Tech is tonight for God Bless You Mister Scrooge. It will be nice to get all of it together. I’m a little nervous, just because we’ll have so little time to put it all together, but I have the utmost faith in my team. They saw it last Monday, and we were able to hammer out some of the problems we would have otherwise come up with today. We’ve had a whole week off! I’m hoping that this “step back” will actually help us, and give both myself and the cast a fresh perspective as we move forward into the final week. The goal is to get it all set and then do some soft cues while we run.
I saw Wishful Drinking on Friday. It was incredibly funny. Again, it’s theater at its most basic, Carrie Fisher was just up there telling stories – and as she says “If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true.” It reminds me of a quote from Hedwig, “I laugh because I’ll cry if I don’t.” I thought the design elements were just cheesy enough to really be perfect. I didn’t really notice the “direction” per se. She wandered around a lot and did some things that I would have probably encouraged her to curb, but then again, that could just have been my aesthetic. But there was one beautiful, serious moment when she was talking about her disease and death, and she took the blindsided the audience with it, and everyone was so open and went with her on this dark turn…then she SMASHED it with a joke. It was perfect. It stayed very close to the book, which made me happy because I remember the final “poem” she writes in the book she actually recites. It’s absolutely genius.
On the other hand, normally I will not extend this blog to amateur movie reviews. I don’t know what I’m talking about as much as I do with theater, and its far more of an “everyone has an opinion about it” kinda thing. But I have to say, 2012 was TERRIBLE! There is so much psychological fodder in there – Revelations, Mayans, the zodiac, Age of Aquarius, real political and environmental factors. The basic premise – umm… well that’s all true so WE’LL BLOW STUFF UP!!! And they blew EVERYTHING up. They took every apocalyptic idea and just mixed it all in there. Of course, they were all saved on the arc. Just like Noah! How clever. But somehow, even though the smoke from the asteroid that hit Earth after the dinosaurs may have lasted several hundred years or more, the SUPER volcano’s ash was completely settled in less than a month. How convenient! Again I say - I want to be the guy that says, OOH! This will cost lots of money and be pretty miserable…well…STAMP! APPROVED! Let’s make it. I think I’m more than qualified to see crap coming from a mile away, and am great at wasting money, which apparently are the two biggest criteria. Where do I apply?
Let me begin by saying that as of late, as I have been looking back over my career to date, I have noticed a pattern. I tend to do very solid shows (or at least put up a very sold framework) but conceptually, I tend to color within the lines. As You Like It, it was all but period. Antigone was in fact an adaptation of ancient Greek style. I have done shows that require a more elastic concept, and I feel that I have risen to the challenge. But I have never really taken an existing piece, and taken a big risk. And since at the Secret Theatre at this stage of the game I’m pretty locked in to classical texts, and since everyone else does it anyway, I thought this would be a good opportunity.
I thought that Romeo & Juliet would be one of the easiest Shakespeare shows to work on. I mean, come on! They do it in every high school! What I failed to remember is that they probably do it pretty badly. It’s hard! The undeniable fact – it is about two wealthy families who hate each other enough that they will defy the law and fight to the death. Now, unless one does it period – and I can’t help picturing the tights and the feather in the hat… there aren’t a lot of situations where that occurs anymore. Now many will (and have) argue that yes it does! Keep in mind that I have one arguably non-caucasian (Hispanic) person in the cast. So racial tensions are out, as are any radically differing cultural ideas. (I had been throwing around Muslim/Christian). Then keep in mind that we are doing it with a budget that is pretty much…well…zero. So my concept has the following constraints: a bunch of white kids, being clothed in whatever they have in their closets, or what they could purchase cheaply. The fact that we have the design set for a balcony I find to be a blessing.
I have also found myself of late wanting to actually say something with my work. I can tell a story, and people can be moved, or laugh – but I want to make people think and consider, and if I’m ever so lucky, change a little bit. For those of you who don’t know me personally, I am failing miserably, but I am continuing to try to be a more “green” person. I have been saying for years that I think that the endgame for humanity is not how we treat each other, but how we treat the environment. She’s a lot bigger than us, and she’s getting pissed. We can worry about healthcare, or the economy, or Iran’s nuclear proliferation – but if the ice caps melt, and Katrina and her brothers and sisters become yearly visitors, then I think that our GNP will probably take a backseat to simple survival.
I’m not (though in my college days I was) a fan of post-apocalyptic concepts. I think it’s a bit of a cop-out. Ooh – the world is ending so we’re going to be able to be cryptic and weird and use that as a substitute for good storytelling. I don’t buy it…except when I do. I’m calling my concept PRE-apocalyptic. Check out the youtube clip below for an illustration.
Kidding! I actually sent this to the cast as a joke before the master class on Sunday, and they were all very trusting (thank you all for that) but a little concerned. One cast member asked – now is this in terms of costumes? Line delivery? I now picture my Tybalt – played by a woman – in a poodle skirt. Do see this movie though! Its hilarious!
In all seriousness – my concept is that these families are old enemies. Maybe they weren’t killing each other for a while. I picture that they fought the way contemporary wealthy white families do now – with lawsuits and restraining orders. But the world continues down the path it seems to be going on, and not too far in the future, resources begin to wear thin. People begin to get desperate, and the sterile society that we now live in has to get its hands a little dirty if its going to survive. The two big families have begun to compete over the now very limited resources. Perhaps even potable water has become scarce. I think it very probable that in those circumstances – ancient grudges will break to new mutiny, and civil blood will make civil hands unclean.
It is at this point I have to thank Kasey McCabe for letting me borrow Battlestar Galactica. I had never seen it, and we exist on a similar plane of geekiness, and she found it unacceptable that I hadn’t seen it. When I put in the first disc, it was instantly clear, that in terms of design, that this would be a major influence. It’s a very similar scene. These people are existing in an Earth-like situation, and resources are wearing very thin. Yes it’s sci-fi, but in terms of costume, and set design, it all feels very Earth in the near future. Needless to say, all the other geeks in the cast let out a collective cheer when I told them.
Will it work? Will this be a good setting for this timeless story? Part of the point of the fight between the Montagues and the Capulets is that its pointless. Capulet even says how pointless it is and that it should be easy to keep the piece. You never even find out why they are fighting in the first place. Its about pride and honor and family name. Will it be able to hold the extra weight of real dire circumstances? I’m not sure yet. But, isn’t fighting for resources kind of pointless? Shouldn’t we be cooperating and sharing to ensure that what little is left can be distributed so that everyone has enough? Maybe. But I know that I am not a believer that a concept drives the story. The story drives the story and everything else helps to lock it into place. Even if this concept completely flops, which it may, I am confident that the cast and I will still be able to do wonderful work with this text, telling the story of two lovers, who have no choice but to end their lives for their love.
A very busy weekend for me! It began with an all day Mister Scrooge rehearsal. We were missing a few of the actors, so it was a little bit harder to do a solid run – especially since this is such an ensemble piece. We are still grappling with finding truth in these archetypal characters. It is such a challenge. The idea is that an archetype is intrinsically a two-dimensional construct. What you see is what you get. I think that is important because it invokes an immediate response without an audience member really having to analyze it. But there is also the actor’s struggle of wanting to bring honesty to the role. I believe that there is a balance, but it is a journey to find it. We are also having a few problems with memorization. I don’t really blame the actors for this at all – it has been a very short rehearsal process, and I appreciate their wanting to do it off-book. But this has resulted in some very choppy run-thrus. I promised them I wouldn’t be upset about it until this evening, and I have faith that they will rise to the call. They are a very hard working group. I am also excited because both designers will be there this evening, so we can really cement some of the tech design so that when we get into the space on Monday it will be very smooth.
After rehearsal I went home, took a power nap, and then got up to go to the Burlesque show at the Secret. It was quite an adventure. I was on “pole duty”, that is getting the pole dancer’s pole secure before her dance. She had forgotten one of the pieces for it, and after a mad rush to try to jury-rig something, she admitted defeat and ran home to get it. We had already had to hold the house for over a half hour, and nine people left. Needless to say the QP administration was not too happy. We were hoping to get her back for intermission. But she hit bad traffic and ended up getting back just in time to be the FINALE! After a few rounds of bad jokes, she was ready. I have to say – it was totally worth it. This girl was an ATHLETE! She did an amazing job. She offered to take us out after, but I was tired and politely declined. Funny side note – she looked like my aunt Nicolette.
We had our Romeo and Juliet master class yesterday. Most of the cast was in attendance. I did a rundown of my concept – which was met with incredible enthusiasm. I think I will be ready to unveil it to the general public tomorrow. We then did a dropping in exercise, and then I worked with everyone individually. I was focusing only on technique, and very little on the “acting of it”. I equated it to learning the scales before you play the piece. All of Shakespeare’s little gems – the ladder, the consonance/assonance, and most importantly – LINE ENDINGS! It is pretty amazing to me that this isn’t taught in schools more consistently. Shakespeare wrote in verse for a reason, otherwise he would have just written in prose. It takes a lot of effort to fit 10 syllables into a line. If you weren’t doing it with a very specific intent, why waste your time? But it is interesting how people have to UNlearn what it is they’ve learned. If they didn’t learn a monologue in verse, if they have to go back and learn the line endings, it’s as if they never memorized it at all. Even when someone is learning a speech for the first time, it still presents quite a challenge; as it is not how people usually learn monologues. But everyone agreed how much clearer things became if they actually followed the rules of the text. I also demonstrated how to really mine the text for those golden words, and how the depth of them can resonate throughout your entire body. It’s amazing that if you simply give every word the weight it deserves, most of the work is done for you and you don’t even need to act! All in all, people seemed very pleased with the work of the day. I hope that they will use these basics as they memorize (I did my best to really drive that point home!) so that the text process – which is the entire first half of rehearsals, will be that much smoother.
Rehearsals for Scrooge are going well. We hit a bit of a stumbling block last night with the famous scene where Scrooge visits the house of the Cratchits. I think that dinner scenes are some of the hardest to direct – especially because there are 2 ghosts running around, so focus is constantly shifting. But we are also grappling with the fact that we are dealing with variations on these iconic characters. The scene plays out much differently than you might remember. Janet (the playwright) finds a certain comic irony in the fact that Tiny Tim is the favorite in spite of the fact that he is the one with all the problem. I can justify it because of his angelic soul. But again, she has asked another of the wonderful questions that she does in this piece – “would there not even be a LITTLE resentment?” This version does stick with the “no there isn’t” – but really draws attention to how odd it is. The other kids ask questions that go completely ignored. The Cratchits undying patience for Tim wears a little thin on the other kids. At one point, we definitely went a little TOO far with the exploration - it seemed like the other children had been locked in the basement! But that's what rehearsal is for right? To go too far and then come back and find that happy medium. Needless to say its exciting to flesh out. I have opted for real food, which of course also makes things complicated, and we won’t even be able to rehearse with any of it until tech.
We also worked on a few of Scrooge’s more emotional scenes. The breakup with Belle for example. I think we’re really succeeding in giving Scrooge a depth never seen before. We are really exploring the pain that Scrooge feels over the breakup, and perhaps its that pain that prevents him from searching for love again, rather than simply choosing money over women. Scrooge’s earnest attempt to be led aright has definitely led to a few challenges for the cast, because it requires the cast to do some things that appear slightly anti-intuitive, but are necessary to justify the entire shape of the piece, but it really pays off in these new conversations with the ghosts. I’m excited for our first run through – which may either be this evening or tomorrow.
One last Scrooge thing... my Marley will make you pee your pants! Yet make you cry.
On the R&J front – the first rehearsal looms, and unfortunately I lost my Capulet and friend Tim to the bastard that is the day job. I completely understand his decision – gotta pay the bills! But I am admittedly a little disappointed - he would have given a great performance. But he said some very nice things to me, so thank you for that Tim. We’ll miss you! Make big bucks and we’ll get you at the next one!
On that note – if anyone has any suggestions for a non-equity Lord Capulet, send them my way!
Rehearsals for Mr. Scrooge continue to go smoothly. We finished blocking the show in just three rehearsals. Now we’re going back and starting to polish! The actors still seem pretty enthusiastic. We had a few small technical glitches, but I think we’ll be coming back from that even stronger, we had some great solutions. We’ve even added a few extra rehearsals, so I continue to think this piece will be very strong.
I saw the premiere production in the Big Secret Theatre – Cyrano De Bergerac. I was absolutely amazed that so much had gotten done in so little time. There went from being nothing to a complete theater in about a month! Granted, there are still a few kinks to get out, but all in all it came together. In terms of performance, I want to call out Dan Wolfe - he did a wonderful job. He is another wonderful example of how great a performance can be when you get specific with the text. Congratulations.
Last night I went up to Allen’s school in Connecticut to see his production of Into the Woods. What a fantastic job they all did, especially considering the fact that they were high school students. I was particularly taken by the Baker’s performance. Specifically in the second act, he had quite a bit of emotional depth. I heard he is going into a conservatory program – good for him!
Allen made a number of very bold choices. I think that’s very admirable, especially since that is a show that is generally done in a semi-standard way. He made the narrator a little boy – a choice I admittedly thought wasn’t going to work too well - but he justified it at the end in a wonderful way. He turned the baker’s baby into the son (narrator). It was a fantastic way to show that the story goes on, that this is the story he was told as a baby. Congratulations Allen! Move down here quick so we can work together more often!
Second rehearsal last night. Again it went very well. We continue to be far ahead of schedule. We had a few small hiccups in the larger scenes. There is a lot to do with not a lot of people. But we got through them well, and the structure of the scenes are shaping up nicely. We will have a lot of time to clean up and shape the performances. And we’re laughing a lot which, I think is important to the process. We were actually in the space last night, so that was good to get a real feeling of our playing area. It’s a beautiful old space, and there’s a bar in the room! So everyone should come!
I went out for drinks with the playwright after and we had a great conversation. She said some very sweet things to me, (including she thought I was a bit of an asshole at our first meeting, haha! Well, I was having a bad day.) So thanks to her for that. We rehearse again on Sunday, and my goal is to get the blocking completely done. Half of the show left to do. But again, the hard scenes are done. I’m really looking forward to getting the framework up so we can really get down to crafting.
I first would like to thank Melisa for her reading the “essence of my thoughts.” (I really keep mentioning people in hopes that they keep reading :P) But speaking of Melisa, she is in God Bless You Mr. Scrooge, which had its first rehearsal last night. I, being the director, show up late. AARGH! It’s a work thing, I as of now can’t leave before 6. But I’m hoping to get something worked out so that I can get out of work in a slightly more timely fashion.
We had a great read thru. The show will run about 1:15. Not too bad. I think we will be keeping it as a One-Act. The cast seems very excited and very on board with the concept of the piece. It could be a tough one to swallow. We’re taking some very archetypal characters and portraying them in a different light - sometimes slightly and sometimes drastically. I am trying very hard to walk the balance between giving the audience something with which they are familiar, and something that will really give them pause. My goal (though this may be the goal of the playwright) is not to convince them of the glory of capitalism in one fell swoop, but to open their minds enough to allow them to seriously consider the question “is there another way?” And what better way to do that than with a piece that we won’t have the burden of introducing these characters? EVERYONE knows this show. We can focus on what’s different. Again though, its that balance that’s important. It can’t go TOO far or people will reject it outright. I want to make Scrooge the hero of this story. Yes he has a journey and has something to learn, but his conversion lies in his humanity and not his politics. He’s young and funny, and far easier to identify with. The added scenes really help as well. The best thing is that they don’t seem forced. The Scrooge we know could have really done this, and it actually adds dimension to him. He’s a real person, rather than your archetypal curmudgeon.
I am also very glad that the cast is on board with my process. Normally I’m a little more organic about my blocking, and start with a much heavier focus on the text. But because our rehearsal project is so short, I am getting it on its feet right away. I mean immediately. I have never started blocking the day of the read thru. But we need every minute. After the read thru we talked for a half hour about my artistic goals for this piece, and I went right to blocking. Of course this is low-budget, and we are dealing with a bunch of ghosts! I think the design team has thought of some creative ways to solve these challenges. But no matter what it requires a lot of quick scene changes. I will be spending a lot of time taking care of the “traffic” of the scene changes. I am going for a real fluidity in the motion. I can’t have wind, but I want it to feel like it! But honestly - so far so good. The schedule I gave the actors I call my “worst case scenario rehearsal schedule.” What is on that paper is what we MUST get through each night, or we will not necessarily be ready by opening. But last night we finished blocking all of what we were supposed to get done tonight! We are already a day ahead! I think that’s a great sign. The faster I get it on its feet the faster I can start helping to craft performances and really tell this story!
A quick thank you goes out to Stuart Williams who noticed not one, but two errors on my website (which have since been corrected); which he looked at after a great coaching session (or at least so I thought!) Come on… coach with me! Very competitive rates! $25 a session. You won’t find that anywhere in New York!
Best of luck with your agent audition today Stuart!
I saw Bernadette Peters perform last night. I can honestly say she is one of the best performers I have ever had the pleasure to see. This is not because she has the most beautiful voice in the world. Quite the contrary actually. Not to offend any of my Bernadette-freak friends out there, but sometimes what she sings sounds downright funny. (See last note in original recording of Unexpected Song from Song & Dance. I know they recorded it at a weird time and all, but I’m just proving my point. I was disappointed she didn’t sing that last night by the way.) But at 63 years old, she looks good! Really good! She performed Fever, hopped up on the piano and was incredibly sexy. Oddly enough, I think her singing is actually improving! Her soprano register sounds so much more full. I think she’s growing younger. But I think the real reason she is so good is because she’s so transparent. I mean that in the best way possible. She does what I encourage every actor to do. She lives EVERY SINGLE WORD that she sings completely and utterly. She lays back in the river of the song, doesn’t fight it, and lets every ebb do its job. She sang more ballads in one go than I have ever heard. But every one was spectacular! She even did a few songs that I’m not really that fond of, but hearing her do it changes everything. She can be laughing, and yelling, and crying, all in the same song, and even in the same line – and then its gone – effervescent. It’s nothing short of a blessing to watch.
…she’s odd though. Very quirky. She was kidding (or not…) about selling her house, then said “and this is a pretty song” and away she went. The event was for Broadway Barks. So after intermission all the dogs came in and were adorable and she sang little songs about them. I wanted to get a little friend for Sammy, but they were all a little too big, and as much as I’d love it, I can’t have another dog, just for holiday travel alone! She ended with the lullaby she wrote for her dog in the book she wrote, after Rose’s Turn of course. (I still think it’s Patty’s but she does a damn great rendition too!) And she sang for over 2 hours! It was a full show. Totally worth every penny.