The Quick Pace of Time

The last few months flew by and my schedule was unbelievably hectic. This is why it would be so nice to not have a day-job when rehearsing a show. I likely had the easiest job on the production, and miraculously could turn it off at night (as opposed to taking a couple hours to wind down after a rehearsal), and yet still there was no extra time or spare brain space. We opened over a week ago and I’ve perhaps just now caught up with myself.

A few of the things I wish I had written about here include:

  • I love watching actors work
  • I’m constantly amazed at the limber imagination of some artists
  • Directing a play is sometimes like making a clay sculpture – push a little here, pull a bit there, and see what you have.

All that work is being followed by a relatively short run. It’ll all be over before we even realize it.

Advertisements

When Theatre Doesn’t Measure Up

Nothing is more disappointing for me than going to see a play with high expectations and finding it weak, messy and poorly directed. Especially after hearing good things.

Makes me question all the “good things” I hear about many shows.

A recent experience was more than disappointing. I was on the verge of anger at the dragging and irrelevant plot, and was livid at the allowance by the director for one actor to play a caricature while most others were doing some downright Shepardesque realism, while he tossed in odd moments of expressionism.

Actually, those moments were about the only engaging thing in the performance.

And I guess I could give Mr. Director the credit for not making it boring.

Boring is the worst.

This was just….irrelevant. Ineffective.

It was also taking up the space and time in a theater that something better, more artful, more meaningful could have occupied. And that’s just a shame.

Life is short. Don’t waste it at a bad play.

 

How do you memorize all those lines?

Yep, the age old question.

I’m knee-deep in rehearsals for a play and just about off book. We’ve had a few painful rehearsals (painful is my word) where we’ve tried to get off book, and I stumbled and struggled for lines that wouldn’t come.

Generally, for me, and dependent upon the nature of the script, I need a couple working rehearsals to get the actions, motivations—and the words—in to my body, before I can start working on the process of putting down the paper. It’s muscle memory. It’s intention and conflict and challenge. Not rote.

We haven’t quite had that luxury with this production. This is a full-fledged, full-length play, where we’ve had a lot of conflicts meaning we often have someone missing which makes working things a bit more….difficult. Instead we’ve been blessed with lots of discussion time, table work and research. Truthfully, that’s something we often don’t get enough of in a production.

But now we’re at the midway point and we’re trying to get off book. And I talk a lot for a good portion.

I spend a lot of the first act asking questions in a courtroom setting.

I ask things like:

How old is he?” and “How old was he?” and “What is his age?”

or

“You dined….?” and “You had dinner….?” 

And then there are the names of people and titles of books that I mention here and there, that feel very much interchangeable (at the moment.)

Which do I say when? Not quite sure all the time.

Why ask the same thing multiple times with different words? Because that’s how people actually talk, of course, it’s just unfortunate that as actors we need not only honor the work of the playwright and say the right words, we need to give our fellow actors the right cue, or they may not say their words!

And don’t even get me started on knowing my own cues. There are so many non-sequiters in this play you’d swear we were doing five different shows at once.

“How do you memorize all those lines?” In the end the answer will be, “I don’t know…you just do” even though right now the answer is “keep trying.”

Speaking of which, I’ve got to be at rehearsal in an hour. I’m going to read over my lines—and cues—again.

The Pathway to a Character

I’m about half way thru the rehearsal process for my current show in which I’m acting. At present I’m feeling a bit lost and unsure of what’s working, what’s not. I don’t feel it’s a typical process for me, but this rehearsal is making me become a bit more aware of how I typically work.

I’ve always been an inside>outside kind of actor, at least for the most part. Discovering a character’s want and goals, and how his fears and hopes dictate how he goes after that goal, and all of it, along with other known characteristics (age, work life, health, etc.) determining how he holds himself, moves, speaks….

This project is working a bit differently. Focusing on the physicality and the sound. Shaping it from the outside in, to the point of determining the internal drive.

I think. Maybe it’s just my own miscommunications.

I’m feeling like I’m chasing down this character. My instincts put him one place, my director sends me elsewhere and when I try to go there I seem to end up in a third place.

Usually my path is forward, even if winding, homing in on the final persona and presentation.

This time the path has not always been forward. It’s bounced around, it’s shot across the room, it’s backtracked and twisted 180°.

Right now I’m not sure where some of it will end up. Right now I’m not sure I’ll know it when I land in the right spot. Right now I’m glad I still have a few weeks to opening.

Excited, and Perhaps Anxious.

I shouldn’t be writing this. I should be doing other things but I can’t really focus right now because I have a show opening tonight. Typically when I’m acting in a show I take that day off from the day-job as part of a recovery from tech/dress/preview kind of thing, but also because I know my mind can’t focus on anything else for too long.

This time I’m not acting, but I am producer and director so it’s almost all I’ve breathed for the past month or so. Now it’s virtually out of my hands. I have to trust that the actors and board op will do what I know they can and plan to do. I can only sit back.

It’s been a crazy busy month. (Technically I opened and closed a whole other show I directed earlier this week–another experience that deserves some bit of write up here.) Twice in the past couple weeks I’ve had conversations with people (who don’t work in theatre) about theatre and what I am or have been working on, etc. etc. Both times the person made comments regarding how excited and fulfilling for me it sounded, made some remark such as they “could see something in [my] eyes when I talked about this stuff.”

I love the work I do, feel lucky to get to do it, and find it satisfying.

Between the projects and the day-job, I’ve probably been working about 70 hours/week for the past several weeks. I should be exhausted. (And truly, I think I am.) But I’m energized. Elated. Ready for things. My mind is engaged and I’m thinking on my feet, making decisions and choices more easily and with more certainty.

Side story example: At the day-job yesterday I discovered I was expected to present some materials during a staff-wide meeting, and the meeting had already started and my presentation was in less than five minutes.Yes, I panicked. And then I quickly gathered the info I needed, made quick decisions about what to say and how to say it…and then presented. I don’t think I said more than one “uh” in the whole thing — which I say all the time anyway. And I’m certain no one who wasn’t already in the know about my last minute prep could tell anything was amiss.

But still, today is different. It’s the day people are going to pay money to see the work we’ve done. I’m not nervous, just excited. Perhaps anxious. It’s hard to let go, to stop thinking about the show and how to improve it and what’s working and not working and what if this or that or I wonder…….

My mind’s on overdrive, but I might sleep well tonight.

Fun and French, in a Cold Read

I spent the past two nights getting together with large groups of actors and reading aloud a couple plays. It was an informal gathering put together to explore these scripts as possible candidates for production. We were all assigned multiple parts, had some drinks and snacks, sat in a circle and dug in.

The first night’s play included numerous dialects, some singing and some foreign language. (This was a cold read for most of us, so there was some foreign language faking going on.) Last night’s was much tamer in that regard.

The fun of it, of course, was the discovery and the challenge. Other than the title and the authors’ names, I wasn’t familiar with either script, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Cold readings can be difficult – having to make quick choices, on the spot, about intention, attitude, relationships, character, all only based on what’s in front of you at the moment, not knowing where anything’s going.

Some times that’s a good thing. Some times you choose incorrectly.

After the readings we discussed it all – what we liked, what we didn’t, how produce-able it might be, what kind of audience it might garner, whether it’s right for this company and their audience, etc….. Lots and lots of opinions were thrown out, but there was also much agreement, and good discussion within the group. The conversation was cordial, professional and productive. There were no egos, no arguments and nothing personal.

(I’m not surprised by any of that behavior, I’m only reminded that I see it so little elsewhere.)

I learned a couple things through this exercise.

I learned I can’t always think on my feet well enough to sound clear and smart at the same time in group discussions. (I feel I usually can, but these couple night’s challenged that notion.) Life might move too fast for me, and I like to consider and explore materials when reading them. Or perhaps my mind moves too quickly, jumping to ideas, and I inadvertently skim things I shouldn’t. Or maybe I’m not as bright as I think. No…that’s not it.

Also, I learned, or re-learned, that I have a pretty solid skill of doing some accents, and many I can just toss out, on the fly, without thinking about them. While this includes a few British, Irish, Italian, Russian, Chicago, New York, ranges of Southern US and perhaps a few others, it does not include French. I don’t know why, but I can’t just jump into a French accent unless I’m improvising dialogue. On night one I had to read a character with a “slight French accent” and I started trying one, but as soon as I heard it fluctuate to some Eastern European (probably to a country that no longer exists) I gave up. I couldn’t read and accent at the same time.

But mostly I learned that this kind of thing should happen more often. At any given time I probably know several dozen actors who could be available on a Tuesday night to get together to read a script. Even if people aren’t right for the part, it doesn’t matter. Hearing a script out loud is how scripts are supposed to be heard. Hearing actors put some life (even incomplete, or slightly off-the-mark-in-a-cold-reading life) into the playwright’s words is illuminating. And getting together to practice, discuss and enjoy the process isn’t so bad either.

Every time an opportunity like this comes up I wonder why it doesn’t happen more often. Perhaps it’s time it does.

Actors and Eggshells

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love watching actors act. I love the creative developmental process of watching a character slowly come to life through trial and error and exploration, like some animal breaking its way through an eggshell.

Today is our last rehearsal before preview and opening, and I’ve been fascinated in the past couple weeks by the process I’ve witnessed from several actors in this show. Partly due to the ensemble-ish nature of the play and partly due to the nature of the rehearsal space, much of the off-stage time has been spent watching the scene in progress, a scene which often has anywhere from three to fifteen (or more) people on stage together.

OK. I’ll also admit that while on stage myself I couldn’t help but notice the detailed exploration happening around me.

The other day at rehearsal I was suddenly struck by one actor’s sudden progression in the development of his character. Not that things hadn’t been coming along for Mike, but suddenly something had clicked and fallen in to place, like some puzzle and now instead of floating across the stage he was flying, now instead of being fairly interesting he was fascinating. There was a depth and detail and history to this character that was suddenly clear and present. Or, maybe I’m putting those things on with my own mind, connecting the dots that he’s simply putting out there. Either way, it works.

What’s that line? “Did I leave the iron on?” Sort of like that.

I had watched Mike making different choices, almost like he was working through a maze and wasn’t sure which path was correct, but Mike kept himself focused on finding that path, and suddenly it seemed things clicked. Vocally, physically, emotionally. He was a human being, and suddenly Mike had become the character he had been working towards.

I’ve seen Mike in several shows and have always enjoyed his work and was excited to be in a show working with him. I figured I might learn a thing or two, but his process seems so organic that I’m not sure I could define it. Not, without, at least talking to him explicitly about it. Which I won’t do. Maybe when this show closes, but not before.

The really great thing for the show is that many other actors in the show have also done some amazing and fun stuff to watch—Larry, Shannon and Faye have gone to some great depths of detail in their work. Strong, bold, interesting and supported choices, combined with deep connection to their character’s goals and high stakes.

Of course, the thing I can’t be sure of is how my own work fits in. I can’t be objective about that. I’m continuing to search for details each moment with each run through, and as some props have been added I find new things about my character, the way he deals with his cigar and how he really eats when there’s actual food and not mimed food. (Unfortunately, he chews with his mouth open.) I can only hope my own work can keep up with this great group of actors.

_______________________________________________

* Actors names have been changed to protect…well, I don’t know what. Perhaps an ego.