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.

Day One: Meet and Greet, Blocking Scene One

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , , , , | Posted On Thursday, August 20, 2009 at 1:59 PM

Two things first!

1. As the week goes along, I'll probably be revising past entries. I will try not to do anything dramatic, like add whole new paragraphs, but instead just focus on fixing grammar errors and typos (comma splices are the bane of my existence). If I do happen to expand on a previous entry, I will announce it in the most recent blog post so that you can scroll back and check it out.

2. A welcome to all my cast mates! Please feel free to share your own thoughts on the process or use the blog as a forum to spitball character ideas amongst each other. From what I understand, Carol will be letting her class know of the blog as well. Any other viewpoints shared will just make this a more comprehensive resource for her class to use.

Having said that, I have to restate one of Dan's major rehearsal rules: "If you can't communicate something nice, don't communicate at all." This does not mean you are not allowed to disagree with me. Please do. Debate is a healthy form of communication. But if you do disagree with me, keep in mind you're probably wrong. :P

Onto the actual entry!

First rehearsal last night! It feels rather natural to be back at Kent Trumbull. I've been doing theatre there since 1991. I don't know if an actor can feel truly at home onstage - but if he can, its probably how I feel at KSU-TC. Eighteen years... damn. I knew Dan way back then too -- way, way, way back when he was young and spry.

Actually, judging from last night's rehearsal, he moves pretty well for an old guy...

I tease because I love.

Anyways. After the normal greeting and reading of the rules the actual rehearsal began.

Remember when I said I hate auditions? Well, I love rehearsals!

I actually love rehearsals so much that I become disappointed when the show finally goes up. I always feel there's so much more I could have learned and discovered through the rehearsal process. When the show finally goes up, this learning stops as I am forced to "lock down" the character.

For instance:

Warning: In-Depth Textual Analysis to Follow

Note: 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.

The first scene of the show opens in a wax museum with the gods complaining about the state of humanity. They then decide to bring in Death to teach mankind a lesson. It is Buddha who brings up Death first by saying, "It's time to call up another One."

There are two interesting things about this sentence.

1. The capitalization of the word One. Capitalizing a pronoun is a Euro-centric practice used when referring to the Judeo-Christian God. So what does this say about the personification of Death? Is Death considered another God? Or does Death exist outside the realm of both gods and men? Since Buddha refers to Death as "another one", the short answer is that Death is a god. The complex answer may be that Death is the axle of the wheels used symbolically throughout the play.

2. The fact that the gods can summon Death and subsequently order him around means that they do not consider Death to be on the same level as they are. So if Death exists somewhere caste-wise between the gods and men, is he the author's personification of a psychopomp? Or is Death simply a lesser deity much like Hades was a lesser being when compared to Zeus in Greek mythology?

There is a second moment in the first scene that I want to touch upon as well:

After the gods order Death to get Everyone, Death's first question is whether or not he should get everyone, i.e. - the entire world.

Is the sign of a malicious or mischievous psychopomp who wants to reap the souls of all of mankind? Or is he a merciful mediator between the living and spiritual worlds who is initially surprised by the term 'Everyone' and wants to make sure that the gods did not screw it up? Personally I'm going to stick with the latter, though I certainly can see some mischief in Death.

I'm holding off on expanding any of these ideas until blocking is fully done, though I will continue to toss up random thoughts throughout the blocking process. We don't start character work until week two, and there's no real reason to jump ahead in that game.

Random Note: the above analysis came from TWO lines in the span of thirty seconds. If this doesn't prove that I over-think things, I don't know what does.

End Analysis!

There were a few other interesting things that came up in the rehearsal process. The first is the problem of dueling languages. Since the play is both spoken and signed it's taking a creative effort on the part of the director to create something coherent without being distracting. I'll say this - I feel for Joe Toto and Jenna Cintavey - it seems like they're going to end up memorizing the entire script as they are the primary 'voice' actors. Mad props to them!

Well, I'm interested to know how some of the other actors viewed the first rehearsal. Especially those who haven't acted before. For me, everything seems very normal. But I imagine for someone who hasn't had the same experience would see something and say, "that's weird, grandma."

Second rehearsal tonight! We're scheduled to block scene two and to discuss Deaf culture. I'm interested to see if a better understanding of a culture that is mostly foreign to me unlocks any additional layers to the script.

I've been getting a lot of questions at rehearsal as to why I, as a mostly deaf person, have never learned sign language or been a part of Deaf culture. And honestly - I don't know. It was never something that came up in my life. My only experiences with Deaf culture have been courses in ASL, a few meetings with Deaf people, watching the Flying Words Project, and discussions with Carol.

I'm also hoping to add photos and videos to future entries if a) I can get the camera to work properly and b) I can manage to steal video from Carol's class.

Auditions: Part Three (the Day After)

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , , , | Posted On Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 2:42 PM

Second verse, same as first.

I'm not going to go into details about the second day of auditions as it was essentially the same as the first day.

Only with different people.

The only thing worth noting is that I was better prepared for the challenges this time around, and the energy level of the second day was just as high as the first.

Fade out.

Cut To: Next Day.

The cast list is now up and it has come with a few surprises. As cast lists always do. For example, I wasn't expecting the role of "Everyone" to be split between four people. And I'm dying to see what Dan, the director, has in mind for that.

Me? I'll be portraying Death.

And I'm already off-book.

...'cause I got no lines!

Tangent!

A couple of years ago I was working on the rehearsal process for the Winter's Tale where I was horribly miscast as Antigonus. You know the famous Shakespearean stage direction "exit, pursued by a bear"? Yeah, that was me. Before being chased off, I was forced to do battle with the bear onstage. The bear in this case was a five-foot-four guy in a bear suit built for someone who was around six-feet tall.

For a better visual picture, just think of it this way: the bear had a saggy ass.

The whole scene was so absurd and so bad that, from what I understand, the house manager had to warn people that if they laughed inappropriately during it, they would be taken out of the theatre. Which was too bad, because Antigonus' soliloquy/monologue prior to being attacked by a guy in a ill-fitting bear suit is one of my favorite speeches in all of Shakespeare.

"Dreams are toys."
-the Winter's Tale III, 3, 1531

Anyways, very early in the rehearsal process I was told, essentially, that I was not allowed to use physicality to convey the character. The character according to the director, since this was Shakespeare!, had to come out solely through the language. "Let the words flow, like a river," were his exact words.

He then made a wave gesture with his hands.

I was then admonished for using my own hands when I spoke to emphasize whatever pathos I was trying to get across. I was told to keep them close to my body, at my sides, hanging limply.

No, I am not exaggerating.

This is the exact opposite kind of actor I am. I'm physical. I talk with my hands.

I read once that less than twenty percent of human communication is verbal. The rest is all body language, eye contact, spatial distance, etc. The Winter's Tale is the second worst theatrical experience I've ever had in my life. It didn't help that the play itself just wasn't very good either. Except for the second half when the comic portions of the script managed to sneak through the static direction.

Random Note: The worst theatrical experience I ever had in my life was Othello. I'll share the details sometime in the future. To tantalize you, let's just say this: it involves an ancient curse that shall not be named.

During that entire two month rehearsal process, I started wondering if it was possible to convey a character without the use of language. Is language necessary to convey all the weight of the emotions needed to craft a character?

End Tangent!

Death, in For Every Man, Woman, and Child, does not speak. He uses sign language perhaps once or twice in the entire show. The rest of his "dialogue" is performed entirely in mime or conveyed through physical expression.

Death is, essentially, my chance to see if language really is necessary for communication. This is one of the roles I've been dying to tackle for some time now - and I'm finally getting the chance. The biggest problem I foresee with the character is the lack of textual clues, which means I'm probably going to end up drawing from past incarnations of Death in literature and other outside textual sources.

Its probably a little more extensive than necessary, but I used to be a Theatre/English double major - and its the Literature nut in me sneaking out, I guess.

Random Note: I'm only maybe a semester and a half away from picking up my English degree if I ever save up enough money to get it. Then I can have TWO economically non-viable degrees instead of just one.

Auditions: Part Two (Day One)

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , | Posted On Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 1:17 PM

Best. Auditions. Ever.

Really, no lie. I probably should be angry as hell that all my preparation was for naught, but you know what? I have never had as much fun at an audition as I did last night. And it served to remind me that just when you think you've got it all figured out, someone is determined to throw you a curve ball.

To begin with: all that script work I did? Pointless (at least until the rehearsal process starts). We didn't touch the script at all last night -- instead what we did was completely physical theatre, a little improv, and a lot of mime.

I've done physical theatre auditions once before, at Redmoon Theater in Chicago, and I stunk those up. Those were the first physical theatre auditions I had ever done and I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Redmoon is well known for doing crazy theatre, especially at Looptopia, a massive theater event/spectacle that takes place on the streets of Chicago's loop and is a showcase for some of Chicago more avant-garde groups. And their in-house performances are usually top-notch amazing.



Anyways -- back to the auditions last night.

It began with a very simple task: in mime, perform a short piece in which you go from one place to another. This led to some very interesting takes on normally mundane activities.

I can't remember all of the mimes people do, but they included: taking care of a dog, blowing a wad of bubble gum (and being unable to get rid of it), and forgetting your drink ontop of your car. I think I was the only one that failed at doing 'mundane' -- I did a Western.

The auditions only progressed from there, getting crazier and crazier. At various points we were asked to physically take on the embodiments of various aspects of humanity such as: "Good Deeds", "Knowledge", etc. This was probably my single biggest challenge. How the hell do you personify "Good Deeds" in mime form? There were exercises in which gang/slacker life was stereotyped, Death had to convince a character that it was time for him to depart, and so on and so forth.

The Death exercises proved the most intriguing to me, as I never knew there were so many ways to personify death in a physical form. It is worth noting that for the bulk of the audition - we were performing in mime - not vocally. So it was a hell of a task.

There were a few things I noticed. The novice actors, the ones who hadn't acted before, didn't know one of the cardinal rules of Improv. That is, "Yes, and..."

To clarify: when someone gives you something such as, "Wow, Cleric, you look so good! I can't even tell you had a baby last week!" the correct response is, "Yes, and - my little girl is giving me fits." Novitiates to the improv form of theatre will, by and by, respond with, "What are you talking about? I didn't have a baby."

Improv is all about receiving not giving. It's something that it took me a while to realize and now I enjoy the art form when its done well because of that.

On the other hand, the auditions served to reinforce one thing I largely suspected for many, many, many years. Those of us born with a hearing loss (whether minor or major) tend to be much more skilled in spatial awareness than those who aren't. In addition, those who know sign language can create some pretty specific mimes as ASL is a language based on the principle of physical theatre.

This idea is something I'm looking forward to exploring in the future and will undoubtedly expand on it in a future blog entry.

Anyways, it was an amazing audition last night - everyone completely blew me away. And I'm looking forward to tonight except for one thing: I woke up today sore and exhausted. I slept for TWELVE hours last night.

Seriously.

Auditions: Part One (Pre-Audition)

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , | Posted On Monday, August 17, 2009 at 3:32 PM

I hate auditions.

I'm not one of those people that gets nervous before auditions, I just hate them.

I don't know if words can fully express the amount of loathing I have for auditions, but I'm going to attempt to explain as best as I can.

For non-theatre readers -- there are three kinds of auditions: cattle calls, monologues, and cold reads.

1. Cattle calls are horrible for your self-esteem. Just the name itself will give you an idea of how awful these types of auditions are. They are generally used for major productions (we're talking theaters with a million-plus dollar budget) and for film/television. What happens is this: You and about ten other people walk into a room and line up. The director/casting director/whoever looks you over and decides if you're good looking enough to be in their Beverly Hills 90210 ripoff and sends 99% of the people home.

2. Most theatre productions in the big cities rely on monologues. Monologues are the bane of actors everywhere. A good deal of your free time is spent reading hundreds of plays in search of that elusive monologue. A good monologue is something close to your type, close to the play you're auditioning for, and not over-done. Since most auditions require two contrasting monologues, you've got to hunt down TWO of them. A comedy and a drama. Good luck finding a funny comedy monologue that isn't a stand up routine. God forbid you do a monologue some other guy did not more than ten minutes ago. I've never seen a director more annoyed as when seven people did Puck's "If we shadows have offended..." speech for a production of Midsummer Night's Dream.

Protip: Never, never, NEVER, use a monologue from the show that you are are auditioning for. If you're auditioning for Hamlet don't use a speech from Hamlet. If you're auditioning for Boy's Life, don't use a speech from Boy's Life. Actually, don't ever use a speech from either of those plays they are both horribly overdone.

The reason most theaters require monologues as auditions is because they regularly get over 100 potential actors and have to weed that down to about twenty for the callbacks. It's a matter of time. If you fuck up ONE of your two monologues, you won't be asked back for callbacks. If you fuck up both, there's a good chance that theater will never ask you to audition for anything again.

3. Cold reads are my favorite type of auditions. You're given the script and put onstage to read directly from it. You'll either read with the assistant director or you'll read with fellow acting wannabe. Cold reads are most often used as part of the callback process. The director has more time during the callbacks to ask you to read the part a variety of ways, to see how well you adapt to his instructions and how versatile of an actor you are.

The major problem with callbacks is who you end up paired to.

I'm of the belief that acting is all about reacting. If you're paired with someone who is completely flat and unemotional - you don't have anything to play off of, and thus suck. If you're paired with an idiot that doesn't understand the play - you are given crap to play off of, and thus suck. But if you get paired with someone talented -- your audition is going to be all the better for it.

The good part about callbacks and theaters with enough time to audition with cold reads is that you are often given multiple chances to read different roles with different partners. But it all depends on who your partner is. It helps your own chances tremendously if you've acquired a copy of the script beforehand. That way cold reads aren't quite... as cold. If you can, ALWAYS read the play beforehand. That way you're not stumbling over lines.

If you're like me and OCD about plays - here is how you prepare for cold reads:

First you read the play from cover to cover so you know what its about. If the play is based on an old play, you read that play too. For Every Man, Woman, and Child is based on a medieval morality play entitled Everyman, so I read both of them. I had read Everyman several times in college, but it didn't hurt to brush up.

After reading the play, you read it again -- looking at the characters that most interest you. You read it at least once-per-character. After you've read it the second (or third or fourth) time, you start doing research. You read reviews of past productions to see how other actors tackled the roles. You read scholarly works on the play. You read alternative versions of the play. You read playwright's notes. You read whatever you can get your hands on.

And then, if the play you're auditioning for had an older play it was based on, you read all the crap on THAT play you can get your hands on. And then you badger your former professors (especially if one of them is the director) with the most inane questions you can think of. Because annoying the director before the show is always a good idea.

Thankfully, Dr. Nadon and Dr. Robinson were both good sports about my incessant babbling.

Then you read the play again.

And then you audition.

Not everyone is as obsessive as I am, and that's fine. Most people just read the play and do research after they are cast -- but I like to be obnoxiously prepared. You should read the play at least once, if you can. If it's a new work, you're just S.O.L..

I'm slightly worried about the auditions -- not because I think I'll suck or anything (although that's a very real possibility) -- but because the show requires a cast of 16-20 people, half of which are deaf. The show is supposed to be done half in sign language and half in verbal speech.

I'm hearing impaired. And as far as I know, I'm the only 'hearing-impaired' actor in the Youngstown-Warren area. If there are others, I haven't met them. I don't even know more than three people who can sign fluently, and I only know one deaf person. My worry stems from the fact that I do not know if there will actually be enough deaf actors in the show. And if there are, I have no idea how experienced they will be.

I've never considered myself a part of the 'deaf' community, though I have a 64% loss in both ears. I forget how many decibels of loss it is, but a loss greater than 90 decibels is considered 'deaf', and I believe I'm fairly close to that mark. I'll look up my loss later in the process to satisfy my own curiosity.

Anyways, auditions for For Every Man, Woman, and Child are tonight and tomorrow. I'll be attending both auditions even though actors are really only expected to attend one. Depending on how it goes I'll either post an entry tonight with details on how it went or I'll combine both auditions into a single post and put up an entry tomorrow night.

All This Happened, More or Less

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , , | Posted On Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 3:19 PM

Way back when George Bush was still president, the economy hadn't yet tanked, and the majority of us were under the illusion that the war in Iraq was a righteous one, I had the privilege of being cast in the role of Dogberry in a production of Much Ado About Nothing at Kent State University's Trumbull Campus.

The play, directed by Heather Fenstermaker (now Heather Whetstone), was integrated into a course I was studying at the time, "Introduction to Shakespeare" taught by Dr. Carol Robinson. This course still stands as one of the seminal experiences of my college career. This is partly because of the sheer volume of work cleverly masked as fun-and-games and partly because I somehow ended up learning something, a rarity in the early days of my collegiate career (I barely payed attention in class back then).

While we studied other Shakespeare plays in the course, the main focus of the course was using the medium of video to present a report on the production of Much Ado About Nothing. Some of my fellow classmates chose to focus on the interplay between Beatrice and Benedick while others focused on the technical aspects. Me? I did a report on myself.

Fair warning for those who have not yet had the privilege of meeting me: I was, and still am, a huge narcissist.

"If there's anything around here more important than my ego, I want it caught and shot now!"
-Zaphod Beeblebrox in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams


I'm also kind of lazy when it comes to coursework and figured that, hey, since I'm already doing research on Dogberry for the play -- might as well use that same stuff for the class and cut my workload in half.

But something odd happened in the middle of the process. I actually found myself becoming more involved than I usually did. I was forced to look at the play from both the actor's perspective and the scholar's. Right now, in 2009, I wish I did a better job chronicling my journey during that production. The opportunity was there was certainly there -- there's plenty of video footage of me with really bad hair talking about the various aspects of the production.

It was a missed opportunity, and one I regret not taking advantage of. I wish I had kept a written record of the process, something like a journal, or -- I don't know -- a blog.

But back then, in 2003, blogs were relegated to emo-wannabe and/or angry teens posting on livejournal and/or deadjournal about how much their life sucked.

I know. I was one of them.

These days, however, blogging has become rather mainstream -- some political bloggers have even been invited to the White House Press Corps. And various major news organizations are making the transition to the format.

Theatre blogging, on the other hand, hasn't quite taken off as well as political blogs. They mostly become relegated to theatre reviews or audition notices. There are exceptions, of course, including these two favorites of mine:

1. An Angry White Guy in Chicago is exactly what it sounds like. Unapologetically liberal, Don Hall bounces from discussing his political views to very informative posts on the state of independent theatres in the city of Chicago.

2. Angela Learns to Act is a blog chronicling Angela's "attempt" to earn her M.F.A. in Acting. She just completed her first year at the conservatory - and will be beginning her next year shortly. It's actually very fascinating to read, and her blog has garnered quite some attention - and is now being used as a marketing tool by the heads of her program.

Random Note: I met Angela while auditioning for grad schools in 2006 - we both visited Ohio State University's program - and we have since stayed in touch, mostly through the internet or enjoying giant margaritas and Mexican food. Yeah, I was a fan of Angela's blog well before she got all famous. She's as funny, warm, and engaging as her blog makes her out to be.

I have not yet met Don Hall, and probably would quake in fear if I did so - despite the fact he supposedly lives down the street from me in Chicago.


It is now 2009, blogs are mainstream, the economy has tanked, Barack Obama is the new president, Jay Leno no longer hosts the Tonight Show, and I have graduated from college with a B.A. in Theatre Studies and moved on to Chicago. There I helped found a small theatre company, Blackbird Theatre Company, which I have since left. I worked offstage for a Tony Award Winning theatre, which I have since been laid off from. And I have attempted to apply for graduate school twice - each time with comically disastrous results.

A few months ago, I received a somewhat cryptic message from a very dear friend of mine, Jess, who mentioned that my old stomping ground of KSU-Trumbull was putting on a 'deaf' play - Every Man, Woman, and Child by Willy Conley. Not long after, Dr. Robinson contacted me and nudged me in the direction of talking to Dr. Nadon, a longtime friend and mentor of mine and head of the theatre department at the Trumbull branch of Kent State University.

So I did.

Fastforward to August of 2009, I've stuffed the majority of my belongings into a storage unit in Chicago, packed up a suitcase, and made my way home to Ohio to take part in the production. Since arriving in the state two-weeks ago, I've pushed myself into a scholarly overdrive - analyzing and taking apart the play and comparing it to the medieval work that it is based on, Everyman.

In a recent conversation with Dr. Robinson, I mentioned that I was thinking of starting a blog to chronicle the whole process, and she enthusiastically urged me to do so. If nothing else, I figure, it can be used as an additional resource for her current class -- which she is integrating with the production of Every Man, Woman, and Child.

So, here it is: Downplayed and Upstaged. This is intended to be both for my own satisfaction, for students in Dr. Robinson's class interested at getting a more in-depth look at the process, and for theatre nerds who dig this sort of stuff.

I do not promise to update after every rehearsal, though I will certainly try. The way I see it, if Angela can update daily while juggling a full graduate-level course load AND rehearsals, I should be able to as well.

Random Note: In 2003, Dr. Robinson and Dr. Daniel-Raymond Nadon were supposedly working on blending together all the footage from Much Ado About Nothing to create a documentary of the whole experience. It has been "almost finished" for six years now.