsals at one time.)

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Bringing Down the House

Actually not the house, but part of the ceiling. Literally.

Just before rehearsal started last night we all heard a series of crashed coming from the hallway where the bathrooms are. Upon investigating, we found tiles and wires hanging from the ceiling.

Nobody was hurt, thankfully. But it took several of those assembled to get things back into a stable position. I stayed out of the way, as there were already too many people in the small space, and frankly I wouldn't have known what to do anyway. (Though I was available if called upon, of course.) I went over my lines.

After a 40 minute delay, we proceeded to work on Act IV, Scene 3, which is my biggest scene in the play. I've mentioned before that often this scene is a bit of a drag on productions of this play. I've also mentioned that Malcolm as a character often gets short shrift. From the beginning, our director has made it clear she wants to avoid both of these problems. Last night we went a long way toward that goal.

As a refresher for those who have not read the play in a while, (for those who have never read it...SPOILERS) the scene takes place in England. Malcolm has been there since he fled his father's murder in Macbeth's castle. Malcolm's presence in England until this moment is not featured in the play, and that absence from the script is something I've been using to build my take on the character in certain ways. So, by the time we get to this scene, and Macduff has come from Scotland to bring Malcolm back to lead attacks on Macbeth, an evolution of sorts has taken place in Malcolm, as I am playing him. Now, he is kingly, whereas before he was a mere prince, is the short way of stating it.

Yet given all that's happened, he doesn't embrace Macduff right away, but opts to test the man's loyalties. Malcolm feigns weakness and vice, and when Malcolm opts to leave. Only then does Malcolm reveal the ruse, his faith in Macduff confirmed/restored.

Later in the scene, the Thane of Ross arrives to inform Macduff that the rest of the Macduff's have been murdered. An emotional Macduff laments this, Malcolm comforts and commands, and the scene ends with the men off to assemble the English and Scottish resistance forces.

The scene is somewhat wordy, and has been shortened for our production. I think it's a wise choice. There is still plenty going on, however, and making sure what happens it neither skimmed over now a drag on the proceedings of the play has been the director's goal all along. The key? Make sure most of it is emotional between two people that are familiar with one another, as Malcolm and Macduff are. This way, if we are doing our jobs, not only does the scene move forward with greater energy and pace, but it also delivers on depth of feeling.

It's early yet, and this was only the second night we worked this particular scene. Still, between the repeated runs of it, and the conversations and questions and table work in between runs, plenty of proverbial meat showed up on the proverbial bones. So much so that someone who stopped by the theatre on other business, but dropped in to watch the scene told us they had chills watching it. This, with books still in our hands. A positive sign no doubt.

Knowing both of my scene partners for years certainly helps matters. Rare would be the actor who didn't feel at least a bit more comfortable in experimenting and pushing the envelope early on with people he already knows.

And the meter is coming through for me more and more, having come a long way just last night. I will confess, as I have before, that I in general am not as much of a stickler for precise meter when performing Shakespeare as some are. I do find that the natural way I deliver the lines often corresponds with the accompanying meter anyway, but when it doesn't match exactly, I'm usually all right with letting it alone. Our director uses meter as a guide point more often than I myself, and so I have had to adjust a few phrases from how I'd been working on them. Nothing, however, that has thrown me off in a drastic way, and in fact I can see the logic behind most of the meter-based changes, (even if all things being equal, it wouldn't concern me.)

But that's what being in a show is, right? You create, you mix with other actors and their takes on a scene. The director has to keep the ducks in a row. Fortunately, as with my scene partners, I've also known our director for years, and trust that she's not going to very often suggest something to which I would flat out object. Nor so far have I made a choice to which the director has objected.

To me, in the end, if you set aside director visions, scene partners and everything else, one must fully commit to, even consume Shakespeare when one is in one of his plays. Large, part, small part, it makes no difference. Whether you are easy on meter issues, more like my director, or if you are a meter fetishist (our director is not), you have to dive in to it. The language and the poetry, as well as audiences can forgive some uncertainly about vocabulary and references, but they don't allow room for lukewarm approaches to the text.

A Shakespeare speech might by one of love or anger, or fear, but whatever it is, it demands, I feel, passionate delivery. Energetic, presentation. You could be a master of meter and Shakespeare scholar to boot, but if you are timid with your lines, you  might as well be reciting a dictionary.This is true to some extent with all plays, but Shakespeare plays especially.

I've been diving into my lines ever since I knew what part I had. (And believe me, Malcolm has some weird ones. But even the odd, mouthfuls with obscure meter come out the better when I go at them full throttle. (Which is by no means the same thing as being loud, or fast all the time.) By doing this, though Malcolm is not often the most memorable, most quotable character in the canon, my portrayal of him can be memorable to the audience, and satisfying to myself.

I rehearse again next week. Off book day is August 22.