I did something I rarely do. I got an e-mail invite for a reading that I got on the mailing list for somehow. I didn’t know anyone associated with the group at all… I went. I say that I don’t do that often with a twinge of regret. I’d love to be able to do that more. But with time and money constraints its hard to put a reading of stranger high on the list of priority theatrical experiences. But all things nature have increasingly become a second passion of mine. And this was about just that. I have over the past few years become mildly obsessed with the romantic prospect of hiking the A.T. (Appalachian Trail). It’s actually become a recent activity for a number of the past several weekends. Not the same as walking 2,150 miles, but a step or two in the right direction.
Anyway, I went. I’m very glad I did.

In the talkback afterward, the largest bit of constructive criticism was that the beginning took a little long to get off the ground. From  a dramatic angle I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that assessment. It was  an awful lot of “trail talk” – getting us used to the world that we would be
living in. In all honesty I didn’t mind too much, I liked hearing about it in this way and there was certainly going to be something that allowed for the NYC audience to get acclimated. But the show clocked in at two and a half hours. I think a little gentle shaving could stand to be done. Also, when we get into the real meat and potatoes of the show it wouldn’t then be so obvious that “ah we’re talking about relationships now, this is the REAL play” and people start to pay  attention. As it stood, perhaps that shift was a little jarring, especially in  a reading.

That said, I was in the end really satisfied dramatically with the relationships. There was a large arc, obviously, they walked the trail. I don’t want to spoil it since you should see it, but I will say that they at the very least make it a good chunk of the way. On the road there are the wizened
elders who don’t say too much, the quirky guy that is harmless but we’d rather not walk with, the mysterious hot girl. But through this walk and these people, a very simple, touching story is told and the idea posed that “the real journey is within”, which can so easily become a cliché, was very elegantly told. 

I was more than happy to see two of my favorite things in life come together. I am very much looking forward to seeing this piece continue and can’t wait to see those actors with 60 pound packs on their back!

Check them out: 

I have been inspired by seventh graders.

I’m not the first to say that they are far smarter than we give them credit for. I am completely aware I
am nowhere near the first person to make this assessment. I’ve done several master classes in middle and high school and I never fail to be impressed by a number of their ideas and impulses. But today, I was really and truly inspired.

I haven’t done a musical in a long time. To be honest, I haven’t directed a full-on, with a substantial
budget three-some-odd week run show in a while. And even though my colleagues are in the seventh and eighth grade at this point, I found myself getting really jazzed. The juices were flowing. I know that maybe it won’t end up with an  option to move, but its wonderful to talk about. It’s creation. And they get  that. The genius moments that are in my head may not translate onstage for a myriad of reasons, my inability to articulate not being the least of them. But I am all too happy that they are there, churning their way through my head, spawning new and exciting ideas. Even in the finished product I know I will see the art and the growth. There are no impossibly high standards and vicious critics. The whole experience reminds me of Plato’s cave somewhat, but from
where I am looking at the moment, even this feels pretty good. 

It’s only the second rehearsal. Honeymoon period, I know. Today I mostly spoke with the design teams. There are three: costumes, tech and set/props. We threw around ideas about how
to make some of the truthfully rather difficult sequences even for a seasoned designer work with our limitations. I started talking about the magic and the danger of Willy Wonka, the importance of truth, the real themes of this piece. They are ingrained in the piece no matter what the Oompa Loompas look like. That’s the work I get to do with these kids! I asked one of the designers “how are you going to make Willy Wonka look dangerous without looking scary?” And she shot five ideas back at me rapid-fire. Where does that go for  us as artists? Would they all have worked? Of course not. But in a matter of seconds, she was able to tap into limitless possibilities and lay them right

My other favorite moment of the day: I was telling the kids about what the “rules of the world” of this
factory and specifically the Oompas inside. We then proceeded to discuss one moment specifically when she pointed out that I was misusing the Oompas in the rules that I had just laid out. I stared at her dumbstruck for a moment. She was  absolutely right. What made it more impressive: she had gleaned that just from  the read-thru. When I suggested she must have watched the movie before she  replied: “Nah. Oompa Loompas creep me out.” Ok then. Well played young lady.

I don’t see myself as an educator, at least not below the college level (better get cracking on that MFA  then…) but this could very well become a big “filling of the well”for me. I  want to direct plays, regardless of something as meaningless as the age of the  cast. And right now it looks like I have a great bunch of collaborators. 

And blocking starts tomorrow.

An exciting little mention of a show that I worked on a year ago in the Wall Street Journal!
I know I've had guest bloggers before, but not as the featured blogger of RSVP.  I submit this on my website unedited for content.

I am wholly of the belief that I am not the smartest or most creative person in the room. I also generally don’t know the most. It is  consistently made obvious to me that I have a lot to learn from the others in  my life, even when I’m in the position of the man in charge. So I plan to every so often offer you the words of wisdom from people with whom I’ve been lucky  enough to collaborate… or at least know… or at least meet and beg for a few  minutes of their time. 

First up, I bring you Paul Dorfman. I have worked with him in his capacity as sound designer and I find him to be a man of incredible taste, especially in friends but also in the arena of movies and music. 
The Frugal Music and Film  Buff

One doesn’t have to reach too deep into their wallet to enjoy great films and music anymore thanks both streaming services and the changing  music industry. At long last record companies, film distributers, and  independent artists have discovered that the internet can be used as a tool to bring accolades and attention to their art by making it available for little or  no money. Movie companies are finally capturing a piece of the internet boom by  working with streaming services such as Amazon, iTunes, and most notably  Netflix. The result of this reinvention is amazingly beneficial to the  consumer. Below I present to you my picks for free (or nearly free) media from
around the net. 

Film Picks:

With Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris up for several Oscars including Best Picture, there’s no better time to catch up on older films in his canon you may have missed. Thankfully Netflix streaming provides a few of my favorite lesser known:

Another Woman (1988) features excellent performances by Gena Rowlands, Gene Hackman and Martha Plimpton among others. This is a terrifically acted and moving film that channels Ingmar Bergman while still maintaining classic features of Woody Allen films we’ve come to depend on. Out of all of Allen’s films available on Netflix Instant, this is by far the most inspirational and
criminally underrated. 

Annie Hall (1977) was originally intended to be a murder mystery, but thankfully Woody and co-writer Marshall Brickman decided Annie Hall was meant to be heavier and so they scrapped the lightweight murder mystery concept for almost twenty years before finally fleshing it out in the
90‘s with Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993).

Allen dabbles in fantasy with Alice (1990), a film which finds Mia Farrow falling down the rabbit hole of New York with the help of a magical herbal specialist by the name of Dr. Yang. If you think this all sounds kind of silly, you’d be right. But silly is one of Woody Allen’s fortes. 

Also check out his bizarre homage to German Expressionism in Shadows and Fog (1991) which co-stars Madonna and John Malkovich.

Music Picks:

Canadian recording artist Abel Tesfaye,AKAThe Weeknd, had a very productive 2011 having released three mix tapes: Echoes of Silence, Thursday and House of Balloons. All of which
were highly regarded in the music blogosphere. These R&B/dubstep records can match just about any mood, whether you’re having a party, working out or making out. Did I mention they’re completely free? http://the-weeknd.com/

Celebrate Philip Glass’ 75th birthday with his newly released 9th Symphony now available on iTunes. If you need a good intro to Glass’music you can download his free sampler available through Amazon.

Paul Dorfman received his BA in English Literature in The University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2006. Together with his sketch comedy group Freeloveforum, Paul has performed at the People's
Improv Theater, The Barrow Street Theater, The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and at the Toronto, San Francisco and New York Sketch Comedy Festivals. You can
follow him on twitter
The last Vayera

As I said in my last drash, what portion I choose is pretty much random to me. I did my usual einey-meeney miney-mo-not-too-close-to-the-HHD thing. Far enough away and such a lucky day right? Liz looked it all over and said “well Greg, you got Sodom and Gomorrah.”The irony was not lost, we all laughed. See, Liz’s wisdom stays with us even as she is at home with her newborn. But I found her comment actually illuminates a great point. Sure, Vayiera contains one big part that everybody knows and many people have used against gays. Hence the aforementioned irony and laughing.  But so many people talk so much about that, so I’ll talk about something else - kinda. When I actually read the entire parsha, I was shocked – it’s LONG! it is not just Sodom and Gomorrah, it is also about Abraham’s visit from God in the form of three angels, Isaac’s conception, the death of Lot’s wife, the impregnation of Lot’s daughters by Lot, the birth of Isaac, the expulsion of Hagar and God’s big test of Abraham.  I don’t think a lot of people know about the rest of the portion or at least that it is in fact a single portion, linked together for a reason. In all honesty, I’d be willing to bet that the Christians that throw “Sodomite Judgment” around more than anybody else would think Hagar is a Sunday morning comic. (My quick very scientific survey of my Christian friends support that claim.) 

It seems as if so often we focus on one big tree and not so much the forest. How often that happens in real life! We get so fixated on a single point of view that we are able to so effectively ignore all others, or even warp those other points of view to strengthen our own? I think that many would agree that there is in reality quite a bit more wisdom in that parsha than what the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah teach us, (whatever you interpret those sins to be). The thing that really makes me think is, much of what is said in the rest of this portion is hypocritical and seemingly contradictory, at least by today’s standards. Incest is ok but homosexuality is not? There’s a funny thing going around on facebook about how many states a same-sex couple can get married and how many states cousin’s can get married and how gross it is that the latter map is far more
colored in. But, God clearly didn’t agree at the time.

I have heard often from the clergy that the Torah is a living document and not one frozen in time. That the wisdom changes as the eras pass. I completely agree. But I think its also important to look at what God was trying to do at the time. He was building the foundation of a people. Abraham didn’t have a very big family yet! Baby making was definitely a priority so “spilling the seed” as we
learn elsewhere isn’t looked very highly upon. And it was pretty clear that those guys in Sodom weren’t very friendly either. If God was going to choose a father of his people, he better be sure that this guy has what it takes. God allowing Hagar to be exiled probably ended up saving the lives of that branch of the family tree. In short, sometimes choices that those in charge make (no one
being more-so in charge than God) aren’t necessarily fan-favorites. 

This is where the faith comes in. Though something may seem unequal or unfair at the moment, as children for example are so quick to claim, perhaps the decision is being made is being made with information to which we are not privy. But with all of what some may call God’s questionable choices: the people standing and the work we are doing here are the result. Of course this is not a request to become slaves to “the system” or a carte blanch “ends justify the means” this is
not an excuse to not speak up for injustice. Rather, it is an invitation to consider other points of view and motivations before judgment and condemnation. 

I just finished directing a reading of Jack Gilhooley’s Playboy. We have the same alma mater and were connected through a fellow Syracusian who had been performing down in Florida where Jack lives. We actually ended up casting her and yet another SU grad that he had seen perform down there as well. It was a neat alignment of the stars. I have to say that I thought the reading was a
great success. Though he made it very clear he was happy with the work, I don’t know how much the playwright agreed with my assessment. It was because we had different expectations and goals for the piece. 

The Work or the Future?

The playwright hoped this to be more of a backer’s audition. He was looking for a theater to pick it up for a workshop. He sent out literally hundreds of invites to literary agents, theater Artistic Directors and other professional connections. Though we had what I considered to be a decent turnout for a first NYC reading (about 25 people for each of the two), very few came. I was very much focused on making sure that the storytelling dots were all connected. As a director I believe my job is that of “custodian of the narrative” and the purpose of the reading, especially one this early on in the process is to give the playwright a very clear picture of how the text tells the story. I give them exactly what they want. From that standpoint it was a great success! It brought a magnifying glass up to the words and it showed very clearly what was really working and what still needed to be tweaked. And there was definitely a common thread amongst all of the feedback.

I’m not saying that either set of expectations was the“right” one. He was looking at the piece from a playwright-come-producer and I was at this point very focused on what was happening in the rehearsal room. As it should be I suppose.  I do think the silver lining to this story is that we will have more time to develop the piece so it will be even stronger before the next reading. Perhaps a
trip to Florida for another reading is in order!

Create Achievable Expectations First!

The difference of opinion between him and I was knew exactly what I wanted to get out of that reading from before I went in for the first rehearsal. I was able to set a few reasonable goals and then take clear steps toward achieving them. Obviously not everything can be perfect in a reading, so keeping the goals in mind helped me prioritize what was important during our limited rehearsal time. Another example, I am a member-at-large with a group called Cry Havoc (visit them here). One of the key questions – the first thing they ask after anyone brings in a piece to workshop – “what are you working on”. And you can’t then say “well this and this and this.” You
focus on one or two things at a time. That way a singular challenge is getting all your creative (or administrative as the case may be) attention. That way in the end, whether you achieve your goal or not, it is very clear what worked and what could have been done a little differently. Even now as we work on developing the next reading, Jack will be able to set new goals and create new tactics to achieve them. 

Create them for EVERYTHING!

Set small achievable goals for every piece you work on. Whether its targeting two agents and inviting them to go, raise an extra hundred dollars for production or challenging yourself creatively on a few key moments of the show. Since there is no such thing as a perfect piece, it makes no sense to try for one. Rather, pick a few things for which you can be really proud, or from
which you can learn a lot. Now what if you can’t think of any goals you want to achieve with a piece? You don’t want to invite an agent to this particular piece, you don’t feel it worth the extra fundraising, there’s nothing in it that challenges you creatively, then maybe it isn’t the piece for you…even if (here comes the blasphemy) it pays. Because if you can’t grow from it as an artist, producer/theater company, chef, whatever, then is it really worth your time? Your time is very valuable. So make it even more so by really focusing your energy on things that you really deem