Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Leaden Wings

What can I say? For whatever reasons, my updating on the progress of Glengarry Glen Ross has crawled to a stand still. One reason I think is how I started it in the first place. If you recall I mentioned then that due to a (probably absurd) concern that the lawsuit-happy David Mamet people might stumble on to some kind of commentary I made, and decide it was against the playwright's intent, and go to town. Paranoid maybe, but it just sort of feels like the type of ridiculous thing yours truly would manage to stumble into. So I've said less about character and line delivery and such for this play than I have for most of them.

Also, the production has felt different in some ways, not all of which I can articulate even here on the blog. There have been certain issues, yes, but I can't say this show has had more than any other of my shows. To some extent the issues, (which I am keeping to myself) have impacted some of what I have wanted to do with my performance. I've not been able to sink as deeply into the character as early on as I am used to.

But I can't shake the possibility that the deep cynicism of the play isn't where America needs to be now. Or in the very least isn't where I need to be now, in light of what is happening with the country. I don't mean to suggest that theatre should go dormant in time of national crisis. God forbid I should appear to be endorsing that. I'm not even suggesting that dramatic, even dark subject matter is off limits for theatre in these trying times. But it should be making a specific statement that perhaps this play is not, and was never intended to do.

A play of greed, of vice, dishonesty, deception. Characters that are never what the appear, self-serving, and who take pleasure in their smoke screens and stiffing people. Little to no loyalty even among those within the office setting. Sounds and feels a bit too much like another office shaped like an oval.

I first agreed to be in the play before the election of 2016, when they show was supposed to go on in early February. As I have mentioned on this blog before, quite a bit has changed in the world since then, and I'm sure you know what I mean. As a result, I think that Mamet's dialogue, (which I admit is near-virtuoso in some places in this script) rings somewhat more hallow than even it is intended to. There is steak along with the sizzle in this play, but I think the sizzle sells this one, and the world needs steak.

Tomorrow is in fact our final rehearsal before we open on Friday. Tech week, which we are in the midst of, has gone well for the most part. There are still some places to polish, for me and for others, but I'd put the production on solid ground. Despite my lack of delving as deep into John Williamson in the ways I wanted to earlier on, I am satisfied with my portrayal on the whole, even if not blown away by what I'm doing.

Still, as a whole, the show isn't propelling me into opening night with as much anticipation as I am used to. I'm sure by the time the audience is there and we are off the ground, it will feel different, to at least some extant. But some of the wings of the show feel leaden, and I can't dismiss the possibility that world events contribute to that. I have been, and will continue to be professional about this play, as that is what I do. Yet part of me cannot help but wonder if this play I am in is what the community, any community truly needs right now.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Glengarry Progress

I'd say I am about 85% off book at this point. The process has been a little different for me this time, mostly by my own choice.

Normally a director assigns a deadline for being off book from the start. That didn't happen this time. As a result, though I still go over my lines, getting familiar with them has been a somewhat more organic experience. Just the nature of time and going to rehearsal taking the lead over studying. That ratio might not work every time, but it seems to be working this time.

The biggest problem is that Mamet writes in so many implied interruptions, and I think it's a weakness in the script. Instead of having someone speak, and write a new tagline for an interruption, and then a new tagline for the return, Mamet give's long speeches a whole lot of "I was thinking, NOW WAIT A MINUTE, I was just thinking about, HOLD OFF PLEASE, thinking about something, JUST WAIT."

And so on. It's distracting, it's more difficult for the other actor to memorize, because it's sort of an anti-line, and to me it's a bit lazy. I realize it won the Pulitzer Prize; that doesn't mean there are no weaknesses.

There are also, sadly, some of what i would call "personnel issues" for me in this show. I can't go into it in detail, for the sake of being discreet, but I admit I've lost quite a bit of my fire for the show do to these personal issues within the theatre.

Most things get better once everyone is off book, though, and as I said, I'm almost there. We have over a week without rehearsing the big moments in the play, because one person will be out of town, and the director doesn't like to have a rehearsal unless 100% of the cast is present. So, much of my work will be on my own until then.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Roadblocks and Silver Linings

There's just no way around the fact that blocking out a play can take a while. While I don't rehearse tonight, I go back tomorrow, and that will be the first time my final, (and frankly, best) scene is blocked out. It happens to be the final scene in the play, which means, in theory, we will be able to start rehearsing and creating the character stuff.

We didn't have access to the theatre on Thursday, so we were forced to use a building next door in which I've never been before. I've never rehearsed a scene in a smaller space in my life, and that includes rooms in people's homes.

Yet I didn't mind so much. The play is a bit claustrophobic in a sense, just a collection of men all at odds with one another over goals and styles, scraping to get what they need or want out of each other within the myopic scope of 1980's real estate selling. Though we won't be performing in the aforementioned tiny space, being there for one night heightening this sense of myopia. (Block was basically out of the question, so we worked on a scene that requires almost no blocking; the first one, which take places at a table.)

You have that sometimes in volunteer theatre. Small road blocks exist, or will be thrown up in front of you and the rest of the cast at last minute. It isn't probably to cancel rehearsal every time this happens, so you do what you can. Often, the result of the challenge, (aside from initial worry) is a new emotion, a new take, a new line read that shine a different line on the scene, the play, or the character. Even when the roadblock itself is removed and rehearsal resumes as normal, that which arises from the added pressure of the roadblock often remains in the remaining rehearsals and on to the performance.

An actor must be in control, know what he is doing, and leave very little to chance...eventually. But there are times, often earlier in the process, when chance does play a large role in shaping what we do with our performances. The windows that are opened during trying times sometimes more than make up for the doors that are shut.

For me, rehearsal for the next three nights. Who knows what roadblocks and silver linings await the process in those evenings.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Glengarry Glen Cross

So we have been working on blocking this week. The stupid pun of a title for this post was not at all avoidable.

As with so much of theatre, there are about 100 different ways to conduct a blocking rehearsal. Some are less headache-inducing than others, but to me just about all of them are tedious. This is a minority opinion in the theatre world, but I don't think blocking a play should come early in the process. That's just a general perception on my part, not particular to this production.

In this type of theatre production, generally you have a table reading, a little discussion, and then move right into the blocking rehearsal, wherein of course the movements of the characters on stage, and the timing of said movements are given to the actors. This is not unimportant. But, (and here is the minority opinion part), they are to me a waste of fertile creative time.

To me character and line delivery should come first in a show. Yes, the actors have to be somewhere, but when two thirds of one's brain power is dedicated to writing down "cross left, take two steps toward desk, stop on Roma's line, 'XYZ,' then cross your arms,"  the exploration of the text is stunted. It's usually stopped completely. In fact, often a director will not consider line delivery an interpretation and such during these times, and will say so to the cast. (Our director for this show said as much the other day at one point, wanting to just "get it down," and not worry about subtext just yet. This is not an uncommon approach for directors.)

In my view as an actor of many productions, this presents several problems.

To begin with, all interpretation must take place privately, at home for the first few weeks. This is not a problem in and of itself, but an actor invests in this take, and when blocking is over, and the director now turns their attention to working on such matters, it becomes more difficult for the actor to rewire what he has spent so much time constructing. Naturally, actors sometimes have to change what they are doing, and I don't deny this. But when short rehearsal calendars are front loaded with blocking, the actor must either invest nothing at all in the character, and provide no interpretations of same until blocking is completed, or they must face the possibility or said rewiring that I mentioned above, which is more than just a bit of tweaking.

When one is a unionized professional actor, the show is what one does. The danger I have described is not as present, because in most cases each actor is currently making their living by means of the production. In short, it means more time to wrestle with these sort of entanglements. But for the volunteer actor, who has a large portion of non-theatre experience to which he must dedicate his time and thought, it can be more of a challenge to change course on a path one has taken for several weeks. It can happen, sometimes it is necessary. Yet I wonder why it is made so much more difficult than it has to be.

The solution? At this level, I prefer to allow the actors to delve into their roles, get to know one another, establish chemistry with the actors in the play. As Olivier said, "its not how long you've had the lines memorized, but how long it's been in your heart." It's much more difficult to let a character into your heart when you have to stop every line to be told where your shoulders should be facing, and how to form the oft sought out triangle of actors on stage.

For me, and for others with whom I have worked, it is much easier, not to mention much less frustrating, to know who I am playing, his motivations, his relationships, his quirks, and then be told that I am entering too early, or that it would be better if I don't sit down yet. When the character is in your heart, you can find more ways to follow the blocking. If you are in your third rehearsal, and only walking down left because the director told you to, in order to make a nice frame, it keeps the character out of your heart longer. One gets closer to opening night before the real magic begins to happen.

I'd love blocking to come latter in the volunteer theatre process.

Again, the minority opinion, as many of my opinion expressed here on the blog have been over the years. I don't mind having the minority opinion, if I feel it better serves the creative art of the individual actor on the stage, regardless of their level of experience.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Glenngary Glen Ross

I am still around, loyal blog readers, and I am in the aforementioned play.

But of a crazy trip for this one. It was supposed to go on in February, not long after I took part in the 24 theatre festival, about which I wrote in the previous post. But community theatre being what it is, schedules fell apart at the last minute and it was postponed until August, with rehearsals having started last month, to a degree.

Schedules are still not great, and for that reason rehearsals have taken a somewhat usual format. Thus far I (playing Williamson) have only officially rehearsed one scene-the very first of the play. Because rehearsal times are split between groups of actors at the moment, I've only had one-hour rehearsal slots.

This is unusual for me, and carries its own difficulties, especially since until this week, I had only one such session a week. Even with reviewing at home, it is not the best way to get into a role or a scene. But that is what we have, so one works with it.

Next week we begin to at least rehearse Act II, because at last all of the actors needed for those sessions will be present at the same time. I think (and hope) I will get a bit more out of those rehearsals because longer pieces of the script will be performed at once. (All of Act II) and further, I will be present for two hours instead of just one. That will be, I think a big help for me.

We don't have much time to get this show ready, since we open on the third week of August. I have no reason to believe we can't do so, but it will require some extra effort. (And in fact, "Shelly Levene" and myself have already made plans to stay after rehearsals a bit next week to work some of our scenes a few more times.

One other aspect of being in, and blogging about this show involved the playwright himself, David Mamet.

He is, to be honest, a litigious writer. He has no problem suing productions of his plays for the smallest of infractions. Theaters are not even allowed to have discussions of his plays with an audience after a performance. He doesn't like people changing or adapting the slightest thing. That is his legal right, though I find it artistically weak-minded. Nevertheless it makes me reluctant to share as much detail about the process and work in this production than I normally share here on the blog.

The odds of Mamet finding out about this blog, or our production are probably somewhere around a million-to-one. I realize that. But I don't exactly want to tempt fate by sharing something with my readers, innocently enough, with which Mamet or his people would find fault. For all I know, he may mandate a certain thing we do not have in our production, (the color of the pencils perhaps) and I'm not willing to be the reason our theatre gets a cease and desist.

I'm even a bit wary of sharing my thoughts on my character and how I am developing him, as Mamet in general seems to think the actor is the least important person in conveying the message of a play.

Truth be told, I am not that fond of Mamet's attitude in a number of areas. I've not read every play of his, though I have read portions of a few, and Glengarry, one of his earliest, seems to me also one of his best. And it too has flaws. But it's strong enough to be worth appearing in. Even those with whom we disagree strike oil once in a while, I suppose.

Despite all of this, I will still post regular, if somewhat more broad and conceptual updates on how this play is going. (There is not much to report on at this time, despite the several truncated rehearsals. So do look back regularly; I'm back for a while.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

24 Hour TheatreFest: Conclusion

Yesterday was the day, and it was a success. I covered how it went over on my regular blog, so forgive the laziness of this, but I will just link to that from here, so you can get an idea of how it went, and what it meant for me.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

24 Hour TheaterFest!

Wow. Happy much belated New Year. I suppose time got away from me in regards to updating. There is a big reason, though.

To begin with, the local production of Glengarry Glen Ross, which I was supposed to begin rehearsing right after New Year's and perform in February, has been cancelled. I had been planning to update with that experience throughout most of this month. Yet due to a changing work schedule of one of the actors, it could no longer go on.

There is talk of trying to get the same cast together for an August performance instead, with rehearsals starting in June. I am unable to commit to something that far into the future, so my connection with the project is up in the air for now. I will know better as we get closer, and of course I will keep you updated.

It was a first for me to be so close to starting regular rehearsals of something only to have it cancelled. I'd already been reviewing lines and recorded myself giving them. I will probably still look over the script here and there; if the show does come back and I can be involved, I've never had 6 months to review lines before.

Now that what isn't happening is out of the way, let me tell you about what is happening. Starting tomorrow, in fact.

I’ll be taking my writing skills over to the Black Box Arts Center. (Where I do most of my acting these days.) I’ll be writing a one-act play. In one night.
I won’t be the only one pressed for time. The auditions, writing of the script, all rehearsals and the one and only performance of each script will be taking place within a 24 hour period. (Hence the title of this post, and the event itself.)
Despite my experience in theater, I haven’t written plays very often so far. I wrote a one-act play for a contest years ago, and didn’t win. I currently have an early draft of a regular length play I keep trying to have a reading for. And I have the idea of a stage play that I am still doing research for. But in none of those cases have I had to crank out something in the course of a single night!
There is of course a certain advantage to such pressure cooker situations; the constraints will promote creativity. Much like Nanowrimo, there will be no time to overthink what I’m writing.
Then there is accountability. It will have to get on the page, ready for actors to read and (in theory) memorize the following morning. Other people, from directors to actors to the eventual audience are counting on me (and the other playwrights) getting this done.
Granted, this is not generally the best way to produce theater in a normal setting, but this is not a normal setting. It’s an exercise, a stunt, an experiment, and it’s just plain crazy, but hopefully will be fun also.
As with most drama, the key of course is a conflict. Somebody wanting something and for a time unable to get it. There are exceptions to this formula, even within my own writing, but for something like this, best to stick with the basics. For a one-act, in general personalities of characters should remain uniform. That is to say less time for catharsis and arc. Hence, what they say is of prime importance. To me in drama, but especially in the one act, is it the lines that make a script stick in the mind most. We’ll find out if I’m correct tomorrow.
I have no idea how many people will show up. I also have no idea who will be in the play I will be writing. Everyone who shows up is promised a role in one of the plays, so I don’t even know how many characters my play will have. I should be ready for anything, I imagine. But as for the casting, I’ll be leaving that mostly to my friend and director. I’ll provide input naturally, but I think this exercise will be most fun and most interesting if each segment of the process is as independent as possible.
Maybe what i come up with will be a usable script, (with more deliberate edits) in the future. And maybe it won’t. But whatever happens, this is the sort of thing I think writers should open themselves up to from time to time. The out of the ordinary, the weird, the crazy.
Check back in a few days from now for an update on how all of this went!