It was a new piece that told a new story simply. By my way of thinking, it is exactly the direction theater should be going in. Go see it!
I saw High on Broadway last night. What a great show. I loved it for a number of reasons. First I loved that it developed like an old fashioned play. It premiered in Cincinnati, workshopped again in Hartford, and then came to New York. Evan Jonigkeit, who played Cody wasn’t even from New York. I love that it spread its wings in regional theaters. I love the style of the piece. It’s a perfect fit for my aesthetic – relatively minimalist (most of the set was 2 rotating doors, two chairs and a little table with a beautiful starscape in the background. I love that it is interspliced with monologues. I love that it was about extremely relevant material – drugs, hopelessness, faith, fear, enabling – with an awful lot of humor mixed in. I do think there were a few heavy-handed strokes. One of the latter scenes involves a confrontation about enabling which I felt didn’t match their circumstances. Its relatively late in show so I don’t want to give you any spoilers. I also think that there were a few unanswered dramatic questions I don’t know were intentional. I don’t know if they added to the story or were distracting, or even completely innocuous. But I do know that I’m thinking about them as much as the main story of the piece.
It was a new piece that told a new story simply. By my way of thinking, it is exactly the direction theater should be going in. Go see it!
Some nice things happened this week. It began a little rocky though… I had planned to go to Cry Havoc on Monday, but I had a bloody accident with a counter a few minutes before, so I went home instead. I still have a small little mark on my forehead. Harry Potter style. It was a nice opportunity to go home and get planning for the week done. But the next day I healed up enough to have another great coaching with Katie Zaffrann (best of luck on your audition tomorrow.)
On Wednesday I went to the Dare Project’s most recent installment. Another round of great plays. There were two pieces, the first and last, that were shortened versions of full-lengths that they are collaborating on. I thought they were both pretty cool. The first, about a Wall-Street Executive with synesthesia, the second about a sophisticated, cult-like matchmaking service. Both seemed to have some holes, but there was definitely room for growth. Some awkward moments need to be smoothed over. But they both seemed like the first scene of something larger, so that's a good start I guess. The other pieces were fun too. There was one simple story about a couple of varying ages ending their showmance. I thought the casting was a little off though. The second was “A Jacobean Tragedy (lots of blood, murder and betrayal) staring kindergarteners.” It was I thought well conceieved and really well written. A great blend between contemporary and heightened text, not to mention a good healthy dose of the macabre. (Well done Joseph DiSalle) I did think the acting was kind of uneven for such stylized material. The other, “Full Frontal” had a hilarious premise, a quirky story with a surprise ending. Also pretty damn good. I hope they tap me again soon, I really enjoy working with them.
On Thursday I had a fun and different experience, I saw a London premiere production on the big screen. The National Theatre’s production of Frankenstein at the Skirball Center. That was pretty amazing. How amazing what theater can do with funding!!! It was beautiful. A new adaptation with a beautiful script. The design was breathtaking. The neat conceit is that Frankenstein and the monster switch places every night, and they give the monster a voice. You see him progress (rather quickly – with the exception of the first 10 minutes which is just him learning how to use his fully-formed limbs for the first time, a wonderful bit of physical theater) from a mental baby to someone who is completely capable of logic, love and vengence. The performer did a beautiful job of evoking enormous empathy from the audience. I have to say that the biggest weakness was the acting! Now they are in a huge space so I understand there does need to be a considerable bit of presentational acting, but I felt much of it to be very forced from the additional members of the cast. The worst however I thought was Dr. Frankenstein. He was just so angry the entire time. I didn’t know why. One of his last lines was “I only know hate.” And that just didn’t make sense to me. He had a driven life, but why was it hate filled? I wonder what the performances are like when the roles are reversed. In any case, the story was so compelling I overlooked any poor acting. I didn’t even mind that it was over two hours long with no intermission. I am definitely plan on going to the net performance – the Cherry Orchard.
I’ve had a good week of creative recovery this week after Wit got cancelled. To be honest, it was a rough few days – I had been really looking forward to it. But there were a number of good small successes that revitalized me a bit. I had a very good initial coaching session (with me as the coach!), which ended in scheduling of a second appointment. I made a few discoveries as I went through this coaching – because it wasn’t for a particular audition. Therefore, I didn’t feel the pressure to “direct” it. I was able to actually do a little more coaching, and for choices to come a little more organically. It felt a little more like rehearsal. So that was very nice. I also have another session scheduled for next week and some nice prospects on a third! I feel very optimistic about building a practice!
We also had our Marketing Group meeting this week. Though it seems its becoming more of a marketing/cheerleader/inspiration group. And that is fine with me – especially this week. On a practical level, I got some great feedback on my ad for playbill for coaching. I am determined to put it up this week. A big step toward building my business I’d say.
But the best thing I did this week was editing the film. It was the first time I realized how much of filmmaking happens in the editing room. Now we had quite a bit of footage. About 120 shots (about an hour and a half of raw) for what ended up being about being 4 minutes and 30 seconds of movie. Much of it wasn’t good for one reason or another. Wonky acting in a take, someone’s head got cut off, someone coughed, etc. I would have had no idea how to splice it all together. But D.E. Lear is an amazing editor. He set it to music (its amazing how that can change a movie), and pieced together some good stuff. There are a few shots that were limiting, particularly the fight. It had to be shot in several pieces. Unfortunately there are a few that didn’t end up working, so it seems a little choppy. There’s also one point where one actress backs the other into a corner, so the coverage was limited. So some of the shots feel a little forced. Needless to say it was low-budget. Resources and time were both very limited. It was shot with a flip camera, so there was no separate sound and lighting was very imprecise. But in spite of all that D.E. was still able to string together something pretty good.
We spent two hours doing some extra cleaning up and rearranging of some shots. It was a great learning experience - to be able to figure out ways to additionally tighten and focus using the visuals of storytelling. Its funny to see how much interesting stuff still ends up on “the cutting room floor”. I also learned a lot about the mistakes I made in the filming. I discovered a number of angles that don’t seem to look good, continuity problems, and some basic shooting rules – all through trial and watching how much of an error I actually made. There are definitely a few hiccups to which I have to offer an unequivocated “mea culpa”. But I think these are errors that I will learn from and my next attempt will start out on a better foot. One other big thing – due to the short time frame I was unable to storyboard. BIG mistake. I will be certain to start with that in my next piece. All in all, I was grateful for the entire experience. Again, special thanks to D.E. Lear for being a great teacher and collaborator, as well as the cast and crew – Helene, Kathi, Greg, Bob and David.
Check out Roses at www.lefthipproductions.com - Phase 2 Videos.
Filming has begun – and ended for Rose. It certainly is a different experience – not counting the obvious (smaller choices for the film, etc.). simple time management and far more multitasking than in theater. I found myself thinking far less about the acting and far more about the visuals. How can I tell a cohesive story with image? It seems even more frightening because I have no idea how it will look until long after I would have a chance to change it. I’m sure I’m not saying anything new to anyone who has ever done film – but write your own blog!
There were some very tough storytelling elements to get through. I didn’t have a chance to storyboard it since I didn’t get it until Friday morning (not that I would have been much good at that anyway.) and the script asked for some very demanding shots. We had to make a number of changes on the fly. But even with the limited resources I tried to stay as true as possible to what the playwright had written. Nearly a quarter of the short was written in establishing shots. That took quite a bit of time. There was also quite a bit of combat – thanks to Bob Teague for acting as fight coordinator. The shoot also ended in a very wet bathroom. After a straight-shot 8 hours of filming, I was undeniably exhausted. I am now very excited to see what Dave Lieberman can do with the editing – and look forward to any critique he has.
I got some bad news recently. Wit is being optioned for Broadway, so they pulled my rights. Needless to say this was a big creative blow. I’ve been spending the past few days licking my creative wounds so to speak. I am thinking of a few other ideas to fill that slot, but I was really looking forward to working on that piece. Please someone let me know as soon as the creative team is decided – or if anyone has any inside info. I’d love the opportunity to speak to someone about working on this piece in any way I can. No matter what this will not be my last experience with this piece. And it allowed me to generate a lot of ideas about the show that I will use one day, so all is not in vain.
In the meanwhile, I am continuing to prepare for the filming this afternoon. I am a little nervous, having never worked on a film of any kind before. Thank you to Dave Lieberman for all his good advice. I am also going to devote a lot more energy into building my business. Monologue coaching playbill ad going up next week! Please check it out – give me feedback. And actors, lets get coaching!
Variations Theatre Group (www.variationstheatregroup.com) recently performed Fool for Love at the Access Theater. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see it until the end of the run, so I couldn’t let my tens of readers know what a great production it was and to highly recommend it. I think it was great set by Allen Babcock, featuring a beautiful desert backdrop painted by Stephanie Ferraioli. (There could have been a few fewer hotel rooms in the background…) I think the lack of lighting didn’t allow the design to reach its full potential, but it was effective nonetheless. There were nice performances by all – especially Charlie Moss as the father. I also want to specifically congratulate Kirk Gostowski on what I would say was his best work. I thought there were some beautiful nuances in his performance. The end of the show features a long monologue that he delivered with enormous and heartbreaking specificity. He was a little young for the role – so I look forward to seeing him in the role again in a few years.
I also saw another of Zac’s shows Messed Up Here Tonight last night. It was in an apartment – like a real salon. I think it was some of Zac’s best writing. It was a 2011 This Is Our Youth. A lot of twenty-something angst. But through that there was some nice storytelling. I don’t think the work is completed though - its still a work-in-progress. I think there are a number of holes in Act II that can be cleared up as the writing continues. I thought the directing was very solid – though I thought some of the blocking and spacing choices could have been a bit better fleshed out. I think much stemmed from the room layout – an aisle to the windows was meant to open up the playing area, but it instead led to an awkward crosswalk that pulled away from the story. I also thought that some of the moment-to-moment work got a light glaze over it - which caused things to feel a little heavy-handed. From an acting standpoint, I especially thought James, played by Kyle Metzger (www.kylemetzger.com) was spot on as the frenetic, drug-addled empty best friend. He layered in a wonderfully nuanced performance as he looked for meaning in the urban vacuum of New York. It gave me a lot to talk about with Zac at our next meeting – both on this play, the play we are writing together – and beyond. Congratulations to the cast and artistic team.
I had the neat experience to see a play and its “sequel” this week. On Thursday I went up to Greenwich to see Allen Babcock’s high school touring show of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. As it had to be an hour long, they didn’t do the entire thing and because it all had to fit in the back of a truck, it was a very minimal approach, none of them even left the stage. But I thought that he found some very clever solutions to that problem. I thought his opening number, from the bed at the beginning through the bus was very cute. And they were all having such a wonderful time, it was very nice to see. At that level, its what theater is all about – the cast was happy, and so was the audience. What more could you ask for.
Two days later, I saw Dog Sees God at the Bridge Theater. My friend Victor came in from Boston and knew the director and one of the actors, I actually knew three others – Charlie Gorilla (Paris in my R&J), Jason Michael Miller (I knew him from the Secret) and Deven Anderson (he was in The Shape of Things with VTG.) Despite some pacing issues and minor choices that I wasn’t crazy about I thought it was a very good production. The show itself is very angsty, but it is Charlie Brown in his teenage years so that makes sense. It deals with important issues about identity and staying true to yourself – not to mention coping with mortality. I totally understand why others would call it maudlin, but I actually really like it, and would love to take a crack at it one day. In the meanwhile, congratulations to the cast. I know that Dog Sees God is an “unauthorized” continuation of the Brown family, but it was kind of neat to see one idea as to how they grew up. And I know it’s a cheap trick, but that letter at the end really really gets me.
I had an intense last few days. I had another session with Doug Shapiro. It was wonderful yet completely overwhelming. He gave me loads of great exercises and tools to set the medium-term goals that I need. I realized that I am pretty good at setting long-term goals, and the checklists I need to get through the day to day, but it is the linking of the two that is the challenge for me. It was a lot! He is having me lay all the groundwork for thinking of myself as a small business. And that’s a full-time job! So now my time management is the next item that needs to evolve. But I’m very excited to begin the process.
Right after the meeting I went to do a filming competition for Left Hip (www.lefthipproductions.com) I was working with a great group – Helene Galek (thanks again for letting us use your apartment!), Kathi Elizabeth, David Phillips and Greg Moss (all on facebook – check them out!) We were given an open scene, and then were given the opportunity to build an improv out of that. There was only a two hour time limit. After going through the process, I do think that though the time limit is a good idea, two hours is a little too short. After fully investigating the open scene, we didn’t have much time for the improv, and very little time to get specific. The winner of this phase gets to do a more fully realized recorded scene. The writer and director will be far more involved. Voting ends today! We should know soon if our group wins. Here’s hoping!
I also realized that this is the first thing, though very small that I have directed in almost ten months. A gentle way to come out of hibernation I think – because soon I have a feeling I’ll be hitting the ground running!
I did a number of great things in this past week. I saw my friend Jessica Fleitman’s (hopefully a guest blogger in the near future) short play in Oscarpalooza at Manhattan Theater Source. Some of the shorts weren’t too bad. But I felt a lot of writers didn’t complete the assignment. They didn’t realize that a parody was supposed to be a spoof, not a jumping off point for a whole new play. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it just didn’t fit the evening. For example, the parody of the Kids Are Alright had actually nothing to do with the movie, except that it was about lesbians. It was funny, it just was completely out of left field. I have to say with as little bias as possible that Jessica’s True Grit parody was the most well-written of the evening. Jessica is working on a number of new pieces – several of which are being premiered this coming week. Check out her facebook page if you’re interested.
Later that week I went to see Guster at the Met. They had a Q&A with the artist, who created all the sleeve art for their new cd, Easy Wonderful. They then performed a short set while the artist drew. It provoked a very visceral response within me. It felt like a very raw, creative experience. There was no hesitation, just immediate outpouring onto the canvas. Check him out – Jon Sarkin. www.jonsarkin.com. I’ve also been listening to Guster’s music a lot since then. I hadn’t been listening to their entire canon, so like watching a dvd series all at once, hearing the evolution of the group has been very striking. All in all it was quite an inspiring event. His art is now the wallpaper on the computer that I am now typing on. Check him out, he’s great.
The weekend ended with a great dinner with the wonderful actress Carol Hickey. We had a great conversation about a number of things – theater, music, crazy siblings. It was great to see her.
As usual, I’ve had a pretty busy week. I’ve been doing quite a bit of personal work. I’ve been reading The Art of Non-Conformity. It has been quite inspiring, giving me a lot of things to think about as I begin to reinvent myself as an artist. I am also very excited to be meeting with Savvy Actor Doug Shapiro next week. Between these two, I’ve been doing a lot of goal-setting – I even created a bucket list! I’m confident this is going to help me continue toward working in my art. I’m also very surprised about some of the other things I am learning about myself. (I really want to drive cross country, cook, and plant a garden.)
Other than this soul searching, I’ve been quite busy this week with a number of other things. On Monday I went to an SDC event pertaining to pitching my show. I have to be honest, for the most part I felt it to be rather uninformative. The two on the panel (both Ads for NYC companies) for much of it put a very smiley face on “it’s a very difficult career – so good luck.” They said that you should send an e-mail – passionate but not desperate (but of course that’s completely subjective) and let them know about all of your projects. They’ll TRY to come (or so they say.) However, they also say that even if the playwright personally recommends you if they don’t know you they probably won’t hire you. They painted the picture quite clearly of an insiders club. A few months ago, this really would have gotten me down. Its especially hard when the gatekeepers themselves are telling you that they won’t let you through unless you have the key, which you need to be through the gate to get. However, (see above with all the goal setting and work with positivity) I instead simply said that this conversation wasn’t serving me, and was prepared to write most of it off. But then my hero for the evening stood up…
I had seen him before. He was at a seminar on opera that I had gone to. It was clear then that he was a man who knew his business. He spoke very intelligently about opera – something that I know most stage directors, at least that I know, would know absolutely nothing about. I remember thinking “wow, I’d hire him over me.” of course, how many people have we heard talk a good game…. But you get the “vibe”, you know? Oh, this person gets it. I got that from him. I’d like to see his work. This is of course after what happened this time. Very respectfully, very eloquently, he went up one side of them and down the other. It was completely unexpected, they were totally off-guard. It was perfect. He in no uncertain terms said that if everyone has their go-to lists, and they aren’t willing to take a chance on an unknown, why are we even in the room with you? At that moment (or moments, it was a bit of a lengthy monologue) the entire energy of the room shifted. There was a silent rally behind him. “YEAH!” A mutiny began to build. When the panelists were finally allowed to respond, there was a lot of “sputtering” and pseudo-apologizing. Nothing really changed, they didn’t immediately hire us all - it was just nice to hear that they really understood. The polite veneer had been stripped away – it was a frank question and a frank answer.
After the close, I marched right over to the rebellious comrade and asked that he keep in touch. He hasn’t gotten back to me. He didn’t have any cards on him so I didn’t get his name. Where, oh where are you my hero?