Thursday, October 19, 2017

Tech Week(s)

Though only this week has been the official tech week for Jekyll and Hyde (tonight being the final day of same), last week, for various reasons also felt like a tech week. That's one reason I didn't post an update on progress until now.

Nothing would be more boring that to share with you all of the little (and big) issues that have spring up that have slowed our progress in this production. Issues that are for the most part particular to the venue, the time of year and other such things. I will generalize the delay by saying that unexpected absences, unexpected equipment issues, some unwanted interference and an over crowded shared venue have all contributed to a trying final two weeks of the rehearsal process, for just about all involved. Everyone's process is slowed as we repair set pieces and try to get the lighting board to cooperate even now.

That certainly includes me. I am in fact off book for this show, and I have been. But I find I still trip or slide in places. Part of that may be due to how many lines I have in the show. (I believe in this case I have the plurality of them.) Part of the issue is the nature of the lines. Not only are the period for the Victorian era in some ways, in other ways they are not, which can trip my tongue even more. The script is also, in truth, in need of an editing if ever there is a revised edition to same.

On the whole, there is a lot of stress involved in preparing for this production. Stress that has, I think, slowed my own journey toward total confidence in what I am doing.

I must also mention that because I am on stage so much, I do not get a breather as often as the rest of the cast, or as often as I usually do in a show. That also has no doubt contributed to the pressure.

My confidence is in the end, my own journey. I don't think anyone can just tell another person to become confident. They can encourage, and that helps, but the final destination must be reached by the person in question on their own. I am there for parts of the play, but not for every single scene, as I normally am, and strongly prefer to be, by the end of the rehearsal process.

This hopefully doesn't mean I am somehow "losing my touch." The fact is, I don't believe that I am at this time. I've listed all of the complications associated with the show, and in defense of myself, I believe that plenty of people would experience a few speed bumps under the circumstances. Our tech crew, though not responsible for any line delivery is a prime example; this is a show requiring a lot of technical activity, and we have only one true runner, and the stage manager herself. It is a tremendous amount for two people to get done in the time they have to do it. So the strain on optimum performance is by no means restricted to the actors.

I also feel that I have, for whatever reason, been more tense, and rushed on stage while running this show than I normally would be. Whether this can also be attributed to all of the unavoidable extras, I'm not sure. But early last week it dawned on me just how fast I was delivering some of the speeches. Certain emotions of course call for greater speeds, but what I was doing was beyond this. I got to thinking I was going fast for the sake of getting the lines out, as opposed to going fast for the sake of portraying an emotion. I was never given a note that i was too fast, so I don't think I was going fast to the point of being unintelligible. Nevertheless, I tripped on common words more often than I found acceptable, and I made a determination to slow down a bit.

I have in fact slowed my delivery a bit each night since then. Further I have made sure I have physically more relaxed, relieving tension on my actual muscles that I don't always have on stage. This, especially last night, seemed to allow the words to flow more freely. I don't of course want to rid myself of energy on stage, but it has served as a strong reminder to relax. I still made some small errors, but I didn't let that end the world.

It didn't hurt that last night was the first time we ran the show with no "extras" out in the audience. That is to say, only the director and stage manager were there, and the light/sound people were up in the booth. Nobody going in and out.

Tonight then, is the final rehearsal. Because of the nature of my costume, I have actually been wearing mine the entire week, though this is the only official dress rehearsal. I am going to do my very best to treat it as an actual performance. I am off book, I have relaxed a bit, and last night I proved that I am at least in the proper ballpark to do what I need to do. Tonight I want to be sure of it to an even greater degree, though I am aware of the old superstition about the final dress vs. opening night.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Yin and Yang, Spirals and Jekyll.

As the last few rehearsals were similar, I opted for an update on the week, as opposed to nightly as to our progress.

I'll report that I am nearly offbook. I could, with some help, pick may way through every scene but two at this point. Most of Act One is smooth. Its a lot of lines this time. I would prefer to have been off book already, though I am not the only one in the cast who is not. But seeing as how we missed about two weeks potential rehearsal time at the start of the process, and seeing as how I memorize faster when I rehearse, I'd say I'm making progress. If I were this close two weeks ago, (thus making up for the missing two weeks) I'd be fairly happy with myself. Still some work to go, but the end is in sight for lines, I'd say.

Beyond that, I continue to be pleased, and somewhat surprised at how much rich material underneath the text is available for this adaptation. I came to believe that there is in fact an element of Shakespearean or Greek tragedy to the story. What is Hyde, after all, but Jekyll's tragic flaw(s) quite literally personified? At least to a large degree.

In this version, things are less black and white than in many of this tale. Good is at times visible in Hyde, and bad in Jekyll. Yet given that Hyde and Jekyll are essentially as one, you get to the point where you can say that any good you see in Hyde is thanks to Jekyll. And of course any bad you see in Jekyll is thanks to Hyde, which is thanks to Jekyll thanks to Hyde thanks to Jekyll and so on. An infinite spiral emerges, when the plot is viewed in this fashion, the lines of which by the end of this adaptation are more than a bit blurry. Hence the fascination. (If we are doing or jobs well on stage, that is.)

Yin and Yang is another apt visual representation of this script's psychological presentation.

We're forced to ask not only where Jekyll ends and Hyde begins, but whether or not the question itself is a legitimate one. Can we truly determine that there is any line between them? Should we assume that ever there was a thick line between the two? Or are we forced to accept that Hyde both this specific one, and the general concept "Hyde" is kept at bay by less than we'd like to believe? If we conclude this about a character, are we not challenged to conclude it about ourselves?

Consider also the story infers that redemption is possible even for those who we've dismissed as hopeless. And if that is true for Hyde, are we not challenged to consider it is true for real people whom we have dismissed?

I imagine that latter might be more difficult to accept than the former for most people...

Of course, in this adaptation I do not play Edward Hyde, only Henry Jekyll. Four other actors preform Hyde at various times. This conceit has, I believe, allowed me to consider all of the above, and more-considerations I don't think I'd have the time or scope for if I were playing both Jekyll and Hyde. (As actors in this story often do, in other adaptations.) Being Jekyll only is not merely a convenience for costuming. (If you saw how many lines I have you'd know there is plenty of work for me to do despite playing just the one character.) It has also permitting more in-depth considerations and nuance for the character than I might otherwise have had time to explore if I were playing both beings in the time we have in this production. Hence, these thoughts I share with you now.

I've also come to give some speeches near the end in a far more desperate, intense manner. These were always high drama moments, and of course, being off book for them this week made them easier than having my book did. Yet there were certain aspects of the drama leading into it that I just hadn't danced with until this week. They came naturally, though, once the scenes were underway. They could be played other ways, as almost every scene in any play could be. Yet running the whole show every night last week gave me a better notion of what feels best to me. This is different than I had been playing it earlier on, and I am glad the realization for this new option emerged this week.

As for the more literal, physical nature of rehearsals this week, there is improvement over the week before, because we have had more floor space. The set for a previous show, now closed, has been removed, thus allowing us to move about mostly as we will be in the performance. Scene changes are still quite rough, because this show needs a crew of I would say at least five. It has two, with hopefully a third joining at some point. Kudos to who we have working for us at this time for all the frenzied efforts they are putting into a show with huge amounts of scene changes. Even with minimal sets, that's quite a bit to do.

Lights are a huge part of this play, and sadly they were not functioning during what would have been our lighting rehearsal yesterday. Other tech issues were better understood, but it's frustrating to have had no lights. This means we will probably be experiencing them for the first time far later in the the process than is ideal.

Props are still being collected, and I have more to carry with me than anyone else in the show, because I almost never leave the stage. I will feel better when those appear, so I can get used to that.

Costumes are nearly done, though we've not yet worn them to rehearse in.

I'd rather have another week, I won't lie. Yet if we keep at it, and everyone gets off book this week, we'll be fine, I feel.




Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Blocked and Loaded

All of last week, we blocked the play. (With the exception of two scenes at the end, which still need to be blocked, because of absences last week.) I didn't post about each night, because as usual, I don't find blocking rehearsals to be of much general interest.

The term itself is a bit of a misnomer, isn't it? We call it a "blocking rehearsal" sometimes, but most of the time a cast isn't rehearsing anything; they are receiving instructions as to their movements for the first time in any given scene. Often they will run through the newly given blocking once before moving on to the next scene, which I suppose makes it a sort of instant rehearsal. But truly, nothing is getting practiced. It's getting learned.

So of course, I write little about it. The truth, as I have often written here on this blog, is that I'm not a fan of blocking rehearsals, necessary though they may be.

I will mention that there is a lot of extra blocking for a non-musical. A large door on wheels is a part of nearly every scene, and getting that in place is a particular challenge. (One the actors don't generally have to deal with, though we have no running crew as of yet.) There are also scenes that verge somewhat on a "dance" even though there is no music. A certain stylistic vision of the movements of the characters that naturally springs from the nature of the piece.

This week, there has been only one rehearsal so far, on Monday. (I write this on Wednesday.) That didn't go as planned, because of two unexpected absences. The director had a family emergency. One of the actresses was missing for unknown reasons at the time. So we were short one director and one actress.

The stage manager ran rehearsal. We ran the aforementioned blocking for both acts, and though there was some remaining confusing, between the director's notes and such, we were able to cover a great deal of ground, even if we couldn't run every scene.

We all like a linear rehearsal process as the ideal. But it;s ideal because it's not always possible. But when a rehearsal time is filled with running something that must be perfected eventually, it isn't wasted time to me. The more any given section of a play is run, the better it will be, and the more time is made available to run other parts that are not as far along.  So even when things go a bit haywire, as described above, so long as the two hours are put to use practicing, I'm pretty much satisfied it was time well spent.

Tonight we rehearse again, though I don't know what is on the agenda, what with the various derailments of the week. I'd assume we'd block the final few scenes, and run those, if the director is able to return. If she is not, than I suppose we will do very much what we did on Monday, and only progress will result from hitting those scenes again. Heaven knows I could use as much practice as I can get. Lot's of lines for me in this one.

I think my stage English is improving as time goes on. Not becoming authentic, truly, but improving, and getting closer to easing the audience's suspension of disbelief. That's probably a fair goal to shoot for in the time we have. I run lines at home with the accent as well.

Some setbacks and a sluggish beginning to this one, but I have zero worries about this show at this time. Rehearsals that are mostly quiet, as these are, without too much BS can make all the difference.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Underway with Jekyll (And Hyde)

Last week we had the table reading for Jekyll and Hyde. (Henceforth referred to as J&H.) The director, a friend whom I have known for years, provided wine and cheese for the affair. But even without these items, it went well.

Sadly, someone who had been cast tried out for something else, and opted to take that role instead, so that caused a delay in starting the rehearsal process. Now, I had never met this person, but I thought that was a lousy thing to do. All the worse because someone left a show I was directing once just as it was getting started, and to tell you the truth, it still angers me to think about it to this day. So, I don't take kindly to people doing that to other directors.

However, all roles were eventually filled, and we were off and running.

Because of the delay, I have a hell of a lot to memorize in far less time than normal. I'm working on it of course, but the clock is ticking faster on this one than on most.

I have been playing with a stage British accent. I'm sure I'd fool no actual British person, but I think it has become serviceable, and I will continue to hone it. I haven't used an accent in a play in years.

We blocked the first few scenes last night. (I'm a bit behind in my updating here.) That took longer than the director wanted to, for various reasons. The play, though consisting of a small cast and minimal sets has certain aspects that can make staging tricky, especially in a smaller space such as the Black Box Arts Center. I do believe the intimate venue will eventually serve the play well, but it will take some special considerations as we get started and work out way through the movements. The first several scenes are more complicated in that regard than subsequent ones.

Blocking rehearsals tonight (Tuesday) through to Thursday this week, so there will be much more to say about the feel of the movements on stage as soon as tonight.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Next Up?

Unexpectedly, I already have an update on my theatre activities.

Last week I auditioned for, and was cast in the Jeffrey Hatcher adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the Black Box Arts Center. I'll be playing Jekyll.

It is interesting, and a bit of a whirlwind how this all came about.

In truth, the story has never been one of my favorites. But once Glengarry Glen Ross was over, I looked into this script, as much out of curiosity as anything else. It is in many ways a unique adaptation. The nature of the staging, as much as if not more than the story itself drew my interest.

It is a cast of only six people, four of whom each play Hyde at some point, along with several other characters. It was, ironically, this aspect of multiple Hydes the encouraged me to give it a shot. How interesting, then, that I should end up as one of the only two characters that doesn't play Hyde at all, or indeed any of the other roles.

I mentioned my preference to play one of the Hydes on my audition sheet. But I was asked if I would be willing to play Jekyll, and I agreed. It is very rare for me to refuse a role that is offered, if I have auditioned. I think it happened just once, in fact. So of course, I accepted Jekyll.

It's written to be a minimalist, fast moving production, and those things also appeal to me, as did the story being told mostly in vignettes. (Last year's A Christmas Carol that I appeared in had a similar structure.

It also doesn't hurt that the director is a friend of mine, with whom i have worked many times before.

So Jekyll it is. I think the first reading will probably be this coming Sunday evening, (today is Friday.) I look forward to it, as I do most readings at the start of a show. But because I have little attachment to or preconceived notions of this tale, this show offers me the rare clean slate. I can in  many ways build my experience totally from the ground up this time, in ways that aren't quite possible when one is more familiar with the story or script. I have a lot of work to do in this show, of course, but the approach to the work will in many ways be more organic or collaborative than most of my other shows have been for a while.

Other than one person, I know all of the other people involved in this show, which is almost always a plus as well.

We'll be performing the show in Halloween season, which works out quite well with the material.

So check back often, as we will have to hit the ground running on this one, given the time frame.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Finale Glen Ross

It has concluded, and may I say on a solid note.

Somehow, the energy didn't dip much for our final performance matinee. (This despite the fact that several of the cast members went out for something to eat and drink the night before. I opted not to join them.) I don't have an equation to determine this exactly, but to the best of my memory it is one of the highest energy closing shows I've ever been in.

I can't say I felt as on target as I did for the night before. (See previous entry.) I in fact skipped a line or two in a speech. Even setting that aside, the experience wasn't quite as exciting internally. Not quite as much of the golden ratio. Nonetheless, it was a closing show I could be proud of.

The audience, though small, was responsive. Again, not as much as the previous two audiences this second weekend, but as with last week, solid for a matinee. Both matinees being among the better performances in a two week run is uncommon for me.

This production was different in more than a few ways for me. I don't mean the particular challenge of a Mamet script, (though that was certainly part of it) but in regards to how I felt and behaved once the tech week and performances began.

To begin with, my level of ritual and tradition was lesser for this show than most of my others. My biggest rituals and "charms" if you will (which I've mentioned here many times) were still in place for this show. Yet despite the intense focus required to commit the script to memory, and to deliver it properly, I wasn't as somber in the final 15 minutes or so before curtain. Often I move off by myself, to meditate and such, but for this show I didn't. I remain relaxed, and reviewed my script in the actor's green room before hand, but didn't take a big pacing tour of the facility every night as I am known to do.

Perhaps it's just who I have become. Or perhaps the focus required for this play was so intense in some ways that part of my mind was allocating and prioritizing resources. Could the very intensity of the script and the work I put into same have caused my overall greater ease heading into the production? Was some part of my psyche saving energy for the show itself, by pulling it away from the need to be so ritualistic before hand? I think it's at least possible.

Maybe it comes from another angle. I have to admit that despite a few stumbles here and there, I felt more prepared each night for this play than I have for the last few years of theatre. That's not to say I've ever failed to be ready for a show, I haven't. But there is usually at least some gap between starting a show and total confidence in it-one which doesn't always get closed. This time, that gap was either much smaller, or not there, even before we opened. So much so, that there was a fairly large roadblock in my very first scene on the very first night...yet I never felt any panic about it. That might be a result of this higher level of preparation, might it not?

Why was I more prepared? In short, I think the script demands a different level of focus at different times than a lot of other plays. It's comparable to Shakespeare in effort to perform (even if not in content and poetry.) Not much room for zoning out, and I was conscious of this from the start. So I was even more tuned in than I usually am, and that is higher than most people I work with, if I may be so bold.

No need to analyze this into oblivion, though. Every experience in live theatre is different, for a variety of reasons. Glengarry Glen Ross at the Black Box Arts Center in August of 2017 happened to feel like a different experience for me. Not a totally poor one, not a disaster, just different.

And more tiring, no doubt about it. I didn't even go out to eat with the cast each time they did it, and I even skipped the cast party for the first time in my acting life. I felt emotionally spent, I had things to do at home, and I felt it was high time for me to exit the experience, the good and the bad, as soon as I could, after the final curtain, and so I did.

I have risen to the challenge of Shakespeare, and hope to continue to do so may times throughout my life. I can now say I have risen to the challenge of Mamet as well. To be frank, I think this experience will suffice. It's by far his best play, and his kind of rhythm can get more tiring for all the wrong reasons to me than other playwrights scripts. I'm glad this is on my resume, and I am satisfied with my work in it, but I don't feel a great desire to revisit David Mamet from now on.

Next theatre challenge? Unknown. I;m not cast in anything. I opted not to try out for the usual group of people that do Shakespeare in this area, despite many friends doing so, because of a venue change. Too long a commute for me each night, and a play that I never could get into. (Titus Andronicus.) I mentioned I'd fill a small hole in the cast if anyone backs out or something, but that I wouldn't be going trying out. It is what it is. Looks like they've got the people they need now. Here's to them.

Whatever is next, however, you can be sure I'll write about it here for you, whoever you mysterious, loyal blog readers of theatre are.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Second Weekend and Golden Ratio

Well, just one performance left, the dreaded closing matinee. But first, to update on how the first two shows of this weekend went.

In sum, they went well. Friday night was a bigger and somewhat more involved crowd that tonight (Saturday) was, but tonight was galaxies better than last Saturday.

Truth be told I have more to say about tonight, than last night. That because that for certain moments of the play tonight to me represented my best acting of the run so far.

Not that I can fully explain how. A person in the audience who saw all of the performances so far may not have perceived much of a difference in tonight's performance I turned in. But for every actor, (I'd assume) there is a certain inner awareness of what they are and are not accomplishing any given play, any given night. It has a lot to do with how much of your theory for the character, built in your head and your heart over the process, is projected outward in the same way you see it inwardly. (In some cases, surpassing it.) So far i have no major complaints about my work in this show. I have been so far mostly satisfied with what I've done. But there haven't been as many moments of "inner" and "outer" matching up during this run as their have been with many of my shows.

Until tonight.

Part of this difficult-to-articulate experience relates also to proper ratio for me between automatic acting, and deliberate acting. I think I've said before here on the blog that a few times during this show I've been on stage for a few moments, and felt automatic; I felt that I was in the character, but responding in the exact moment to a few too many things, without having the grounded awareness that I am a performer in a role. As I said before it sounds great on some level, and it is a powerful tool. But the key word is tool. This vanishing into a moment cannot be a proper tool for me, if Ty vanishes too much under the surface, even if the acting is something to be proud of.

No, I strongly prefer to be just a tick or two ahead of the game, aware that I am a performer bringing a part to life. Controlling the magic, in other words, instead of the magic controlling me. A few times during the run the magic, if you will, ran ahead of me for a while.

The polar opposite problem of course is feeling nothing-being myself in a costume walking around a stage regurgitating something I've memorized. Aping more than acting. This also does little for me.

However, when just the right amount of "vanishing" mixes with  just the right amount of conscious control over my performance, and ideal situation is achieved.

If you followed all of that, (don't be upset if you didn't) than what I'm saying is that I achieved this golden ratio more often, for longer periods tonight than I have in previous days of the run. So, by my own somewhat clumsy definition, I did, overall, my best work, had my best experience as an actor, tonight out of the five performances to date.

Not that this was happening every single minute. In fact, one usually must be satisfied with a ratio a few ticks below this golden. An entire evening within the golden is rare. But barring any major problems otherwise, an evening with at least an individual scene in the golden constitutes a successful night for me as an actor. Tonight was such a night, I'd say.

Now, what specifically about tonight made reaching the golden ratio possible more often than the other nights?

Hopefully you don't think I can answer my own question! For surely, it is one of the great mysteries of theatre, and indeed many of the arts. We don't always know why one crowd laughs and another doesn't, how a brilliant actor can pull off one role and not the next, or how and when we find the golden ratio I've talked about here. I can only say, if my experience matters at all, that being prepared as early as possible, and taking the work seriously increases the likelihood. And I have felt more prepared for this show than I have for my last few.

Tomorrow of course is that odd creature, closing performance. Matinee. I will naturally try to fight the fatigue and the expectations based on tonight, and everything else that has to be done after the show, and labor just as hard to give a good performance. I don't screw around in a show just because it's the final performance. But my honest instinct at this time is that tomorrow is not likely to be a better experience than tonight.

Check back in though, and find out.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Nights Two and Three for Glengarry

I neglected to write about our first Saturday show when it happened. Truth be told, there wasn't much to write about. No major mistakes, but in all sincerity I must tell you, loyal blog readers, that is was one of the smallest, deadest audiences for which I have performed in my entire theatre life.

Few laughs I could understand. Though listed as a comedy, it really is a drama with a few funny moments at best. But the energy...it was like a black-hole out there. A vortex that practically sucked the will to perform out of me a little more with each scene. God love the people who paid for tickets that  night, but if my instincts as an actor after all of these years is any indication at all, they were getting very little out of the show. This, I'm telling you, was more than timid, more than polite. It feels like we didn't reach any of them at all, on any level.

They clapped at the end, at least.

It happens. And despite all the accumulated knowledge of actors, theatres, directors and so on, really nobody ever knows when it will happen, especially to this degree. True, if you never advertise a show, than you increase the odds of having few people bother showing up. If you try to perform Equus for middle-schoolers, you are probably going to make plenty of people unhappy. Saturday crowds are usually (but as I've said by no means always) more into a show than Sunday matinee crowds. There are obvious millstones.

Still, about 85% of the time, nobody has the slightest idea of determining when an audience such as the one I've described wills how up. Too many variable to even try. We performed well; on a technical level better than we did on opening night. But still, nothing.

Fortunately, the matinee was just as much of a surprise in the other direction. Twice as many people, all of whom were responsive and invested in the show.

They laughed a few times at things I didn't think anyone would laugh at. (Mom being there may have helped with that, I'm not sure.) As much as I hate matinees, and as much as I was specifically dragging my feel on this one because of the let down of the night before, it didn't take long to feel into the performance. Other than my having not quite eaten enough before the show, it felt good.

It's too early to tell, of course, if Sunday is to be out best day for the show. We have three more performances starting tomorrow night. It was, with little doubt in my mind, the best of the first weekend, even though Opening Night has the higher numbers.

In the history of my being in theatre, I was in exactly one show where the best crowd and performance was a matinee. (And it was so long ago, it pre-dates this blog.) Better a good matinee than no good performances during a run. But my overall distaste for matinees, often talked about here on this blog, is well documented, and I won't go over it here again. Look up "matinee" in the search, and you'll see what I mean.

Three more performances.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Opening Night for Glengarry

It wasn't perfect. There were some speed bumps. The good news is that none of the derailed the show for long, and all of the important plot information was delivered as it needed to be delivered. We got through it, but my preference is to not have to experience something like that again during the run, of course.

A good house, as well. It's a small venue, with varying seating designs depending on the show. But my friend, the executive director said that no opening night in the space has drawn that many people, both walk-ins and reservations. So that was certainly a plus. Receptive crowd as well. A few laughs. (Though I have always questioned this play's being officially listed as a comedy by the publisher.)

There are some shows for me that need two opening nights, as it were. The first is the real one, of course. The second opening, that is to say, the second night of the show, (which I'm about to head over to) is at some times the "real" opening for me. Horribly undescriptive title, but in essence in means that this show was in desperate need to get itself out in front of an audience, so that a few last minute rhythms and such could be established. You can't always know how a play is going to feel before you actually have people, and this play in particular falls into that category.

More rehearsal time would have helped. Maybe another week. But we had what we had, we officially showed to ourselves that we could get through the play in front of an audience, and now, tonight, in a sense we "truly" open. An audience is no longer novel to this production, and we can, if you will "get down to work." Not that we haven't been working, but I think I've made my point on this.

Plus as I have said often, first Saturday crowds are often the best around here, and anywhere else. So we may be in for some good feelings tonight in this otherwise depressing show about not-so-nice-people.

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!