Monday, November 30, 2009

Intro to Stage Management...

This is a video project I did for my friend Monica, for her first year students. I think it might be fun to do a series of these around different professions...of course, now that I'm separating myself from some of my colleagues and buddies it would be more complicated...

Anyway, so this is me..pretending to be on a 'show', and this Episode is a crash course in stage management :D


video

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Things I'll Miss

...things we say backstage, in the vans, to each other...that no one outside the company will understand.

...my new nickname 'J.O.' ...will become unneccessary. *sigh*

..Driving. Yes, drivin' in my Blue Van.

..Fun local crews.

...beautiful theatres.

..old haunted theatres.

..new awesome theatres.

...finding the little coffee shops and delicious restaurants in out-of-the-way places.

..watching audience reactions.

...all the people in the cast. Yes, all of them. Especially my Montana colleagues, my old tour buddies.

..headset chatter.

...surprisingly awesome hotels (Holiday Inn Express!)

...free food.

..the preshow music.

The tour.

At this time I don't know when I'll be touring again. Maybe 2011, who knows? This blog may go quiet for awhile, because I'm working on a different project, but I'll try to update with theatre trivia, stories, pictures, opinions and fun. I will also keep you posted on the project I'm working it.

Happy trails, have a good one... and hey, go see a show!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Home is Where the Amenities Are

Brief post today, about to leave for a morning show!

One of the fun things about tour is knowing that you'll have immediate allies when you roll into town. Some crews are better than others, of course. Some adopt you into their fold right away and you feel as if you might have known each other for ever, that you love theatre for the same reasons and you can connect on a fun, deeper level and enjoy the work even more. Those are the best days.

The other best days are when you can tell some money was dropped to make the theatre itself a comfortable place for performers to "live" and work in. Really, rolling into town to find a small, dirty, 'cold' space...not a dream come true. But rolling in to find a -maybe older, settled, but still comfortable theatre? Where the dressing rooms are thoughtfully arrayed near the stage, there are sofas and sinks and showers and carpeted floors so that offstage time is as comfortable as possible? That's a treat.

Some theatres actually have cable and wireless internet, and a comfortable, local coffee shop three blocks down. Thanks for that, Danville Kentucky!

On days like that, there's really no reason to go back to the hotel, right? I mean, if there's a place to sleep, check email, wash your face, get a cup of joe? ...that's all I ever need in a day. So that's why I say, home is where the amenities are.

Have a great Tuesday.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them



Elizabethtown, Kentucky


I want to lead off by saying that Kentucky is still one of the most beautiful states in the nation, and it doesn't seem to matter what season. In the spring it's bright green, and in the fall are autumn colors splashed everywhere, rolling mists and frosty mornings. Yesterday as we drove (early!) everything was gold and smelled like woodsmoke. For a couple of minutes, I felt like I was driving through the Flathead Valley.

We had a small but mighty audience here in Kentucky. The best crowd was last night. They loved the humor, they wept at the parts full of grief. And many of them stayed for our post-show talkback. The most poignant part of that was how many families attended the show and stayed to talk with the cast.

The first audience member to meet the cast was a tiny boy, whose father lifted him onto the stage so he could introduce himself - his name? Atticus. He shook hands with the cast and, of course, I was too slow on the draw to get a picture of this beautiful moment. Next a young girl in the balcony started to charge downstairs to ask her question when Katie said she could call from the balcony. ("How long have you been doing this?") Then the family came down to sit at the orchestra level for the rest of the talkback.

Another young girl asked if it was hard for Tom to be sad during the play, and for Atticus - "The man in the white suit" how long he had to work on his lines, and how old was the character Jem... I loved that not only did these families come to see this show together, but they remained to talk about it with the people who came to tell the story... and I hope they're still talking about it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

From Georgia

Happy Hump Day all!

Going through some serious brain re-structuring the last couple of days, mostly because I had too much time on my hands. Day off? What? There are no days off in theatre!

Anyway, just considering what I want to do with the blog, if I still want to participate in Nanowrimo (see exciting orange icon to the right), and so on. Now, before anyone who I happen to have pressured into also doing Nanowrimo gives me any grief, let me say I have 'played' and won for several years running. I know I can do a rough, clunky, awkward draft in a month. Just deciding if it's what I want to spend what's leftover over of my precious tour energy on - especially when I have a novel that desperately needs its ending rewritten so that I can submit it before the end of the year. That was my promise to myself, and time is ticking. I feel very little passion for any story that's in my head right now, except the one that's been clinging to me for years and has yet to be really completed finished - in the sense of a final draft. This may be the first year I bow out of Nano, but not because I don't want to Write. So I'll keep you posted on that.

In real theatre news, today we depart from Newnan, Georgia. It turned out to be one of those towns you never hear of until you show up, then meet with pleasant surprises. Turns out, not only does this part of Georgia have beautiful crisp fall weather complete with autumn colors, but Newnan is a charming (if quiet) town that doesn't mind dumping a little money on the Arts. I was hopeful as we drove down a winding, tree-lined avenue toward the theatre and saw that it was across the street from a members-only golf course, reminiscent of the pricey clubs back home.

Not only was the center itself beautiful, filled with art exhibits, a decent stage, clean house and a green room worthy of an episode of Masterpiece Theatre, but they treated us well. A beautiful meal and warm welcome awaited us.

It turned out that our load in crew consisted of white-collar convicts from the local prison, but hey... you can't have it all.

Happy trails.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Happy Halloween Pics

Here with my beautiful friend Lily...any Futurama fans out there?

Leather band was purchased and distressed. Metal bits found in a junk bin in the pawn shop. Gold pocket watch found at "Paul's Shop" in Cleveland, MS.


Calling the show in style!

The whole picture :D

All righty! Here are the pics of the costume. I was pretty darn happy with most of it. I still need to get detail shots of the goggles. If I'd had more time and resources, I would have made them truly functional in my usual obsessive way.

The watch is functional. :D And I "built" (as we say in theatre) both those pieces, and the broom.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Monday Mingle



Hey folks... Here's a little something different. Thanks to Lauren for the invite to mingle... It was kind of quick and I say 'uhm..' a lot..but it was fun to do and I feel all internet snazzy. Basically you get a series of questions, answer them in a mingling fashion and...then watch other people's mingles!
Sorry about not quite looking at the camera at the end, but... I'm shy ;) I also stole one of last week's questions and didn't realize it until now..but it's because I'm tired, and I refuse to cut it.

Muaha. Anyway...here's a little slice of Yours Truly.


video

Apparently, my favorite word is "interesting..."

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Ghost Story


From the deep heart of the South, the land of cotton... this past week we played two shows at the beautiful Grand Theatre in Macon, Georgia. Built in the 1800's, it was a cozy, ornate old opera house gilded with gold and statues and lion's heads, hidden doors, secret halls... and a ghost.
In 1971 the old house manager disappeared for days. One day they finally noticed his car in the parking lot, and searched every nook and cranny of the old theatre. They finally found his body up in the fourth floor, attic-level rafters of the old thunder room. A bottle of alcohol, tranquilizers and a gun sat next to his body.
Because he had laid there so long in the Georgia heat, his bodily fluids and fats had melted out of him into the floorboards of the room..so there is a stain of where he was, to this day. His name was Randall...and the only thing that makes him angry is if you say aloud that you don't believe.
This door leads to the booth...

I heard the story and had planned to take 'the ghost' tour later with everyone else. I ended up finding it on my own. The way to the booth where I call the show involved climbing three flights of a narrow, curved, tight metal staircase, creeping through old, crumbling doors and walking through disused, dusty third-balcony seating. It was so beautiful and spooky and full of history, and I noticed the stairs went one flight higher, so I climbed on up to look...
And ducked through the little rooms and passages until I found myself in the old thunder room. In the center of the room was a string of rope light that pulsed softly - from below, it lit up a series of stars pierced in the sky-painted ceiling of the house. From where I stood, it was a tangled white coil that illuminated the scene of the suicide committed so long ago. I was going to walk in and see 'the place'...but I felt as if I couldn't move.

Whether from my own superstition or fear, I felt as if a soft wall blocked me from that room. I didn't step in. I wished Randall peace, and I went back down again.

Happy Halloween.

This year's pumpkin, by yours truly.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Look

Just a brief note to point out (if you didn't notice), my snazzy new look! Thanks to Lauren ^-^ over at (Mis)Adventures for the tip...

Hurrah!

Sorry if the blog takes a little longer to load, but don'cha just love it?

I'd write but...I have to go do some theatre stuff...

Macon, GA today...

Round Up:

Weather: Beautiful and sunny (after days of rain)
Theatre: The Grand in Macon, GA
Hotel: Best Western with overly enthusiastic yet stern Front Desk Manager
Wildlife spotted: Two hawks flew over the road yesterday
Shows remaining: 17

Outlook? Pennies from Heaven..

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Down Home

The Princess Theatre in Decatur, AL - and a full house.


I realize it's been awhile since I've spoken on the importance of a good cup of coffee. Being down in the South has renewed my commitment to always having a decent cup of Joe on hand, however. It just isn't that important of a Thing, down here. I have purchased, for my tour survival, an air-tight container in which to store my grounds. Having noticed how coffee suffers under the constant humidity and temperature changes as we travel on our merry way, I think it was only common sense to buy a special container.

This week's blend: Starbucks Kitamu African blend...delicious, spicy & floral. I also make it too strong so it's POW with two whole mini packets of half & half.

But enough about coffee (okay, never enough, but enough for now)... we were speaking about the south. It has been a special treat to perform this play in Alabama. The last few years we've been through the state, I never felt anything particularly special except to notice a certain kind of obnoxious aggression in their driving. Bringing this story down here, however, has enlightened me to the true spirit of Alabama.

Even in the rain, I somehow noticed the beautiful scenery - sprawling highways flanked by autumn trees, rise of gray rocks and misty hills. Even the kudzu vine, lush with fall rain, has a certain, ominous beauty to it.

The people have received us well. It's less like Texas, where they cherish the story, and more like coming home. They appreciate us telling this tale. For a little while, we're among our neighbors. They've fed us well, treated us well, embraced us (literally) as their friends and co-conspirators in the arts and in storytelling.

It was different in Mississippi, where they (like the Texans), had a touching, heart-strings kind of connection to our American, southern tale... but Alabama has been like home.

Heck, I'll say it... it's been sweet home... Alabama.

Writing from Opelika...where - from hotel to venue to restaurant - they know you by name, and treat you like family.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

And now, back to our regularly schedule blogging


From Lafayette, LA

Back in the South, baby! There's something about being back down here that wakes up something inside me. Maybe it's all the great writers who came out of the south, or just the particularly haunting history. This deep, in the land of bayous and boudin and crawfish and music and voodoo... well, who wouldn't be inspired? I know it's a thrill for the actors to play down here. They soak up the people and land like sponges and then...squeeze it out on stage.

That's right, squeeze.

Since I've written we've been through Stillwater, OK (our first real southern stop), three cities in Texas and a drive-day over the TX-LA border. It's the people, the drawl, the deep calm and amusement and the communities. Of course they're not all tight-knit, small, sweet southern communities that are stereotypical...but the stereotypes come from somewhere. In Crockett, TX, over eight hundred people traveled in from outside the county to see our play. That's pretty darn cool. The arts are alive and well in the south.

Today's post is a little rambly, I know...think of it as a red dirt road through southern Oklahoma or a little trail through east Texas cypress trees...

Here's the story I wanted to tell, because it summed up my experience so far in the south: We have a lot of challenges in Crockett. It's a tiny space that was converted into a theatre after serving as the tractor-pull arena. We chuckle, we sneer (despite the messages of class-ism in our play), yet they bring us in, they bring in shows and people attend in droves. I went over the preshow speech with the local presenter to make sure he would mention turning off cell phones and our ban on photography.

Later I was walking ahead of him and another lady, and they were discussing 'no flash photography.' I paused and, being in Stage Manager mode, may have looked mildly obsessed and frantic, and said, "I just want to make sure you say no photography - of any kind, please."

He stopped, a solidly built, clean-cut southern gentlemen, looked me calmly in the face for a moment, and in his low drawl murmured, "Jess. It'll be all right. I'll say it, and they'll listen, or they won't."

I have been stressing ately and constantly checking myself against frustration and compulsive, paranoid checking up on other people... I think now whenever I need to pause and center I will think of that Texas man and hear that low calm voice.

It'll be all right.

Friday, October 09, 2009

P.S.... i has a twitter...

https://twitter.com/directorsays


Submissions welcome. ;) Might not be able to credit you, and all directors are anonymous. But it deserves its own page...as it were.

The Last Word on Customer Service...then back to the show



Had a beautiful "drive day" with three of the other ladies in the company a couple of days ago. Departing Pueblo, CO (quite a cool little stop, actually..awesome coffee shop and local Irish pub with amazing food and beer and - the Sangre di Cristo Arts Center. Yes, that's right..the Blood of Christ Arts...)

I digress. New paragraph. We weren't traveling via interstate that day so we couldn't utilize that amazing traveling book known as The Next Exit Handbook - more useful than a pocket on a shirt! But it only lists restaurants and such off interstate exits. So we decided that, as we were cutting through the northeast corner of New Mexico, we'd take our chances on the last town on the way out of the state, because it was in bold letters so was probably decent size, and try to find some delicious New Mexican style food.

Enter: Clayton, New Mexico. At first it struck us as many unfamiliar small towns seem too. It was drab, a little run down, "not much there." I saw a restaurant I liked the name of: The Rabbit Ear Cafe..." But it was shut down. We drove on, considering both the Grill & Steakhouse (ready to let the one vegetarian in the car fend for herself) ..or the questionable Burrito Wagon parked in front of the local bank.. but we drove on! Confident in our choice of town, and craving Spanish rice and red & green sauce.

Then I saw...A new, brightly painted sign, peach colored walls and the name that read: The Rabbit Ear Cafe. It wasn't closed, just relocated to newer, bigger, prettier building! We saw cowboys out front with working, saddled horses in their trailers, families and old couples. It was packed - probably a good choice.

And it was. Not only was the food delicious, there was local art on the walls (some by the Crafts hour at the local penitentiary, some by more legit artists - beautiful works of metal), but the people were awesome. Enter Erma, our 5'5", stocky, middle aged waitress with no-nonsense, wiry brown and gray hair, a big smile and a fading yellow t-shirt with two suckers on it that read, "Sugar Daddy. Who's Your Daddy?"

As we were settling the tab at our table, an older couple entered to sit down at a table near us. I noticed them because they were a handsome couple, distinguished, and sweet. The man pulled out the lady's chair before he sat. A few minutes later he stood up and came to our table. He introduced himself as the pastor of the local Baptist church, asked about our travels and complimented Ramona (our Calpurnia) on her hat. ("Oh, that's Your van outside!") It was a beautiful, brief moment of human contact. I love those exchanges. He saw a few strangers and took some time to give of his kindness and energy. If I was in the South I would say it was, all in all, a very Christian thing to do.

Erma then directed us to the local coffee shop, a perfectly square little brick building on the other edge of town (half a mile away). I thought it had closed because of the hours posted and the door not opening when I tried the knob... But a woman came running out to catch us. Delicious coffee, more kind words. I remember the couple. She may have been of Native American descent, with nut-brown skin and black, black hair. The man struck me the same way, dark tan, dark eyes. I hope they had children together. They had the little place stuffed with beautiful, rough wood furniture, polished to varying dark stains. It was all made of reclaimed barn wood and I probably would've bought a table set if I had any place to put it.

Sometimes random stops aren't so lucky and fun and poignant. Sometimes it's easier to find the local Subway, grab a sandwich and run. It's really a gamble, and a bad day can make a grumpy van-full of people (with good stories later), but not a good experience in their hearts.
So we made a good choice to stop in Clayton, a little town with one amazing restaurant, one firecracker waitress, a kind and handsome pastor and his wife, and a beautiful couple at the coffee shop full of art and furniture.

And then we drove on.

Mantis from Logan, UT says,
"The world can't help but be a piece of art.
It's just up to you to adjust the composition so everyone can see it."

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Word on Customer Service


I consider theatre to be not only an art, but also a convoluted form of customer service. After all, without the audience, aren't we performing in a void? And by performing in a void, I mean just playing pretend. Without someone to watch you, you're just walking around like a crazy person. Once you have an audience, you are officially telling a story.

There's so much that goes into that these days. I sometimes long for the theatre of ancient Greece - although even then I'm sure the actors got a note if the audience couldn't hear. Now we play in all sorts of different spaces, with good or rotten sound, good or rotten sight lines, good or rotten audiences. And sometimes, a good or rotten show. Yet every night we put it out there; the story that is our product - and hope that the audience, who has already bought it, enjoys it.

I consider my particular job a bigger form of customer service because I'm always "on" for the company, for the local crew, for the audience members who complain, and for the house managers and so forth.

Last night a charming gentleman charged his way backstage by claiming he had a "press pass," something I hadn't been warned about, and made straight for the Equity dressing rooms. I intercepted him and politely guided him to the green room to wait for an actor who was willing to do a last-minute interview. Because the man was so taken with the show and writes for a local paper, it was especially important that he be treated well and not kicked out or berated for coming backstage to speak with half-naked actors - especially when that is the norm for the space. He was also extremely polite and kind. So not only are we artists "selling" our product, we are also guests in the space and must be bendable to its rules.

I was happy with how everyone handled the situation, and proud that we were all "on" for this local man, who promises to write a wonderful review.

Because I try to put out the effort to be professional, friendly and - well, nice, I wanted to tell a couple of stories of people who, in the last couple of days, put in no such effort at all. These are the first impressions in the world I had of these people, and how I will remember them, when I think of them at all. It made me make note to myself to consider carefully how I want to be remembered when I leave a place. So here they are:

...The local crewman whose first words to us were to happily tell of a time in Texas when he got out his pellet gun and killed five mockingbirds because there were "so many."

...The same crewman who told nominally funny, dirty jokes to our female crew at the end of load out. Out of our working brand of politeness, he even got a couple of courtesy laughs.

...The hotel manager who felt it was okay to discipline her staff in front of customers in the lobby. Situation: I was eating my breakfast and this woman was having a lengthy conversation with the front desk attendant about the state of Clutter behind the desk. The important issue escalated into raised voices and hurt feelings. I felt as if I was watching a badly written reality TV show... Hotels: Check Out!

I wonder if the woman realizes that people are generally less concerned with clutter behind the front desk as they are with awkwardly overhearing management berating their employees (and all because "clutter" is below this hotel's standard). I told this to other company members and they all had little stories of their own in a similar vein.

I actually found it amusing. The front desk situation, that is. The crewman in question from last night just left a bad feeling in my belly. Certainly he comes from a different background, but for your first funny story to crew of To Kill a Mockingbird be about killing mockingbirds...?

In other words:

If indeed you must be candid, be candid beautifully. -Kahlil Gibgran

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Previously, on This Theatre Life...

Happy, happy October!

Here's a beeline brush through our stops...

Logan, UT

We love Logan! Anyone who has been there and remembers it will be smiling. We played the beautiful Ellen Eccles theatre, which converts to an opera festival in the summer. What an incredible drive. I wish the Rep could continue a tradition of holding a national tour in the autumn. As we meandered over winding roads around mountains, massive bluffs and valleys and sparkling blue rivers against bright yellow birch trees...I filled with a completely different energy than I have in summer.

The town welcomed us warmly. The crew was laid back, fun, witty and friendly. I love venues where we click immediately and it's like working with old friends. We get a lot of those crews "out West" because we just get each other. So despite the 3.2 alcohol percentage..it's still a good time.

I visited some haunts - the Blue Bird cafe for icecream, the Persian Peacock boutique for some *aheM* fun feminine unmentionables, and Cafe Ibis for funky and delicious coffee. Also went hiking up in the Cache national forest to the glorious Wind Caves. Pictures on Facebook! All in all an amazing stop...

Park City, UT

Honestly the highlight of Park City for me was finding the candy shop where my sister worked when she lived in the town several years ago. I bought some of her favorite treats and sent them off...

The theatre was housed in the local highschool, but it was a huge, professional-grade operation. More awe-inspiring scenery.. hillsides splashed in red and gold against stark gray rock. What a perfect time of year to be driving through the country. It was still Indian Summer, then we drove on to...

Aspen, CO

The second of our glamorous tourist-town stops. Our welcome in Park City had been quiet but intent. It was very odd for the actors to play to a disturbingly quiet, "polite" audience. In Aspen, however, not only were we housed in a beautiful chalet with a swimming pool hot tub, sauna, steam room and free hot breakfast - all a thirty second walk from cutesy Down Town... the welcome was warm.

A local writer's organization sponsored the show as part of their Big Read celebration, and so the response was grand. I had been expecting something more like Avon, CO...a small crowd, polite golf-clap type responses. But not so in sunny Aspen. They laughed, they wept...hands shot right up at the post-show discussion and the writers asked such fun questions as "Do you ever Dream about the show?"

Finally, I write from.... Fort Collins, CO!

Again, anyone who's been here will know how much the company anticipated this stop. With something for everyone (food, shopping, coffee, breweries..wine, music..), it's practically like a working vacation. We had a great first performance, and two relatively successful school shows on Wednesday morning.

The weather has been amazing. Tuesday we were all still wearing shorts, sundresses and tank tops. Wednesday after the noon show, dark clouds and a cool front blew in, scattering leaves and hats and hairdos all over town. It never quit blowing and today, the First of October, I feel it is officially autumn. So with a burgeoning feeling of content happiness, I offer good wishes from Fort Collins, and this vision from a much better wordsmith than I...Here's to good harvests in all your endeavors.


October by Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst

Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost--
For the grapes' sake along the all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Synthesis



Today I write from Twin Falls, ID, a surprising town tucked away in a "magic" valley. We crossed a bridge to get here, over what could have been the Grand Canyon's beautiful, green little sister. Expecting to see the great Snake River below, we peered out the van windows and saw - a golf course, sprawled along the bottom of the canyon. Oh, the river was there too. Still it was green, and green is beautiful.

We also welcomed Mikel, our first and regular Atticus, back into the fold yesterday. I'm not sure why I was expecting a rougher time than we had when he rejoined us. We ran the show once before go time last night, and he stepped right back into Maycomb as if he'd never left. Again, I don't know what I was expecting. There is still a little gel-ing work to be done with his rhythms and the new people..for the few minutes I felt as if I was watching a cutout of Mikel walking around onstage; it seemed so odd to see him again without having had the re-familiarization that the rest of the cast got... but if you'd never seen Kelly onstage, you wouldn't know the difference. Twin Falls certainly didn't.

That is, we had an excellent response in this city. People took in the story with open arms and hopped to their feet at the end to cheer.

So cheers again to the consummate professionals...it certainly makes my job easier.

Note to anyone else: Run everything. Of a flawless show, certain call was the one thing I was confident we didn't need to run and, of course, the only hiccup. Ah well.

We need the occasional bumps to appreciate the smoothness.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Moment



One of my favorite parts about being a stage manager is getting to see how the audience reacts to a show. I watch, I enjoy, I analyze. I'm slowly figuring out how you can tell whether an audience (or even just one person) is with you, and will stay with you through the rest of the show. There's a few things that can happen right away to let you know they're on board:

They laugh...
They cry (sometimes in the first moments)..
They lean forward..
They look at the person next to them (More on that another day).

And my personal favorite...the moment of identification. Oh dear, that sounds like something from a psychology class. So I'll call it the moment of Breath. It's that sound you hear when someone sees something they know, something they recognize or have experienced, when they see something True. It's that, 'Hmh' sound, a soft release of the breath and throat. Sometimes it's louder, almost a laugh. Sometimes it's softer or so profoundly felt you can almost hear them say 'amen.'

It's when an audience member sees a child run across stage and catch a football and release that soft breath as they think, 'I know that child. I was that child. I Have that child...I know these people and this story. Tell me more.'

When someone reads or sees or hears something deep, meaningful or just simple yet universal, you hear that moment of breath - the moment of Agreement. It happens in plays too, and I know the audience has stepped on board for the rest of the journey. Even if they aren't loud, weeping or laughing, they have joined the story because in it, they see themselves.

Happy Monday...hope you see something beautiful and true today.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Be it Ever so Humble



It has truly been strange to tour to Whitefish, my home town. As I drove from Missoula to home, I couldn't shake the feeling that everything felt off. Not in a bad way, but definitely off. For me, driving to Whitefish always means some time off, or that it's summer. Now, it's hot, hospitable autumn and I've headed home...to work.

For everyone else, tour has begun, but I'm sitting at home typing this quickie, while they coordinate vans up on Big Mountain and set out looking for dinner. I had a tuna melt from the toaster in my parent's kitchen. So it's an odd feeling, but the most immeasurable part of it is how proud I am. Like my mom, I believe in 'riding for the brand.' I got my education in Montana, I love the University despite whatever flaws it has and I'm so happy to be giving my work back to Montana. I have strong, good memories of my experience, my friends and professors there.

I also have strong feelings and a love for my home. So to be able to bring my work and home together fills me with pride. To say, 'Hey, this is what I've been doing with my winters for the past six years.' What do you think? It's so exciting to look out and see dozens of familiar faces sharing in what I do...and then to turn around to the company and say, 'See? This is where I come from...'

I've never realized how important that kind of feeling is. So actually, even though I'm home I suppose my tour has begun. So there really is no place like home - even if it's the beginning, rather than the end, of the journey.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bona Fide Professional


All right...so the plan to keep writing is to keep these posts shorter, more focused and hopefully still somewhat interesting and meaningful.


With that in mind, today's story involves our interim Atticus. I sometimes avoid using names of people on this blog (not that many people read now), but it is a small world and not all stories are flattering.

But Kelly Boulware is one of the finest professionals I've ever seen. When our Atticus from last spring made a deal with the director to be allowed to miss the first four performances as well as the brush-up rehearsal period, they hired another man to replace him for that time period. Kelly has dived into an already-formed production with cast members who've done over a hundred performances together. He had a week to slap together one of the most iconic and beloved characters in the English language - and he's fighting for it like a warrior. He came in nearly off book (some paraphrasing here and there), and though I was skeptical (read: terrified), I feel good now. The shows will be good.

This isn't a writing just to rest laurels on an actor, though. Moreso I want to say how inspiring it is to see someone working so hard and full of heart in his craft. With so many people counting on him as an axis point of the show, he's done the work with diligence, good will and humor.

So whatever that project or job or challenge is, I say go ahead and have faith in your powers and do it. If the experience, willingness and work is in you, do it.

And that's today's sermon.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It begins...

The circle.

Week one of rehearsals for the remount of To Kill a Mockingbird... check.

We have...

A. A new Calpurnia.
B. A New Gilmer
C. A new Atticus
D. Only three rehearsals left before we 'open.'
E. All of the above.


If you selected 'E', you are correct.

So we have many adventures... more soon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Vagabonds

As we wrap up our travels around the state of Texas, a couple of things stick with me. The first is to realize that I haven't really spent a winter in Montana for six years. I have a wonderful yearly migration that takes me to the warm south, when Montana is still getting frost and freak snowstorms. So thank you, Texas, for being warm -

..except for those three days of rain. But, no matter. They did need it.

Two stops will stick in my mind most from our meandering in the Lone Star State. I think this is the most time we've ever spent here...

Lufkin

The last time I was in Lufkin, TX, was on the Trip to Bountiful tour. The theatre sponsors leave personalized gift bags in everyone's hotel rooms, greet us like old friends and generally show us a good bout of southern hospitality. This was the first stop where we experienced some pure sunshine and heat. Most of the gals broke out their sundresses, we had a cookout behind the theatre and some even braved the swimming pool.


The evening before our shows almost everyone gathered onto the outdoor balcony of the hotel (exterior entry doors were never so comfy), played guitar, drank and performed some gymnastics in the grass lawn across the parking lot.

The second day we performed the one hour version, then an evening performance of the full show. On the third day we had two one hour shows, then load out, then leave town - so we had to check out of the hotel. There is a kind of fun, half exhilarating feeling having nowhere to go - that is, no hotel room, no house. It sounds bizarre but there's something exciting in just having the venue and the vans. It really brings to mind an old, old kind of traveling theatre group where everything was mobile and home was really where you laid your head. (Granted, it's fun because we're safe, have money and know we'll be moving on to another hotel, but still..)

When you can curl up and nap backstage or in the vans, there's a kind of vagabond feeling of freedom. On the road in this way, home is where the company is... or the show.


Galveston

One of my favorite stops (city-wise, at least), has always been Galveston, TX. I have fond memories of an unforgettable skinny-dive into the Gulf on the Steel Magnolias tour, as well as deep sea fishing, eating the best oysters ever, and performing in one of the most beautiful old opera houses in the country.

This year, the damage hurricane Ike wrought on the city broke my heart. In 2005 our comapny traveled through Florida and saw the devastation of Katrina, but there was something even more cutting about walking down the street from the Grand in Galveston and realizing that the windows of my favorite coffee shop were boarded up. The Oyster House. The antique store. Everything, washed over and wrecked.

The theatre itself suffered eight feet of water that destroyed the underground dressing rooms, the stage, and the first five rows of seating in the house. That was in September, 2008. They made a vow to reopen by their birthday in January - and they did. Nothing had to be perfect, just open.

When we arrived they had replaced the stage floor, and had a temporary surface of black MDF down over it, replaced the rows of seating with beautiful new pine wood floors and seats with velvet cushions and polished wooden arms. The dressing rooms below are all still bare dry walls, but they're there, up and functioning.

There are many reports and writings out that you can judge or measure a civilization, community or culture by their artistic achievements. The basic Table of Needs that you learn about in psychology 101 states that you cannot think about higher purposes before basic needs are taken care of.

I'm sure that's true. I'm also sure - by seeing the efforts of the Grand staff to get their doors open and their curtain up - that art, like religion, might very well be a basic human need. It feeds something in us. I applaud the people of Galveston and the Grand Opera house for seeing that and doing everything they could not only to save and nurture a precious historical place, but looking out for the soul of the city by saving and nurturing its art.

Bravo.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Marathon, and Looks Like Rain

A very happy Monday to everyone!
Why am I so cheerful? Not only did we have yesterday off - the first day off after a ten-day stretch through Iowa, Kansas and parts of Texas - we also had this morning off. Today at noon we're headed off to Lufkin, TX. The last ten days have been a proving ground for the company, and I think everyone got through with flying colors...
Almost everyone, anyway.

Speaking for myself, I'm abnormally short-tempered lately. Or maybe it's not abnormal - I actually think I'm getting more short-tempered as time goes on. To be perfectly frank (because I strive to be diplomatic and think twice before 'speaking' in this blog at all times, in the interests of my professional career...) I'm coming up on the need for a break. This isn't something I wouldn't say to anyone's face (and have said it a lot actually)...

It's funny because it isn't the show itself, which I love watching and studying every night. I love examining the effect on the audience, the reactions, and the work of the actors themselves. There's just something in being a leader/provider that is becoming wearying. I think part of it has to do with the summer and having served a demanding cast in the final show, and some of it with having toured several years in a row and expecting everyone else to know what's going on, when in fact they should have no reason to, and training others is part of the job description. There's a big part of me that loves teaching and loves watching newbies absorb the fun, the wonder and challenge of tour.

So what happened that all of a sudden I'm irritable? An attitude problem most likely, or just weariness. I'm not sure what it speaks to, in the end, but I constantly have to catch myself (or fail to) from giving a brusque answer...I don't like it about myself at all.

That said, even as I sort out my inner tangles, the tour is going well. Our TD warned everyone of the onset of Stage 3 in a company meeting a few days ago, the stage in which everyone gets short and irritable. Several of the company members have approached me after and asked if people really seemed that grumpy, and I realized that the answer was no - it was really just those of us who have toured before. Worse, it was mostly just those of us in management and some others about non-show issues. So I commend our younger company for their attitudes and work ethic. They got through a ten-day stretch of intense work without complaint. Now if the rest of us can absorb their energy we'll be set.

Looks Like Rain

At the moment we're in warm - dare I say hot, sunny Texas, and the humidity is soothing our cough-and-cold weary lungs, the sun is drenching us in spirit-lifting Vitamin D and the cast is at last absorbing the spirit of the South from which the heart of their characters springs. Not a bad week, all in all. It was beautiful to see the first night we performed in a town in Arkansas and the cast was transformed by hearing the dialect and tasting the local flavor.

Now, there's something else on my mind that isn't necessarily to do with the show, but is inspired by it.

I wrote in my personal journal that I've never been so aware of being the Outsider as on this tour. Maybe because of my broader experience? The themes of the show? The fact that two of our cast members were arrested in Iowa and the police officers may or may not have been affected by racism? There are so many little nuances drifting in and out of my awareness on this tour, but I look around less with my rose-colored opinions, really look at the smaller towns and the people. I've always felt welcomed and unique and maybe a little oddball, but never unwelcome...

Now sometimes I notice a sideways look or a frown. I'm more aware of when we sweep in and take over the bar that not everyone is amused by the big and broad personalities I have come to love. It's a discomforting thing to become more aware of, in so many ways.

I don't think anyone is wrong - some are just set in their ways, and seeing a flock of twenty actors come bursting into a small town restaurant has interesting effects on people, and not always good. Now I watch the wild and crazy times with concern and a more matronly eye. I watch the expressions of the locals to see if they find us amusing - or irritating, or in some cases threatening. I watch reluctance of some company members to go certain places for business for worry we'll be cheated, or frowned at, and I've never thought much about these things before. I think that either means I'm sheltered, or just too optimistic. I've never felt this way before.

Part of me would rather seek the best and most accepting part of people. If you walk right up to someone with a smile and shake their hand and assume that they'll accept you at least with courtesy, most of the time they do. If you close yourself off before the exchange even starts, make negative assumptions and live in suspicion - I think a lot of times that's what you'll get.

But that's just me, and my own situation. I haven't had to deal with racism or class-ism or anything else really, not much, in my own life. I'm more aware of it now but I think the conclusion I'm coming to is fairly easy - it's the very theme of the play, in fact. Everyone deserves the basic right of respect as a fellow human being. You can't expect people to take you as you are while secretly thinking of them as un-cultured, ignorant crackers, or expect respect and honesty when you yourself hold back. There's a sense in us that's primal, I think, a kind of light that either turns on in you when you interact with another human being - or doesn't. And if your light doesn't shine for them, theirs certainly won't shine for you, and you both close off to each other.

Obviously this play is taking my mind into interesting places. I don't think I'm finding out anything about buried prejudices in my heart, except that of hoping that people are really good at heart (as Anne Frank wrote); except assuming someone is good until they are proven evil, or ignorant, or whatever else. Then you can dismiss them and shut them out of your life and awareness - which I think is better than giving them your energy in anger or in vengeance.

Maybe I'm ignorant of the ignorance and injustice in the world, and I would rather not look at it - but the things you look at are the things you see, in the end. I choose to look toward the light and hopefully shine a little of my own.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Reasons Why

I’m proud to report that I will have a small article in the upcoming issue of the Equity Newsletter. One of our actresses (Kathy C.) arranged for a couple of us each to write an article from the road, giving some viewpoint about tour, or the show. That said, I’ll expand here on the broad theme that I addressed briefly in that article: My feelings on tour and why I do it; a stage manager’s perspective.

It seems like that’s what the whole blog is about lately, doesn’t it? That’s only because right now I’m on tour, and it’s all-consuming. Any theatre process is, if you can admit it. It really is. Not only are you creating a whole other world over the process of a few weeks and months, but you also have to maintain the world you live in. That takes a lot of creative and emotional power. A lot. So why do it, month after month?

In my little article I mention the joy of audience reaction. I’ve written a lot about that here, too. In only a slightly more mature way, it’s the same kind of satisfying feeling I would get when, as a child, Mom or Dad would put up my drawings on the fridge. It’s saying to the world, “Look what we did! Look what we’ve made. Come into our world. Come hear our story.” And I get to see the audience enjoy what I enjoyed the first time I saw (and still do). There’s an instant rush of success and joy when one thousand people laugh, gasp or weep.

There is that. On tour you get so many audiences, of all incomes, ages, races and whatever else, all human beings coming together to watch another human story – and in it, find a little piece of themselves. That’s what it really comes down to.

There is also the daily satisfaction of the challenge and success of putting up the set and show in a new place. The most powerful force in the creative world is not inspiration, heart, money or anything else: It is a deadline. (Look up an author named Chris Baty if you want to hear more about that). We have a nightly deadline of a 7:30 or 8:00 curtain, the occasional matinee. The show must go on! There’s no walking into a space and saying, “No, it can’t be done today.” It’s never ‘if’, it’s always ‘how.’ That’s invigorating. Part of me understands how newspaper folks must feel, meeting their deadline. It’s your daily supplement of accomplishment. I think we need that as human beings in order to thrive. So not only do we perform challenging creative work, but we get applauded for it – literally – every time.

So there’s that.

There’s also the traveling itself. How many jobs can you find that pay you to travel? Granted, there aren’t many days we get a chance to step out and sight-see, but we get a delicious sampling of the country so later we can say, “Oh yes, I love Georgia in April,” or, “Oh, I love Memphis.” Or at the very least, discover some place you’d want to go back to. Or as I’ve done, you can look forward every year to seeing spring in the northeast and driving from town to town through Appalachia in the early morning hours.

Why else would anyone tour? There’s still a little romance in being a traveling, performing band. Even with all the dangers that still exist with being the Outsider in a small town (we’ve run into that already on this tour), there’s a mystique to pulling into town, throwing up the show and saying We are here… and then moving on. I believe powerfully that if we touch one heart or alter one viewpoint with one performance, our work is done.

As of now we’ve performed for over fifteen thousand people in four different states. With three months and a whole lot of cities to go, I’d say our odds are pretty good. Those aren’t all the reasons, but those are a few. Tour isn’t for everyone, but it clicks with some people. It clicked with me, and maybe that’s the only reason I need. For some people it doesn’t matter the show, the itinerary or the mode of travel; they’ll just never find a good reason to enjoy tour.

For other kinds of people... well, you've already heard it. The reasons go on and on.

Coming up, some newsletters about cities we've performed in, fun audiences, some not-so-fun experiences...stay tuned. I promise I'll be here!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thespians Do it Live

Synergy
1. The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.

Does anyone know what the opposite of synergy is? Or rather, when a single element is slightly spun so the others get thrown out of whack? That happens, from time to time, when you deal with intricately sequenced events on the stage.

We come to theatre to see human stories (or whatever) presented live. It's almost like an action sport - we want it to go right...but we don't. We don't want anyone to get hurt. But I think there's part of us that likes to see something go wrong. Not even in a schadenfreude way, but in that way that somehow...connects us. We root for the actors (hopefully). We want to see someone handle something unexpected with poise and cleverness.

We want to see the show go on.

So the little mishaps I've seen so far this week - a fallen prop-purse leading to a number of Ricola drops spilling out onto stage leading to a flustered actress still managing to make a graceful and comical exit... and last night, a jumped sound cue leading to a jumped light cue to a jumped entrance - it's something that throws us all. It's that split second decision in the moment of the unexpected that really defines live theatre, and the people who do it.

Let me explain:
One moment in Mockingbird calls for a car sound effect, which leads into seeing "headlights" upstage, then headlights pointing onstage, which leads to the entrance of a mob, and the rest of a scene.

The sound cue came early. It was too late to take the cue back and pretend it hadn't happened, so I opted to take the headlight cue early. Our intrepid crew backstage jumped onto the headlight aparatus, swung it appropriately - and the actors awaiting their entrance saw their cue leaping forward early and took their entrance. Unfortunately one of the mob was working stage right and because of the jumped cue, she couldn't make her entrance, so the mob was one short. It was a moment of ack! for all those involved, and probably looked off, or felt off a little. But because everyone was on top of things, the audience probably didn't know any better. I've had sequences go worse, when someone makes a mistake.

That's live theatre. We come to see real people sweating real sweat, crying real tears, and sometimes making real mistakes. I've seen walls fall over and actors continue on so smoothly that the audience believed it was part of the action. I've seen actors carry on with injuries, or through botched scene changes, missing sound cues, jumped dialogue, wardrobe malfunctions and unruly audience members with a quickness of wit and skill at which the mind boggles. I think we like to see that because it links us together. We like to root for someone. We like to see someone handle an unexpected, real problem and continue gracefully on with some brilliant improvisational solution.

And why not? After all, isn't real life just one big improv, too?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday Matinee - Quote of the Day!

Okay, I'm a little guilt-ridden for not posting for a couple of days, so here's a few more in the Quote of the Day series:

How do you block a scene when you're on a postage stamp? -GJ

How was our butt-blocking? -Heather S. (Dill)
Better. -GJ

Bobby and Jim - behave yourselves, because you should know you can be replaced by cardboard cutouts. -GJ

But I don't want to be useless like Jackson. -Jim S.

(At the bar) She's thrown me more lines than a Russian fisherman. -Mikel "Atticus" MacDonald

My Family

This post will probably be a little kumbaya. Those who have toured may or may not feel a warm little glow. (You've been warned).

We opened this weekend to a full house - hallelujah! What a gratifying night. It felt surreal, and not in the way that most opening nights do. At least in my world, opening night is a mad dash to the finish line (or maybe just with certain shows), and opening night is such a relief that it's like that final stretch of a long run and then the gasping, exhilarating rush of endorphins afterward. I compare it to sports, but there's really nothing like it because it's all that - spiritually. And there's nothing like a spiritual endorphin rush. Some people get it from running.

Some people get it ...a little at a time. Seeing people come out in costume. Watching the audience go quiet when the lights dim. I get it, a little, when I hear the first big laugh. No - when the lights come up. And those are my friends and family down there (from where I sit, in the booth), no matter how I feel about them on a given day. My team. I get a little rush when I know the audience thinks something is beautiful - or sad. A lot of the times I'm surprised (as I was this Saturday) by laughter. Then I remember the first time I saw it in rehearsal, and I laughed too. After I watched it again and again it grew old (sorry, but it did), whatever the moment was. Then the audience makes it new - like taking a friend around your own town. You see the buildings and the quirky people and majestic scenery all new.

A little rush.

We had a big party after opening and everyone wore red! A swirl of champagne, wine, flashing cameras and the occasional spin on the dance floor. You have to have that in some form on an opening night. I can see how many people in the arts slip toward excess (but that's not what this post is about). Because the rush from the show is pleasurable, but it doesn't take away the nerves and the stress from before. It transforms it into something else - something that needs just as much to be sloughed off and let go of (like any high?)

So we dance and drink and then sleep most of the next sunny morning away. But I walked down the hallway in the hotel room and I realized how many of the rooms in the hotel were ours. I could have knocked on any door and seen a friendly face - my family.

There's a little something special about tour, that feeling of knowing your people, your family are all tucked safe away, and you know where they are - and the next day you're all going to head out and do that beautiful show again.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Evening Edition Quote of the Day...

...because some of the moments in Q to Q were priceless.

That's the best thunder I've ever gotten from a sound man in my life. -Greg Johnson

Become small again, then run. -GJ

Bobby and Ewell - there's got to be that moment of penetration. -GJ

Marie is the cutest ham ever. -Dan the Man

......yeah. That's right. Penetration.

Sacred Space

I recall an incident one production (no names) when the young woman handling wardrobe duties was so frustrated with actor attitudes and their treatment of her that she was near to the breaking point. This was one of the most loving, energetic people I know. She found herself grumbling and muttering as she prepared costumes before a show, over one actor's items in particular. After a moment of this, she stopped herself. When she told me the story she said, "I realized I was just filling the room with negative energy."

She took a few deep breaths, dug down and found her love again. With special care she laid the costumes out, sending good energy as she deodorized shoes and arranged makeup tables. She didn't say anything to anyone about it except for me, the next day. Later that same day when the actors were preparing, the one in particular who was frustrating her with his lack of courtesy stopped her, and thanked her for her work. The good energy she sent out came back to her.

We all strive to put on a professional face at work and be courteous no matter our mood. (Sometimes we try harder to be kind to our co-workers than to our dearest friends and beloved family - remember that, too). Sometimes, though, the frustration, anxiety or just plain personal irritations can really get to us. I know it gets to me. It's only natural, working so closely. Be wary of becoming jaded, though. There's no point being in the arts if you aren't doing it out of love. There are plenty of professions that pay more.
I know, sometimes you just have a bad day.

But, as actors must leave behind troubling characters on the stage when they go home, so too, I think, we should leave our negative energies off the stage when we return to work. Project good energy. Even - perhaps especially when you are frustrated with someone, think well of them. Wish them luck on stage, in the booth, in the dressing room, even if it's only inside your head and heart. When you step into your job, try to be of good cheer, even if it's pretend for awhile. It will always come back to you, and the shows will be better for it. We may be frustrated as people with other people or job duties or just having a bad day - but deep down, none of us wants the other to fail.

We're all sailing the same ship. Fill the sails with good will.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Special Sunday Quote of the Day Edition

More jewels from rehearsal. I haven't been tracking quotes off the clock, but I definitely should begin.

"Go ahead and keep trying things...I'll just shoot them down." -Greg Johnson

"This is the walk of the boy who's invisible." -GJ

"This is like sheriff training - you never go directly to a rabid dog." -GJ

"I never touch the ham." -Mikel "Atticus" Macdonald

And on a more serious note, Greg quoting someone else, whose name I did not write down: "Nothing is as good for the heart, the mind and the soul as a ceremony well performed."

Amen.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Now, say it like you're sad.

Now that we've ditched 'the books', as they sometimes say - that is, the actors have gotten scripts out of their hands, and are solid on their lines, I've been mesmerized by the acting process in this show. Maybe because I'm trying to become more aware of artistic process in general, I'm not sure.

The whole idea of 'motivation' especially, is fascinating to me, in the sense that it completely changes a person's expression, quality of voice, posture and so on. I know it sounds obvious, but the more I consciously observe and even write about this profession, the more I appreciate it.

There are basic ideas. 'Now do it like you're happy. Now Sad. Now angry - go.' Louder, faster, funnier. 'Now, do it as if you're in love with this person.' 'Now, do it as if you had alcoholic parents and nothing you ever did was good enough.' And they can do it, and I'm amazed. I'm completely impressed by the acting I've seen in this show so far. There's always more digging to do, but as far as taking direction, making choices, displaying emotions... it's all there to read.

We all used to play pretend, right? It's just a more sophisticated form of that. Pretending, motivation, assumption. We used to forewarn and direct each other (at least, my sister and friends and I did): "Okay, now you'll steal our things, and then we'll get mad, okay?" Young directors in the making?

To watch someone completely change the way they've been playing a scene in moments (sometimes seconds) without much time to ponder - it's beautiful, it's impressive. I've seen it several instances during this rehearsal process, and there's something to relish in it, like watching a painter bring an image together, or paint over, or do something completely surprising that makes absolute sense, in the end. (In a more metaphysical sense it makes me think...if we can play imaginary people and make up what they're feeling, every second, and why they say what they say - doesn't that show how much control we actually have over ourselves and our lives?)

But we're speaking of acting, now. I commend you all. To study the scope of human experience and emotion and then portray it - what an enormous task. It begins small, though. People often ask writers such questions as: Since you're a man, do you find it difficult to write women? Or vice versa. Children. The elderly. But saying that, you immediately separate yourself from the rest of humankind. You have only to draw on your own understanding of human emotion, the experience of a particular person or character, and some empathy. It's simple . It really is simple - though it might not be easy, until you wrap your mind around it.

There are technical details to consider, details that take training, talent and intelligence. But the base of it lies in human experience, doesn't it? Just knowing how to be happy, and look happy, or sad, or angry. We all do that a lot. So - why not now? When you're done reading this, go enjoy the daylights out of the rest of your experience today.

Even if it's a hard day... just do it like you're happy. Go.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Props: Not for the Faint of Heart

I find myself repeating a lot of themes, oddly enough. I'm almost certain I've written about props before. But they just keep popping up.

I feel the need to reiterate how odd our work is sometimes. I think good properties masters should be up for Tony awards too. (Maybe they are? Or is it all lumped under Production Design?) Either way, it's fascinating to me how long it takes to recreate almost any everyday, normal action onstage so that it looks real. A few examples:

Getting dressed in the morning.
Cleaning a room.
Making a meal.
Pouring a drink.
Sitting down.
Standing up.
Using office supplies.

The list goes on and on. It seems like a strange bunch of things to pick on, but if you really stop to think about how long it takes to figure out exactly how to choreograph almost anything onstage, it just points again to the bizarre nature of the business. So not only are we trying to make movements look realistic yet 'clean,' but then we have to make it look clean when people use objects. And sometimes, a moment will curl into a thorn that sticks in a director's side until opening.

Take - oh, I don't know...gardening, as an example. There tends to be one moment, item or action that a director will fixate on in any given production that has very little to do with the overall majesty and story of the play. Yet it becomes a bone to gnaw on. A thorn. In this production it is a set of three small, potted geraniums, which one actress must transfer to different pots and set those pots upstage, during approximately two minutes of dialogue. Later in the play they're replaced with different pots and bigger flowers, so they'll seem to have grown.

Nothing to do with the story. But the moment has an edge held to it now, an importance in the director's mind, because it has not yet been done right; the props are wrong, the action isn't accomplished quite as he envisions, or any other reason. An unimportant moment, a tiny detail in a huge play, on an enormous, towering set. Three little geraniums.

I suppose there will be those audience members who come more than once, who might notice that the flowers grow and blossom from act one to act two. Some writers do the same thing in their books and call it a 'cookie'; a special treat for the observant. I suppose there will be at least one man or woman, each night, who sees Miss Maudie potting those flowers and think of their own gardening and identify with her. It does tell us it's early summer. It does put flesh on the bones of the world. I suppose, in the end, if it didn't look just right - well, it would look fake. And the moment something looks fake is the moment Mr. and Mrs. Audience remember they're watching a play. In that moment, they're no longer watching Scout and Miss Maudie; they're watching two people playing pretend. In that moment, we fail.

How apt it seems in some moments to pause, take a breath, and remember that if we want to tell the story we must truly hold, as 'twere the mirror up to nature...when it comes to details like that.

...I guess it's not unimportant, after all.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another Brick in the Wall

A quickie tonight...my thoughts aren't centered. This show is coming together really well. Knock on wood as you read this.

Thanks. Now we can move on. Last year's show was quite difficult. To put together, and to watch as they put it together. Tennessee Williams makes me tense, and his plays make it difficult for companies to get along. I'm not saying he isn't a great playwright - he's so good his work seeps into real life. Not only that, but chemistry clashes (or lack of chemistry) can make the flow of doing and watching a play less of a fun, wild ride and more of a sprint through heavy traffic, hoping you can make it through without getting run over. That's how last year's show felt to me.

I'm not sure what magical components have pooled into the theatre to mold this show toward what it's forming into, but there are a number of them:

  • A director who has done the show before
  • Several actors who have done the show before, with this director, with this company
  • A wonderful, moving play that lends itself to clean, bright storytelling
  • A dynamic, energetic and willing, cheerfully professional and hardworking cast (and crew)
...a lot of elements. Sometimes things don't work out like that. I think, like any other strange and beautiful phenomenon on this earth, if just one star or particle had been out of place for this production it would have been a very different experience. That seems obvious, but the more I think about it, the more it seems true. There are some bumps in the road as far as costumes go, changes still happening to props and to set decoration, but hey, we have two weeks. It's nothing new. There's always something. But as far as the work on the boards, it's going strong.
I've had a good feeling about doing this show since last spring when I said, 'Yes, I'll do it.'

Were they kidding when they asked, unsure? Drop out before Mockingbird? No. I like the idea of being involved in a tenth anniversery production. I like the idea of performing the same job my mentor Steve performed the last time the show went on the road. I like the idea of this story, at this point in history. It feels epic. So far, the feeling's still good.

Everything happens for a reason.

...of course, we still have tech week coming up...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Great American Play

I've noticed a trend in the plays that my current employer chooses. The mission of the Montana Rep is to produce high quality productions of the 'Great American Canon' of playwrights. It strikes me that in the last five years or so, all the plays that are Great American Plays are either set in the South, or the Northeast (New York.)

Certainly those places have an undeniable soul and quality that really speaks to the (American) human experience, and we relish these people and stories. The great South is such a part of our history; the old stories, the ghosts, the red dirt and the human struggle resonate with us deeply. The southern writers seem born with a poetry in them, infused with the history and the scent of magnolias and a knack for deep observation and understanding.

The New York stories have a different flavor, but - in the end - the same kind of tapestry. The great melting pot, the arrival point of all adventures that are American...that city and the great web of peoples and histories, dreams and iconic American City Culture also pluck a bright chord within us, and there are many great plays from the writers of New York.

Does anyone know of any great plays that take place in the West, particularly the great Northwest? While New York calls upon the tough-as-nails, gritty city and opportunity kind of character or story, and the South has a past as thick and rich as Alabama soil... where are the stories of the West?

Maybe I just haven't read enough plays, so if anyone knows of one (and I'm not talking 'Paint Your Wagon, here), please correct me. It seems to me, though, that the spirit of the Pioneer is mostly captured in movies and novels. There are some fantastic western writers, such as Dorothy Johnson, but even her stories were scooped up to splay on the silver screen, not the stage. Everyone's first idea of the West is, of course, the Cowboy. When I was in Scotland I got into a discussion about stereotypes with two girls from Switzerland. I told her the stereotype of Swiss women (buxom, sweet and blond), and she told me their American stereotype: Big (overweight,) big belt buckle, and a cowboy hat.

So despite all of Tennesee Williams and Neil Simon's work, our image is still the cowboy. Yee haw. I think it's fitting, though. Don't throw things at me for using the word 'maverick,' but that's an image we hold in our hearts - the brave, adventerous, western spirit. I've just never seen a play about it.

I think it's a mistake to set out to write a Great American Play (or novel, for that matter). If you look at all the great stories, they cover deep human feelings and truths, but in a specific way. They reverberate in our hearts because we feel along with a character, not an idea. To Kill a Mockingbird works because it isn't about deep racism, corrupt juries and ignorance: It's about Scout, Jem, Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson. It's about the people in the town who struggle with all those ideas. Through those people, we begin to reconsider or reaffirm our own ideas.

That said... with writers like Harper Lee or Tennessee Williams, you still get a sense of the Great American Story because within the specific, they speak to the universal. They also drop in magnificent flavors of the regions about which they write - the beauty and the darkness.

That said... I would like to see a great play about the northwest. Or rather, set in the northwest. I'm not sure who it would be about or how exactly you could convey a glimmer of the spirit of the people who choose a life in the northwest. I think it's a kind of person who's just as rich as Blanch or Big Daddy. When you watch them, you can feel the Southern heat, smell the bayou or feel the dust on your face in a cotton field and struggle with their old, awful, deep histories. You get a very real, human story that somehow we can identify with. We can identify with the pain of a lost sister, brother, or a dying father. Yet as we watch that universal human story, we feel the sticky heat of the south, enjoy the quirky neighbors or, in another play, hear the city traffic, dodge the Mafia and still hold fast with one very specific, human family.

I want to see a play that, when you watch it, not only do you engage with a character and story, but you can feel the brightness of a silver winter sun, feel what it is to dive into an icy mountain lake or watch snow fall for five months, cry at northern lights.... that spirit that brought men and women over the next mountain and across the broad valleys looking for their slice of this land, and why it's still important to us. A very different person. A very different slice than the riotous city, the mysterious south or the steadfast Midwest. I think it's story worth telling.

I think it could be great. A great play.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Special Saturday Quote of the Day Edition

This one's for Lauren.
Well, the G-Man has been knocking them out of the ballpark as far as quotes of the day are concerned. Here are a few gems from rehearsal:

Greg: "Could you take out the pause there and just say, "Hello ladies?"
Jackson: "But...there's a comma."
(Greg falls flat on his back on the stage in despair).

Yes, that actually happened. Priceless moments in theatre. Here are some more:

Always follow the turnip greens. -GJ

When you say 'Ivanhoe', it's like saying 'bucket of shit.' -GJ

Can you tighten that up? This is not, 'To Kill a Mockingbird' or 'The Heck Tate Story.' -GJ

America is based on the touchdown. -GJ


Whether you believe it or not...they were all funny at the time. Have a great weekend.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Caution: Humans are fragile

Not long ago I wrote another post about injured actors, so this one will be brief. We had our first on-the-job-injury last night. Those of you who know who's in the cast can probably guess who it was. (I'll give you a hint: his name starts with "Jim".)

It's a disheartening feeling to watch a fellow company member get hurt, for a multitude of obvious and less obvious reasons. In the worst of ways, it interrupts the work - at our most humanly compassionate moment, we feel horror for our coworker and want to help. In a small, selfish place, we wish it hadn't happened so that we don't have to deal with it. That's fleeting. Of course it is. But there's a little part of it, for a moment, the flickering whisper of our primal selves that used to leave the injured behind. We overcome it so instantly it's as if it never happened, but it's there. It's the same part of us that won't take twenty seconds to dig out a dollar for the Salvation Army Bell ringers. It doesn't make us bad people. It just makes us uncomfortable.

We just want life to be smooth. We want everything to go according to Plan. (Having recently watched 'The Dark Knight' I can appreciate this quality of normalcy even more). And we certainly don't want anyone to get hurt, especially someone we care about - not only for their pain, but our own. It's the same principle as stepping on someone's toe. Usually the offender feels worse than the person upon whose toe they actually stepped, and they end up comforting them. A person who gets injured on the job is the one who feels it most keenly - the person who should worry more about healing has all the same feelings about messing up the Plan and being a burden. That's in general. There are other kinds of people; different kind of reaction that I won't go into here.

The funny thing is how we live to create drama on the stage. We crave it, and relish it when we have the chance to watch or get our hands in it - because it's clean, but savory. Like reading a book or watching a movie. In the end, no matter how risky, daring, violent or racy or sad your project is, there's distance. No matter how someone felt about it, they felt it all in a secondary place, a carthartic place that lets us go through all the trouble and still walk out of the theatre without bleeding. That's the Plan.

Maybe that's why it's doubly upsetting when our pretend world brings someone to harm.

He'll be just fine, by the way.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Another Reason, Another Season

...for making theatre.

How could anyone describe the start of a new theatre job? (I ask myself as I sit here and try to think that very thing...)

Anyone who's done it knows the feeling, although they might never have thought about it beyond the first blast of enthusiasm that quickly wears down to day-to-day work ethic. Whether it's one show that you'll be taking on a national tour for three months or a year, or a season of musicals of Shakespeare in one location, there's a certain...stuff. It manifests so slowly and broadly we don't see it, but we know when it's there.

It's like looking at a white piece of paper, if you're an artist, or a blank screen and blinking cursor if you're a writer. Not only does the stage begin empty, the great canvas of each actor, director, designer and determined member of the crew, but the project itself becomes a blank slate.

It seems impossible that in just a few weeks walking around this great, steel set will feel just as familiar as walking around my own house. It seems impossible that I'll know every location of every hazard backstage so well I can navigate it in the dark - as will most of the crew. Sorry actors, most of you still haven't mastered this. But we know why. You have to go out front and face down the bright lights and expectant audience. We see in the dark - you tell the story. It's give and take.

Even more than the physical presence of the set and the daunting schedule that makes it look as if we'll be dog-tired every (although you hit a miraculous stride on tour) - it seems more impossible that all these people wandering around will become familiar to me. Intimately familiar, and with each other as well. (Some more than others, in every way.) Saying it's like a family is almost as worn out as saying 'the show must go on.' But it's true. We find our brothers and sisters, our annoying siblings, our mentors. Enmities rise and fade, because we're a family - except that we more or less chose to come together.

There is an even bigger, invisible canvas stretched out here. It's a chunk of our lives. It's a very specific way we've chosen and trained to spend our time - to create a sacred creative space, present a story, and go on our way again. But behind that sacred space onstage in the theatre is a band of people. They're the real canvas: the way we'll come together. The way we'll clash, and cry. Presenting the most dramatic moments in the lives of a fictional person can wear someone down. Dragging around and erecting a ton of steel and lights each day can wear someone down.

But when those lights come up and the actors set foot on that stage and are no longer Mikel, Marie and Jen but Jem, Scout and Atticus Finch... that's what keeps us together. Maybe we'll be the moment that changes some person's life forever, because they came to our show, and had a couple of hours to sit quietly and live through someone else's eyes. A differen audience every night. A different chance to say what we came to say to willing, expectant ears. With that kind of opportunity, there's little room left for squabbling and It's always said that you don't have to like everyone - but you have to be courteous. You have to remember why we're all here. That we chose to be. That, at some point in time we all wanted - desperately - to be doing this.

You have to remember that - or when you're sitting looking at all the people and the vans and the huge scenery and the long, long drives and days....

Well, it looks just a little bit crazy. But we're used to it. We've done it before - and we'll do it again, because when we find that magic Stuff, whatever it is for each person, it's most addictive thing in the world.