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.