Closing Time: Part 2/3

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , | Posted On Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 6:20 PM

I hate tech week.

I have had some really hellish versions of tech week and cue-to-cue rehearsals.

I remember a cue-to-cue rehearsal on a gorgeous Saturday morning that ending up lasting well over twelve hours. And the actors weren’t even able to get onstage, no. Instead we were relegated to the basement to run lines. Over and over and over. For twelve hours. Tech week of that same show was a disaster – mindless and soul sapping.

And that’s the problem that I have with tech week.

By the time we hit it – the actors are pumped and ready to go. Opening night is only a few days away and we’re ready to kick ass when everything comes to a screeching halt. “Hold,” the lighting designer will say in the middle of a emotional moment as he adjusts the lights. And everyone will freeze in place.

“Hold,” the sound designer will say as he attempts to fix cues.

“Hold,” the stage manager will say as he discusses things with the director.

“Hold.”

“Hold.”

“Hold.”

You can never get a rhythm going those first two or three days of tech. Then the fourth day you’re expected to jump right into the process as if everything had been smooth sailing. Only there are new props, new scenic elements, new light cues, new sound cues…

It’s enough to drive an actor like me, who thrives on consistency, certifiably insane.

Luckily – tech week for For Every Man, Woman, and Child wasn’t bad. It was probably helped by the fact that the tech requirements for this show were very minimal due to the fact we had to take the show on tour. So – scenic design was kept simple; there were only a few set pieces that we could easily take apart and transport to Albany.

Props, as well, were kept to a minimum. Both for the transportation and, I’m guessing, because it’s hard to sign/mime with a prop in your hand. For instance – I, Death, had a large umbrella I carried around and used as a cane of sorts. At some points I found myself unable to mime with the umbrella so I had to put it down. Luckily – I was able to use the umbrella in some other bits, though I wish I would have had the umbrella earlier in the process so I could have figured out more ways to incorporate it into the show.

Because, frankly, the technical director of this show seemed to be rather lazy. Some props looked pretty shoddy and three of my major props (hourglasses of different sizes) were not given to me until the day after we opened. I have never been in a show where I did not have final props on opening night.

Ever.

Fortunately, due to the nature of the show – where many props were mimed and/or implied through gesture – it wasn’t as big of a problem as it could have been.
So tech week wasn’t as bad as I feared. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we sailed through the first rehearsal of tech week and continued improving from where we were the week before.

There wasn’t much drama from “A” during tech week, thankfully. And I think it’s largely due to the strength and commitment of the cast. So, for the first time in my life, tech week was pretty much drama free for me except for one nagging detail.
My makeup.

Since I was portraying a somewhat comedic version of the Grim Reaper in a modern adaptation of a medieval morality play set in a carnival– we had a bit of a challenge. I have to give mad props to our costume designer, Chrissy for coming up with a look that somehow encapsulated all of this without seeming too out-there.
There were delays – I didn’t get a chance to try on makeup until halfway through the rehearsal process. And frankly, by that point, I was stressing out about it. I knew I was going to have to wear quite a bit of makeup. Because I am not old. In fact, I apparently look four or five years younger than I really am. People always peg me for being twenty-three or twenty-four. I’m twenty-seven (and I’ve still got all of my hair!).

Day one, the makeup was a disaster – we decided to put on clown white face paint first, and then try and work old-age makeup on top of that. That didn’t work. I have a pretty tan complexion (thank you, genes!) so the white face paint really stood out. I also sprayed my hair with some gray costume hair spray…

Which was even worse.

You see, I sweat a lot in this show. I move and dance and jump and do all sorts of intensely physical movement. All while wearing four layers of clothing, well, five layers if you count the fact that the trench coat/jacket I had to wear was two layers stitched together.

So the gray in the hair would simply sweat off and down across my face. I had running streaks of gray that first day. And when that stuff got into your eyes – it STUNG like a motherfucker.

Seriously. The salt of your sweat + hair spray + whatever toxic lead-based chemical was in that hair color…

Okay, it wasn’t lead based. But still…

Ouch.

So day two we tried a different tactic. We decided to do the old age makeup first, and then powder my face with baby powder. That didn’t work either, for completely the opposite reason. The baby powder seemed to actually drain the old-age makeup away and kind of made me look like a muddled mess.

Day three, Christy called in the big guns – a professional makeup artist named Mitch who came in, did some incredibly amazing work and left me looking like this:

death


I am unsure if you can tell, but, if you look at the white portion of the makeup you’ll see the shape of your classic Jolly Rodger. Sans crossbones. And the hair? We used clown white makeup so it wouldn’t sweat off. Of course, putting that crap on my hair was a bitch – if Joe and Kurtis weren’t there to help me when I needed it – it would never have helped.

So, with the makeup was finally done – one day before our final dress rehearsal. Which means I had exactly one day to practice putting on my makeup all by myself using the makeup plans Mitch left me (along with helpfully labeled makeup containers). When I first started trying to put the makeup on myself – it took me well over an hour to finish everything. By the end of the run, I had managed to work it down to thirty minutes.

Thank God.

Well, the stage was finally set. Makeup was ready. Costume looked good. Props weren’t done, but whatever. I was ready, the cast was ready, the crew was ready. And here it comes, what we’ve all been working for – Opening Night!

And “A” showed up to it stoned.

Coming Next: Opening Night to Albany!

Closing Time: Part 1/3

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , | Posted On Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at 4:17 PM

“Closing time – time for you to go back to the places you will be from.
Closing time – this room won’t be open ‘til your brothers or your sisters come.
So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits – I hope that you have found a friend.
Closing time – every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

-Closing Time by Semisonic


I’d like to start off with an apology to any readers who were hoping for regular updates. I apologize for letting you down. It was fully my intention to continue to blog about the experience of performing in For Every Man, Woman, and Child. But a point was reached where the actions of one person overshadowed the actions of the rest of the cast and crew. For the sake of confidentiality, I am going to refer to this person as “A”.

There was a moment in the process when the ego of “A” took over so wholly, that the process became less about the show and more about what “A” was going to do next and how we were going to overcome it. I’d like to end all suspense right now and praise my fellow cast members and all the members of the crew – they took all the drama “A” caused in stride and with the utmost professionalism.

Blogs, by nature, are intended to be a chronicle of your thoughts on an experience. When my thoughts began to shift away from the process of the show and towards the cloud of negativity that “A” was producing; I realized that I could not, in good conscience, post anything on the blog about it. It would be unprofessional and immature. No matter how much I may be upset with “A” – I would have to wait until the show was over to discuss the effect that person had on the show.

This is not to say I didn’t complain. I did. Everyone needs to vent about things. Especially when it is as important as this show was to me (and I’m sure, to the other cast members). But I kept my complaints to a minimum – and I only spoke to two or three people about it; people I have known for a long while and trusted. Because when something you perceive as bad happens to something you care about – you do need to get things off your chest rather than just let them stagnate inside you.
So that, in a ways, is my long-winded apology.

But the show is now over – and I am free to go into as much detail about the bad things and the negativity that sprung up as a direct result of “A”’s actions. But I would like to stress, once again, that there were lots of good things to come about as a result of this show in spite of the drama caused by “A”.

With the said – I’d like to pick up at the moment when the show came dangerously close to being cancelled.

Let me preface with this – I have known the director, Dan, for almost twenty years now. I have always found him to be the calmest, collected, and even keeled individuals that I have ever met. I have worked for him as a stage manager, master carpenter, and assistant director. I have acted in a show with him before. And I have never once seen him lose his temper. Usually when he is disappointed, he lets us know – with an upset (almost dejected) tone to his voice. But in twenty years – I have never seen him yell.

Ever.

The night the shit hit the fan, I was sitting in the audience away from the rest of the cast. People forgot their lines, people forgot their blocking, and people simply weren’t taking it seriously. There was a lot of joking onstage, screwing around, and just a general sense of: “oh, it’s just a show – let’s have fun!” I noticed it, some of the other veteran actors had noticed it, and Dan noticed it.

Up in the audience, I was growing increasingly (and visibly) frustrated with the group to the point where I seriously began to wonder if it was worth it. I had come all the way to Ohio from Chicago – and all I saw before me were people who were not taking it as seriously as I was.

Then an entrance was missed again and Dan lost his cool.

The next day he apologized for it, because he is a lot better of a person than I am. If it was me, I wouldn’t have apologized at all. I probably would have left the rehearsal that very night and cancelled the show. But Dan is the kind of guy that continues to believe in people, even when they don’t deserve it. And none of us deserved it that day.

The day after, we came, and the mood had changed.

He’s right, we seemed to be thinking. We have been screwing around. We need to do better. For me, it was more of the need to prove to Dan that I could overcome whatever resentment I had been feeling towards the process and move in a positive direction. He deserved as much for putting up with our nonsense.

From then on we seemed to attack the script and the process with a renewed energy and a desire to get things right. It is a credit to every single actor onstage that they rose to the challenge. They listened to what Dan said, and they each seemed to realize that he believed in them and that they were capable of putting on a fantastic show.

And from that moment, even though it was a bad moment that I hope I’ll never have to experience again, I felt like everyone truly became a member of a cast dedicated to bringing the script to life.

Excuse me.

Everyone except for one.

“A” never quite seemed to get it. As one of the lead roles “A” seemed to think the show was all about her. While the rest of the cast was helping each other learn lines, “A” was out smoking and talking. While the cast was working together onstage to create an ensemble, “A” would cut off people in the middle of their lines and even take lines from other cast members for herself.

The worst part is that “A” refused to acknowledge her faults and improve upon them. When something went wrong “A” was never at fault, no. Instead it was always the other person’s. For example:

At one point I was onstage between two actors, including “A”. Let’s call the other actor, “B”. “B” said his line, so I turned to him to see what he was saying. “B” finished his line.

Silence. I waited for “A” to say her line to give me a reason to turn.

The stage manager pointed at “A” to indicate it was her line. “A” immediately goes, “It’s not my fault! Cleric wasn’t looking at me; I didn’t know it was my line!”
Really?

Fine. I apologized just because the rest of the rehearsal was going pretty well and I didn’t want to do anything to sink back into that negativity that we had finally managed to claw ourselves out of.

There were more incidents during the course of the rehearsal process. At one point the five “lead” actors decided to get together before rehearsal to work together. (I put “lead” in quotes, because I feel by the end of the show there weren’t any lead actors – but a true ensemble of actors.) We were all there on time, except for, you guessed it: “A”.

When “A” arrived, she went outside to smoke while the rest of us waited inside. Ten minutes later I went out to tell her to hurry up and went back in. Ten minutes later, I went back out and told her to get into the theatre now. What we had hoped was going to be an hour of extra work had now shrunk to a half hour.

When “A” finally decided to come in, we started work. Only to find that “A” had not memorized the lines she was supposed to. “A” and “B” had to work very closely together during this show – and because “A” hadn’t done the work properly, “B” was thrown off. I felt nothing but sympathy for “B” because I had witnessed him working hard before rehearsals. I know he worked outside of rehearsals. But when he got into rehearsal – there was nothing he could do to help things along if “A” hadn’t done her work.

During this pre-rehearsal, “A” suddenly stopped, and began to complain and shift the blame onto other people. While Carol and Dan tried to talk with her – the rest of us went outside of the theatre – disappointed. We had come in with the intention of helping both “A” and “B” fix a lot of the things that were going wrong. We had tried to get her to join us as a group and work together. But at every turn – we were rebuffed…

But it is to “B”’s credit that he persevered – and one of the great privileges I’ve had was watching him grow as an actor. This was his first show (as far as I know) and he managed to do something special in spite of “A”s continued attempts (subconsciously or not) to derail the process. “B” and the other two leads never took on the diva attitude that “A” did, and for that I’m grateful.

Because there’s only room for one diva in any given show. And that’s me.

Coming Next: Tech Week to Opening Night!

ADDENDUM: I could go on for quite a while on more of the dramatics caused by "A" but I don't want to. I'm ready to move on.

SECOND ADDENDUM: For a while I considered changing "A"'s pseudonym to "Lamesauce". But I suppose I should attempt to be mature for once.

How Michael Jackson Influenced My Acting Process

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , , , | Posted On Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 10:47 AM

It’s been a while since I posted last and a lot has happened since then – but not all of it has been good. Shortly after posting the entry entitled “The Breakdown” I went off to an even worse rehearsal. I’m convinced I jinxed it. I’m not going to delve any more into it – because we had enough negativity floating around last week.

I am happy to report, however, that things have moved into a tremendously positive direction since then. We’re only slightly behind where we should be, and the rehearsals these last three days have all been gigantic leaps forward. Which is a good sign – tech week (sometimes known as Hell week) starts on Monday and we open on Friday. Boy, time just flew right on by.

Anyways, there are a few things I noticed at rehearsals that I wanted to expand upon for the purposes of this blog…

And they are the challenges in staging a play with Deaf actors.

(Note: I struggled for the better part of a day to find a word that fit what I’m trying to express. The word challenge makes it seem as if putting Deaf actors in a play is just asking for trouble. It’s not. To paraphrase Chuck Palahniuk, “Challenges is not the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.”)

I’ve been acting onstage for nearly all my life. I first stepped in front of an audience at the age of eight and as I grew older I began to notice things in the theatre world that hearing actors take for granted.

First: Cues.

What is a Deaf actor to do when his cue is given and for some reason or another, he cannot make out what is being said? There are three solutions.

The first option is the use of lighting changes. Light design is one of the most important and underappreciated technical aspects of a show. And because lighting is so necessary for to establish mood and setting – this option is not always available. It’s usually my cue for an entrance at the beginning of the scene or a scene shift, but beyond that, it can’t be used for anything else or you risk unsettling the audience as they wonder why the hell the lights are flickering all over the place.

So instead you move on to the second option, physical cues. By the end of the rehearsal process most actors have begun to lock down speech patterns, body language, and blocking to a semi-permanent state. There may be subtle variations in the movement, but for the most part it remains the same. In one instance, I was seated at the far end of the stage while a conversation between a pair of actors was going on at the other side. My cue was to approach the duo from across the stage. But the problem was both actors were seated and not facing me for dramatic reasons. So I could neither see their lips nor read their body language. Instead I approached the actress who would be delivering the line directly before mine and asked her to make a small in-character movement with her hand. Once I saw her tuck her hair behind her ear, I knew that was my cue to approach and I could continue on as normal.

The third method tends to be the method I utilize the most. But first I think I need to a little more detail about my type of hearing loss.

I have a moderately severe to severe hearing loss in both ears caused by nerve damage. What this means is that without the help of my hearing aids I am essentially deaf to the world. I can hear loud sounds like the El train passing nearby, but for the most part I am unable to comprehend much of anything. With my hearing aids in the range of my hearing is dramatically increased to the point where I can hear voices. I, however, am not able to pick up the subtle variations in voices that make a person’s speech patterns unique. I have a general idea of what a British accent sounds like (and I can duplicate it poorly) but I cannot tell the difference between Ian McKellan and Michael Caine based solely on their voice. I’ll probably recognize the hanging vowels as British, but beyond that – I’d be clueless.

I also read lips (though not very well) and combine lip reading with what I can hear to understand what people are talking about. While I can probably figure out what you’re saying just by relying on lip reading (though again, I’m not very good at it) – it is highly unlikely that I’ll be able to comprehend you if I was unable to see your lips. It’ll sound like incoherent mumbling. Imagine Chewbacca with a muzzle on and you’ve got the gist of it.

There is an exception, however, and it’s something I discovered by accident when I was very young. My very first music album was a copy of Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, which I listened to for hours on end. I’d follow along with the lyrics he helpfully printed out in the cover notes, and dance (badly) and sing (even badly-er) along. One day I was riding along in the car and a Michael Jackson song came on, and I found I could hear every single word he was saying – because I had memorized all the lyrics. The sounds made sense – I couldn’t read his lips, but I knew exactly what he was saying.

"Holy crap!" I said to myself, "so this is the secret to enjoying music! Memorize the lyrics!"

A couple years later, after I finally got a big role in a children’s theatre production, I found that I was having trouble picking up my line cues for various reasons and I hit upon the solution. It’s not enough for a Deaf actor to just memorize his lines and the line cues – he must memorize the entire show. Or at least the entirety of the scenes he is in.

Shakespeare’s the easiest to memorize, the iambic pentameter and rhymes lend itself to quick retention. Harold Pinter? Good luck. Random changes of pacing, stilted dialogue, and other such nonsense just drives me insane. I can still remember entire sections of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but ask me to recite a line from a performance of God of Hell by Sam Shepard and I’ll be hard pressed to come up with anything more than a single line or two.

On the plus side, when someone screws up – I’m usually able to improvise a line to get the show back on track since I know everyone’s cues and I have used this several times over the past dozen years or so. On the negative side, it’s just a lot of work and I probably would have quit the theatre a long time ago if I didn’t enjoy it as much as I do.

There it is, three ways to help bring Deaf actors into the mainstream theatre world. Well, three ways to include Deaf actors who communicate primarily through speech. When you have Deaf actors that communicate primarily through sign, it’s a different set of rules – but can lead to some very interesting possibilities. And that is one of the reasons I’m enjoying the process of the show so much – watching how artists who communicate almost exclusively through sign has been a fascinating experience for me.

The Breaking Point

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , | Posted On Tuesday, September 8, 2009 at 4:26 PM

"Lord what fools these mortals be!"
-a Midsummer Night's Dream III, 2, 115


Near the middle of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream a troupe of actors are rehearsing a play when that merry hobgoblin, Puck, comes along and decides to have some fun. And what can be more fun than screwing with a bunch of presumptuous actors? So Puck changes the lead actor into an ass. The other actors scream and flee and the audience laughs uproariously.

I’m convinced that the spirit of Puck is alive and well – in every single show there is a moment when the shit hits the fan. Lines are forgotten, props break, entrances are missed, the power fails, a light fixture explodes, an audience member suffers a seizure, etc.

Side Note: All of the above have happened to me in various theatre performances I have either performed in, crewed, or watched.

Poor actors blink in the face of Puck’s mischievous prank and the show descends into disaster. Good actors maintain composure and push onwards. And great actors somehow turn the disaster to their advantage.

I’m reminded of a story of a show in Broadway where a famous actress (whose name escapes me – I want to say Carol Burnett) is onstage with a dog. The dog pees right there in front of the audience who bursts into laughter. The entire troupe freezes except for the leading actress who simply walks offstage nonchalantly, returns with a mop, and cleans it up as she continues on with the show.

That’s the very definition of a great actor.

Such incidents are funny, but sometimes Puck’s prank takes the form of something not quite as amusing. And if you’re lucky it happens during the rehearsal process. If you’re not – it happens during the run of the show. A few years ago during Othello – tragedy struck after the first weekend of the performance. One of the lead actor’s family members was very severely injured and the show had to be cancelled.

That’s a very extreme case, but in theatre, people say, anything goes. There’s lots of cases where actors have died, theatres have burned down, and in one very special incident – a president was assassinated.

Sometimes the figurative ‘shit’ that hits the fan is quite small. But it’s still important for the people working on the show to bounce back from it. It can take the form of something as seemingly insignificant as a bad rehearsal. I’ve seen a single bad rehearsal drag an entire cast down to the depths of mediocrity before.
Like last night’s.

The rehearsal stunk. There’s no other way around it. I stunk, he stunk, she stunk, we all stunk.

Dropped lines, missed cues, missing actors, and so on and so forth.

We stunk. And we all knew it. And we deserved every word that came out of our director’s mouth chastising us. We can go, “Well, so-and-so wasn’t there!” – but that’s just an excuse, and a piss-poor one at that. When the shit hits the fan and things get bad – it’s up to those of us onstage to soldier on and make something out of it.

But we didn’t. The energy levels last night was so abysmally low that I felt depressed while I was onstage. I’m not saying everyone is at fault for this – because some certainly did try to maintain the status quo of good rehearsals – but those of us (myself included) that stumbled every which way brought them down with us.

And for that, I am pretty pissed off at myself.

Theatre, more than any other art form, is collaborative. And one person stinking up the process has the potential to drag down the entire cast and crew. Tonight’s rehearsal will be a test of our fortitude – we will see whether or not we can bounce back from the awfulness that was last night’s rehearsal and turn it into something positive.

I sincerely believe we’re up to the task. I believe this because I know that we’re all very passionate individuals and we’re all determined to make the play succeed. So I’m not worried – but I wanted to express the feeling of a bad rehearsal so those people who read this blog (and are not theatre people) realize that the process of putting a show onstage isn’t all sunshine and roses. There’s plenty of bad moments to go around.

It’s how we bounce back from those moments that will end up defining the show.

And like I said, I’m not worried. I know we’re going to be fine. In my experience, Puck never wins. In the end everything gets put back together the way it should be.

The Deaf Experience

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , , | Posted On Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 2:53 PM

This morning in Carol’s class we discussed the ‘Deaf Experience’ and started to go into how it relates to the literature we would be reading – but we ran out of time. I did relate my own ‘Experience’, or at least some of it, to the class (half of whom are in the play). I figured it would make a decent blog entry for tonight since we’re still blocking stuff and being boring.

Especially since Death’s primary role in the last half of the play is to watch – which leaves me with very little to do for the remainder of the blocking period.
I was born with a moderately severe to severe hearing loss in both ears, a trait I inherited from my father. Like my father, my left ear is slightly better than my right one. When I reached the proper age I was placed in a school for deaf children and this is what happened:

(I apologize if people become offended, but these are pretty much the words to come out of my mother’s mouth)

”We put you into a school for deaf children and for the first two days you sat in the corner quietly by yourself while all the other children screamed and yelled and cried and wailed. On the second day you walked up to the teacher and said, in perfect English, “Teacher, will you play with me?

“As soon as she heard that, she picked you up and took you straight out of the classroom. She called us to pick you up and said that you were far too intelligent and smart to be in that class and needed to be in a mainstream school.”


Confession: for a very long time after that, I refused the label of ‘Deaf’ because I felt that I was smarter than those weird people who couldn’t speak and had to sign. If someone called me Deaf, I would become instantly combative. This persisted for a very long time, I am sorry to say. It didn’t help that I never met another person with hearing loss until around my junior or senior year of high school.

Up until the end of my college career, the only Deaf members of society I had associated with more than once were my ASL teachers. I took about three semesters worth of ASL before graduating, and picked it up relatively quickly. Unfortunately, in the four years since my last ASL class, I have forgotten almost everything. Everything except cursing.

These days, I am happy to report, I no longer consider myself ‘better’ than Deaf people. Instead I consider myself better than everyone.

Just kidding.

…but not really.

Anyways.

…I never made much of an effort to connect with the Deaf community, despite the fact there is a thriving segment of the population in my hometown. This play, For Every Man, Woman, and Child is the first true interaction I’ve had with people who suffer the same prejudices as me. And I’ll probably be all the better for it.

Now, as for the play…

Warning: Annoying In-Depth Character Analysis to Follow

As always, this note bears repeating:

Any textual analysis in this blog will usually involve me blowing smoke out of my ass. I over-analyze everything. By the end of the rehearsal process, when I've "locked down" the character, I've discarded most of the ideas I've been kicking around. I'd estimate that I only end up using 20% of the concepts I've played with.

To begin with, the character of Everyone in this version of the play has been split into two roles – representing the male and female halves of humanity. When I first heard of this decision, I could not help but think of The Origin of Love from the play Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The above video is captioned but is probably not suitable, thematically, for younger audiences. If you are a young person and reading this blog, go do something more age appropriate and look at online porn.

When Death is onstage – he is, more likely than not, standing between the two halves of Everyone, serving as a bridge between the two of them. In the text Death also serves as a bridge between the Great Spirits of the Universe. Death, in essence, is written as a connecting force between two opposites: whether it is the divine and the mortal, or heaven and earth, or the future and the past, or life and… death.

The most intriguing aspect of this bridging? The choice of the author to have Death communicate through mime. Death does not sign (except once when he fingerspells his name), and he does not speak. Death is serving as a bridge between the hearing and Deaf cultures by breaking down the language barrier and communicating in a way that they can both understand.

That’s the idea, anyways.

Some phrases are actually proving far more difficult than expected. How does one mime ‘sister’ or ‘cousin’ without resorting to sign language or speech? It’s proving to be quite a task and I’ve spent countless hours on a gesture only to realize it makes no sense and had to start all over. These mimes have to be crisp, clear, and easily recognizable.

I can only hope I’m up to the task.

On Directing Styles

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , , | Posted On Tuesday, September 1, 2009 at 10:45 PM

Attempt to blog after every rehearsal? Fail.

I don’t know how Angela does it.

It’s not that I haven’t had time or anything. It’s just that the blocking portion of the rehearsal process is the single most boring thing to experience. We’ve currently blocked a little over half the show so far and are off-book on the first two scenes of the twelve scene show – so we’re probably ahead of the game. Now if only we’d focus and get things done!

Actually, we’ve probably done a lot better job of focusing and getting things done than any show I’ve done in a long time. I am really surprised to see people running lines and blocking together before rehearsal starts, after rehearsal ends, and whenever they’re not onstage.

But this entry isn’t about that. This entry is about the director-actor relationship.

Let me start off by mentioning how lucky I am to be working with Dan Nadon again. I’ve known him since I was a kid and have taken several courses that he has taught. But this is my first ‘real’ play he’s directed that I’ve been in. I did perform as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves for him once, but that was Children’s Theatre so I don’t really consider it a 'real' play.

Plus, I sucked then.

I’ve always known Dan to be a very open person willing to listen to what you have to say and share his own opinions. And he brings this same mentality to directing. Earlier today I went to the theatre early to discuss the character of Death with him and walked away with a better understanding of his mentality. And it was a real discussion, a back-and-forth between the director and an actor where some ideas were clarified, some were thrown out, and some were left open for further exploration.

Example: I still can’t wrap my head around the idea of Family being considered a non-essential facet of life. At some point before the show opens, I’ll discuss this – because it’s probably the single most intriguing idea of the whole show for me. In fact, I’m currently attending Carol Robinson’s class where I hope we’ll dive into deeper detail about this.

Back on point:

Not all directors are very open. I had an acting teacher once who also directed several shows.

Disclaimer: I auditioned for two of the director’s shows but was not cast. While I was bitter at the time, I now consider it a blessing for the following reason:

This director/teacher was one of those, “do it this way,” directors. He would tell you exactly how to do a role in class. Right down to blocking. He was not in the least bit interested in exploration. If we tried something new he would inevitably say, “That’s nice. You should try this,” and if we came to class next day with something different – he would reiterate the original suggestion. One time I mentioned to him that I tried his suggestion at home but couldn’t make it work.

His response: “It works. You’re just not trying hard enough.”

After watching several of his shows I started to notice that all of the characters in his plays were the same. They all walked, talked, and acted like him. They were well staged, but I never saw anything resembling a collaborative effort onstage.
That, my friends, is Shitty Director Number One.

Shitty Director Number Two is the complete opposite.

If you ask him questions about the character he’ll inevitably say, “I don’t want to tell you how to do your character, you need to figure it out yourself.”

And that is an incredible copout.

Yes, the actor should have freedom to explore – but when the actor comes to the director with a question, it is because he needs help. If you don’t give them help? You suck as a director, sir. You don’t even deserve the title, you’re nothing more than a glorified babysitter.

I, thankfully, have never had this problem. Though I have been regaled with stories from those who have.

And the third type of Shitty Director?

The Incompetent. You may think Shitty Director Number Two is incompetent, but you would be very wrong.

The incompetent director chose a play that he doesn’t understand. But he saw it once and it looked cool and is doing it exactly like the show he saw. And the leads in his cast is made up entirely of his actor friends who have zero respect for him and just do their own thing. This director is the kind that just lets you do whatever the fuck you want. If you want to play Puck like Iago, he’ll laugh and say, “Interesting choice!” but doesn’t have the balls to tell you you’re wrong.

Dan Nadon, thankfully is none of these. It’s been a great joy the last two weeks discovering new things in For Every Man, Woman and Child with him and I continually look forward to rehearsal to see what the next idea he brings to the table is.

Schadenfreude

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , | Posted On Saturday, August 22, 2009 at 11:56 PM

Did you know only 10% of Deaf people have Deaf parents?

When I heard that statistic at rehearsal on Thursday, I seriously though that was an error on the instructor's part. I mean, doesn't that seem a little low? After rehearsal, when I arrived back home, the first thing I did was double check that statistic using the modern day encyclopedia - Google.

And fuck me if it ain't true.

90% of Deaf people have hearing parents. NINETY PERCENT.

This is a good example of how personal experience can cloud your judgment. My father suffers from a hearing loss, so I just assumed it was a natural thing for people with hearing problems to be born mostly to parents with similar genetics.

Shows how much I know.

This statistic, and many others, made up the bulk of the beginning of rehearsal as Nancy Resh and Carol Robinson gave a quick lecture on Deaf culture to those of us unfamiliar with . We were also given a quick lecture on the author of For Every Man, Woman, and Child, Willy Conley, a longtime friend of Carol's.

After our lesson on the strange and mysterious ways of the Deaf, we moved into blocking. Scene two utilizes almost everyone in the cast, which is going to make for some challenging staging. It's a lot of bodies onstage at once...

The most intriguing aspect? Doubling all of the roles so every role has both a hearing and Deaf actor performing it at the same time. I have no idea if this will actually work, but right now it's utterly fascinating to watch.

There's not much else to report from rehearsal this week, though at the end Dan requested that I come in on Monday with gestures planned out for all of Death's actions during scene one and two. After some thought, I completed these today and will be playing around with them on Monday to see how they work. I was also informed that I can make these gestures as big as I want - and that I should be aiming for comedy.

I love comedy. There's just something liberating about the chance to throw oneself around stage like a maniac just to get a few laughs.

Back in 2003, in the production of Much Ado About Nothing, I modeled Dogberry's walk after Yosemite Sam. By the end of the production my knees were completely shot - I spent three days just lying in a bathtub filled with warm water and epsom salts. At various points during the production I almost threw out my back thrashing around like an idiot.

But people loved it!

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."
-George Carlin

People will always laugh at the expense of others. Always, always, always, always.

Back when I was assisting directing Puss in Boots, I remember telling one of the kids to loosen up and she told me that she was worried about looking dumb onstage during a comedic part of the show. My response? No matter what, you're going to look dumb onstage. But once you accept it - you're going to be funny as hell.

It's schadenfreude, baby.