Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Am I in The Big Chill?!?
The play THIS has some real similarities.
They are both about a group of college friends, who are now in their 30's (40's).
For them, like me, college was a time when anything and everything happened. Now years later when they get together there is an immediate chemical thing that transports them back to that time. No matter how many children or grown up jobs or crows’ feet or love handles they have. They look at each other and Boom they are back and the same great adventure opens up. I had my 20th reunion recently on a Lake upstate and everyone was doing crazy stunts on water skis. It was the same alchemy that I am talking about and was fun until someone dislocated a hip.
A big important dynamic in THIS is that these people seem connected in this “known each other since college” way.
It is the night before the 1st rehearsal and I am nervous and excited to meet everyone so we can – in the next three weeks – develop this chemistry. Work on our relationships. The Big Chill cast supposedly spent a few weeks together as a group before shooting to develop this rapport. What can we do in THIS? Maybe I should invite everyone over to the Actor Housing to watch The Big Chill? Or maybe the more artsy prequel Return of the Secaucus Seven. No, I think the entertainment value and hysterical quippyness in THIS is more similar to The Big Chill. I’ve already decided who I am in the movie – a cross between Jeff Goldblum’s reporter who can’t get laid and Bill Hurt’s boozy/druggy soothsayer. Would we all enjoy playing this game? Will we start to bond over popcorn and the movie? Or...
Will the experience of spending 8 hours a day in the rehearsal room exploring the play with Ron (May) and April (Smith) be enough? Will repeating the inventive and witty things we say, the issues we argue about, the jokes we make, the mid life crises we grapple with, the extraordinary loving and hurtful and funny things we do to one another be all we need to experience our Big Chill moment???????????
Keep you posted.
Monday, December 13, 2010
David Barker is a funny man – no – he is a comedy stylist – a humor artiste extraordinaire! David has perfected a number of ‘comedy routines’ that he regales us with each and every year, EACH and EVERY time as if we have never seen them before. Either he is an amazing master of discovery, acting as if each time is the first, or we’re seeing the early onset of dementia… The cast has even banned one of the characters David brought out annually. It really was best for everyone!
Thankfully, there is always at least one new cast member to try these ‘comedy morsels’ on as we begin rehearsals. As David approaches the new member of the cast, we, the Christmas Carol veterans, look on with a silent grin, knowing exactly what’s coming. We all enjoy the laughs, and the groans, from the new cast members. But even more than that, we delight in the joy on David’s face EACH and EVERY time. I will miss the antics of one Mr. David Barker when this production closes.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
WARNING!!!!! SAPPY BLOG!!!!!!!
A Christmas Carol has been a huge part of my life and my career since I was only 17 years old. The whole CC team has become like my second family and I can’t imagine Christmas without it. I remember watching it from the audience when I was just a kid and saying to myself that I was going to be up there one day...and I did it. Performing with some of the most amazingly talented actors and incredible people as well, I have been truly blessed. This will be my sixth year (I took off a couple years to perform on cruise ships and Tokyo Disney and they excepted me right back!) and I can’t believe how fast time has flown.
I’ll be honest...because I now live in New York, it's a gamble leaving to do a show out of town because you hate to miss any opportunities in the city. I was debating on coming back, but as soon as I heard this was the final year, it broke my heart a little bit and I knew I had to come back. I am going to miss these crazy loons so much. These relationships and experiences have helped make me the woman and performer I am today and I will cherish them always!
But, we are definitely making the most of our final rehearsals and we are making this last year even more special. Lets just say, were gonna go out with a bang!!!!!!
Monday, November 29, 2010
This is my second year in the part of the Miner in Alan Ruch’s haunting musical montage and trio entitled “Travels.” In years of my youth I performed in other versions of A Christmas Carol. As a teen I played Peter, and as a young man, I played Bob Cratchet beside my father’s Scrooge. I have seen many versions of A Christmas Carol, both plays, films, and musicals – some wonderful, some not. And I have more than once read the short book. Yet when Matthew Wiener called me last year and offered me the part of the “Miner,” my response was “for what show?” “The Miner? Where is he in the story?”
Even today, when friends ask me what part I play, they always look confused when I answer “the Miner.” And then I inevitably explain that in Dickens’ book, during Stave III, the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge a brief scene of miners in the North who, despite awful living conditions, still found joy in the Christmas season. But until The Actors Theatre’s version, so far as I know, the “miners” scene was never depicted in any film or stage version of the story. I suppose at first blush the scene was just too brief or too unimportant to use. That is, until Michael Grady, Matthew Wiener, and Alan Ruch thought about it more carefully – perhaps understanding how important this brief scene really was to Dickens’ social message and Christmas lesson. I’m so glad they gave it a second look.
This year, as I reprise the role, it has more meaning for me. The entire world watched and cheered at the miracle of the 33 Chilean Miners, who after 69 days jubilantly emerged one-by-one from the half-mile-deep mine – a place we were convinced would be their tomb. This past month we learned of the tragedy of 29 New Zealand Miners killed in a massive underground explosion. We shudder when we try to imagine the dark claustrophobic horror those miners endured.
Yet dangerous as mining seems today, mining was far more dangerous when Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. In all of Dickens’ books, readers discover repeated themes of poverty, suffering, greed, and social responsibility. Dickens exposed the victims of the industrial revolution – those that the greed inherent in the system had displaced and driven into poverty. Perhaps none of Dickens’ books more directly argued that the wealthy members of that society were obligated to provide for the poor and destitute than does A Christmas Carol. And though the book is set in London, still Dickens didn’t forget about the miners of the north when he flew Scrooge up there for a brief look.
In the 1800’s, mining was the lifeblood of Britain’s world-dominating manufacturing industry. Black coal powered the industrial revolution. At the peak years of production, the coal miners of Wales and England hauled over 200 millions of tons of the fuel annually from the dark depths of that cold hard northern earth. Mining conditions have been noted as the worst of all working conditions of Victorian England. Many writers, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning in her poem The Cry of the Children, wrote horror stories of children -- as young as 4 years old -- working 16 to 20-hour days in the dark-black underground coal mines. They often worked for barely enough money to afford food. Many wrote of the horrid conditions these children were forced to endure. Browning’s shocking poem describes the mine as a dark, ruthless place that robbed children of their innocence and their soul – making them yearn for early death as an escape. In the 1840’s, many reformers tried to expose the awful mining conditions and the mine owners’ exploitation of children. Browning’s poem includes a powerful plea for change: "How long, O cruel nation, / will you stand to move the world, on a child’s heart" (Browning 153). This plea was echoed by other social reformers, including Dicken’s brief portrayal of his Christmas miners in Stave III.
My thoughts of mining this year led me to do a bit of research into my own family’s history with mining. I have known that my ancestors were miners, and that some of my ancestors spent time in English and Welsh mines in the 1800’s. So for this blog, I did a bit of research for something more specific. (Actually, the research was easy, I just asked my Mom). Here is what I learned: John Kirton, my paternal great-great grandfather (b. 1863), was born in Westmore, Northumberland, England, worked in a coal mine in Scofield, Carbon, Utah, and was killed in an underground mining explosion exactly one-hundred and ten years ago. Thomas John Rees, my maternal great-great-great grandfather (yeah, that’s THREE greats) (b. 1816), grew up in Wales, Great Britain, and mined coal in both Great Britain and in Wales, Utah after immigrating as part of the Mormon migration west. Thomas Benjamin Davis, also my maternal great-great-great grandfather (1822-1889) was also born in Wales, Great Britain, and mined coal there. In 1856 he worked for a year in the coalfields in Scranton Pennsylvania so that he could earn funds to move his family to Utah. He then worked in a Wales, Utah coal mine most of his later life. And my great grandfather, Leon Ray Brown (1885-1929), a mine foreman in the Bingham Utah copper mine, died in the mine when he was younger than I am now. His daughter, my grandmother was born in that mining town of Bingham, Utah, and told me stories of her mining-influenced childhood there. I guess I am a miner in more ways that one.
So this year, I will step out on stage to sing the part of the Miner – Dickens' Miner, Micheal Grady’s Miner, Matthew Wiener’s Miner, Alan Ruch’s Miner – and my family’s many miners. When I do, my thoughts will be of them, and of the miners in Chile, in New Zealand, and of the children of Browning’s poem. When Scrooge points at me with my axe, coat and lantern props, and asks Christmas Past “who’s that,” I will know far better what the real answer is: I am playing the part of a miner. It is a part of my family’s history and a part of Dickens’ profound desire to change his world for the better, and his belief that Scrooge and others -- who had caused these atrocities -- could change. And I will play the part of David Rodgers – a third-generation college graduate who has never once been inside a mine – and who owes much of that to my mining ancestor’s hard work and belief that they could build a better world for their children. And I will owe it to Browning’s and Dickens’ and other good-hearted people’s social movement that changed the world, and proved that humans could repent, abandon greed, and lift the lives of others.
So Merry Christmas to you from the Miner and his family. And this year may God bless us, everyone. But especially the miners.
I was in Christmas Carol the first year Matthew directed it at Actors Theatre in ’95 (the old version). This is the final year of Christmas Carol and I get to be in it again and I’m thinking how I love this story. This is a story about guy who gets a second chance, who is self-centered with twisted ideas about the world and the people in it. A guy who has never made right anything he’s made wrong. And he wakes up and has the chance to make things right. I love it. Hey, I can relate.
I love rehearsal and this thing is rehearsal on steroids. We open at the end of our 3rd week together so we move fast. And we have the right directors to do it. Alan’s music is fabulous and when he directs he’s always looking out for us. We sound really good. It’s always a pleasure to work with Matthew. He’s a terrific director and storyteller and I love being a part of any story that he’s telling. Robbie is a great choreographer (have you seen Hairspray?) and so much fun to work with. And our cast rocks this show! I’m really excited about where we are in rehearsal now and we still have time! So onward and upward! I’m really grateful to be a part of this last production. Oh, yeah and my bald head has never had so much hair. Eddie Todd is going to go crazy with the Marley hair this year. :)
Friday, November 26, 2010
THE RULE OF 4: DO IT LIKE THAT!
Matthew has adopted a new system this year in rehearsing Christmas Carol. We always have new people in the cast every year, and they are placed in the unenviable position of picking up and learning very quickly the stuff that the rest of the cast are just refreshing their memories about. This new system has been dubbed: The Rule of 4. This means we run a scene four times. The first time through we know it’s going to be all screwed up. The second time through we remember all the stuff we forgot the first time. The third time we get it right, and the fourth time we cement it in place. This has been remarkably consistent throughout the rehearsal process. The highest praise Matthew bestows is his oft repeated expression: “Do it like that!” When he says that, we know we’ve got it. We are very fortunate this year to have new cast members who are quick learners. We’ve been hearing “Do it like that!” a lot. This is a good thing.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Can you believe that Kim Bennett, one of the nicest guys you will ever meet and one of the most sensitive individuals in the cast, plays Scrooge?! Its true! And that is why I am completely confused that he does not have a Facebook account. Kim Bennett/Ebeneezer Scrooge is a perfect person/character for the number one social network in the world. He is afraid that no one will want to be his friend. I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP! So I implore all of you out there to post imploring invitations to Kim Bennett to start a Facebook account! Use gobs of creative, witty, funny angles. Come on cast, crew and fans of Christmas Carol. Since this is our last year, lets put into practice the central theme of this incredible classic: PEOPLE CAN CHANGE!
Ghost of Christmas Present – 6th year
PS: I attach a photo of Kim and I in the dressing room my first year 2005
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Tonight while getting dressed for our first tech rehearsal in Stage West at the Herberger, I decided to use the bathroom before putting on my corset, butt pillow, petticoat and dress (always a wise thing to do) but could not find the dressing room bathroom light. Well, I went ahead and did it in the dark. As I was fumbling around for the toilet paper, a gecko (who had apparently found himself a cushy home atop the toilet paper roll) was rudely awakened. He jumped onto my hand, skittered across my bare thigh, then down the leg of my bloomers and onto my shoe. The toilet paper rolled out of reach as I jumped up and down, laughing and screaming bloody murder with my bottoms around my ankles. Lillie (my dressing roommate, YAY!) and Lois tried to help -- well, Lillie stayed safely in the dressing room calling for help while Lois came in and handed me the runaway toilet paper roll and looked for the overhead light. Now, I've got no problem with geckos. But I prefer to see them out of doors and definitely not down my pants, thanks.
For all you creature lovers out there, no, I did not inadvertently smash the little guy. The frightened little gecko scurried behind the toilet and is probably still there. I think both Lillie and I will be using the Ladies Room in the hall from now on.
And now -- new topic... My costumes are so gorgeous I can't stand it!
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
I’ve been naked on stage in many productions of M. BUTTERFLY. And so I thought I was prepared for today’s rehearsal of the final scene in THE VIBRATOR PLAY, in which my leading lady and I undress each other. But this morning I found myself shaking inside, so nervous that I couldn’t remember my lines. It wasn’t just undressing Angelica that intimidated me. It was much scarier being undressed by her. Much like my character Dr. Givings, I found myself terribly frightened of disappointing her, even of offending her. As Butterfly, taking off my clothes was meant to be a shocking act of aggression. In THE VIBRATOR PLAY, taking off our clothes becomes the most intimate form of emotional nakedness. After an hour of undressing, dressing and undressing again, I can’t say that my nerves subsided, but that shaky feeling felt more like the aching need to love and be loved.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
After having worn a corset on and off for the past 4 days I can say with complete and utter conviction that I am very thankful to be a woman firmly rooted in this century. My ribs are aching as they settle back into place after being firmly compressed for hours. And the tiny place where a bent piece of boning was poking me (April, our wonderful stage manager, removed it -- and today it was much better) is still feeling a little bruised. And while I quite enjoy the lovely boobage and hourglass shape the corset gives me -- I have realized that I am most definitely a creature of comfort. I shall now raise this lovely glass of wine and say 'CHEERS!' to tank tops with built in bras and to the freedoms I enjoy as a woman in the year of 2010!
And now -- new topic... I do enjoy great language. Now if I could just remember which language goes where...
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
I love watching Matthew direct...his lips move with the scenes!
You can just see him immersed in the scene. And he finds every little nuance to bring the picture to life. What is so interesting is...even though he is mouthing the words, when he stops the scene to talk to the actors he says all your lines wrong...throwing in all kinds of crazy words...words I would actually have to look up!
He finally said, in rehearsal yesterday, "do not let me give you a line-read, I WILL mess you up."
It is only less than a week into rehearsal and he has already created some wonderfully funny moments.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The first couple of days of rehearsal are always a little hard for me. As excited as I am to start a new project, as fun as it is to sit around the table and finally fit all the other characters voices into the puzzle in my head -- I miss my family desperately. When I got home tonight I went into my little boy's room to take a peek. He sighed softly in his sleep as I ran my hand through his hair and kissed his cool forehead. 'Mommy...' My heart swelled with love *insert snore (he certainly is his father's son)* and I chuckled as I tiptoed out again. That tiny little moment just made everything totally worth it.
And now -- new topic... had a fitting today. My corset is tight.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Well we have now been through our Heisenburg rehearsals with the playwright, reworked sequences with his input (very odd to have the playwright involved in the middle of the process, my experience has been that the writer will typically join the process either early on for table work or last dress rehearsals into opening), stitched the sequences together into acts, added lights, sound, wardrobe and now audience.
Finally Chester and I were able to have some quality time walking around the ‘hood. For the past ten days I’ve only seen him when I would get home from rehearsal usually waking him from my side of the bed so I could get some sleep. I think that annoys him more than my working on my lines at the table. Anyway as we were walking we paused for a moment and he looked at me, leg lifted for other business, as if to ask where I’d been, did I miss him, was it worth it and why did my voice sound like ground glass? I scratched him behind the ear to let him know I did miss him, thought to myself that yes it was worth all the time away---the preview audience response was quite warm—and made a mental list of what I would need to do to restore my voice in time for opening nite.
We then turned the corner to head for home as the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Got A Feeling” started on the ipod…so as our playwright often says, “enough said.”
Friday, February 26, 2010
OK, so this really has nothing to do with Actors Theatre, or Cancer, or how much Matthew can make me laugh during rehearsal, but it DOES have to do with my source of transportation. The Phoenix Light Rail System, bringing together the sane and seemingly insane one ride at a time! I thoroughly enjoy taking the light rail everyday to rehearsal because of the fantastic people (characters?) and the awkward situations they put me in. I often wonder if they think our conversations are normal, or if they KNOW they are awkward and thats why they start them -- to humor themselves. Being that it's about the third week of rehearsal, I have been able to meet a lot of riders, but I've got to say my favorite person so far is this man I got to meet on February 12th. It was on that infamous night ride home I got to meet a man that referred to himself as "Party Marty". I met Party Marty because as soon as he came into the light rail. He stood in front of my bike (which I had been standing behind) and parked his bike in front of him, literally creating a bike-gate in front of me. Being that it was the beginning of my ride, I didn't really care, I was sure that he would get off the light rail before me. As soon as he settles himself, he turns and the first words out of him mouth are, "I'm bipolar and I'm wasted, no one can f@%k with me." My comfortable ride home instantly turned into the most interesting conversation with a stranger that I have ever had. There were a lot of people on the light rail that night so I was never nervous, I actually felt quite safe, so I decided to keep the conversation with Party Marty going (I mean, how many times will this happen to me?? Take advantage!) Party Marty asked me what I had been doing that night, and I told him that I had just ended a long night of rehearsal and was making my way home. P.M. continued this conversation by telling me that he did a play once in grade school where he played Huckleberry Finn because "somebody had to!" He continued with the fact that he hated that play because it took all of his time which meant no basketball. That somehow led into the fact that he has an IQ of 180 and is a professional horse trainer, karate black-belt, certified carpenter & plumber, he built his own house, is a champion golf player, and that he can (again) kick anyone's ass, but people don't "f%$k" with him because they know better.
Jessica: "Wow, well it looks like you've really done it all!"
Party Marty: "I didn't do it all, Jesus Christ did it all"
Jessica: "You know what, you're right, you really can't beat that guy"
Party Marty: "No, you can't just think about what he did for us . . . "
(This is the part when Party Marty was with himself, thinking about Jesus I suppose, and then he started to cry)
He then noticed what was happening, so he offered to spark up the joint he had in his pocket and share it with me. A couple of teenagers on the other side of the train heard this and started cheering. I said, "no thanks, but it looks like you might have a fan club that might be interested." Party Marty shrugged and responded with "well, someone's gotta do it".
Shortly after Party Marty looks at me and says, "you know what? God Bless the light rail, if it wasn't for this light rail, you and I would have never had this conversation. Jessica, I am going to go to work now, and I hope you have a wonderful night." And just like that, Party Marty was gone.
The best part is, he is completely right.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
OK I have been acting for a while now but I have never blogged about the process so here are some thoughts after two weeks of rehearsal on Secret Order...
Working on this play is rewardingly difficult...came home from rehearsals on Saturday and Sunday had dinner with my family and then went to bed exhausted.
I have been reading and thinking about this play for the past six months. As part of my homework I deliberately learned some of the script sequences while only becoming familiar with the rest of the text. I then improvised the human, emotional aspects of the character (Bob Brock) in my daily life (I am lucky to have a wife that has so good-naturedly put up with my acting behavior for 29 years now) so that I can meld into the playwright’s character. I don’t do a lot of character research as ultimately every character I play is some aspect of me, with a beard, with an accent, with glasses, sometimes physically fit but more often just a chubby 50-ish man.
I tend to be very technically oriented as an actor, working from the top down; how should the line be phrased, where do I stand, where’s my light, where are the laughs etc… an actor that views the rehearsal process as a tunnel with a light on at each end and a great stretch of darkness in the middle. I generally prefer to eschew the rehearsal chit-chat of meaning or intention or whatever in favor of doing it again, and again, and again until it comes together in the room and then ultimately in front of an audience. At this point in the process I am trying to move the performance from my head and into my body and in several scenes, mostly in Act One, I am feeling the electric, visceral connection of text and performance with Cale, David and Jess.
I am struck though by the level of focus and energy required to lift this text toward performance—our Chihuahua Chester gets very concerned when I try to work on the role at home. I look forward to week three.
Monday, February 22, 2010
“In nothing do men more nearly approach the gods than in giving health to men” Cicero
We are approaching the end of the second week of rehearsals for Secret Order – until now I’ve been so focused on rehearsal preparation and learning my words that I haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and blog about the show. Tonight I find myself with a little breathing room and will put a few thoughts on paper. My head is full of so many thoughts about the play, the character, this particular company of actors…but I’ve decided to write tonight about how I look for pieces of the play and the character within my own experience, as a step towards fully identifying with the character I’ll be performing.
Once I had been cast in Secret Order and first read the script, my imagination was primarily excited by the idea of the possibility of a cure for cancer. The quest for a cure starts off the play and permeates it. I started thinking about what it would be like to be involved in that quest at such a high level, to devote one’s life to it—to experience the incredible excitement of each incremental step in the the right direction and the devastating disappointment each time a promising line of scientific inquiry dissolved in failure. The character I’m playing, Dr. Saul Roth, Chairman of Toxicology at Hill-Matheson, has been deeply involved in cancer research for over 33 years. At 67 I (Saul) have certainly had more than my share of disappointments, but I am still eager to do daily battle with the disease. It’s the passionate hope that a cure is possible that keeps me from being able to retire and leave the battle to younger colleagues. It may be a little confusing to anyone reading my blog, but I (David) often refer to the character I’m playing in the first person, as part of my acting process—until the “I” of me and the “I” of him create a blend that has the ring of truth. I (David) think I (Saul) have the Cicero quote above nicely framed and prominently displayed on my office wall.
In looking for ways to relate to all the emotional ramifications of what a cure for cancer might mean to the characters in the play, I’ve been thinking back to my youth, when both polio and smallpox were still deadly diseases that killed, crippled or disfigured thousands and thousands of people every year. If you are near my age, you may remember, as I do, the terrifying effects of a local polio outbreak. It seemed like there was an epidemic every summer when I was a boy in the 1950s—since the disease attacked children and was spread by them, small towns in the U.S. and Europe would sometimes have signs at the city limits refusing entry to anyone under the age of 16. Public swimming pools were considered particularly dangerous, and were closed immediately if a polio case was reported. All of us had some friend, relative or acquaintance who had either died or become crippled by polio. And smallpox, although mostly under control in the US by the 1950s, was still a major killer in many parts of the world; since my family lived abroad much of the time, we were often in areas where smallpox was still a real threat and I certainly remember seeing lots of terribly scarred and disfigured faces. I vividly remember the relief and joy we all felt when Jonas Salk’s amazing vaccine became available in 1955; equally amazing was the incredible announcement in 1980 that smallpox had finally been globally eradicated. I (Saul and David) have very powerful emotional connections to the horrors of polio and smallpox. It’s why I became a doctor in the first place. Remembering the excitement and exultation I felt when those two Goliaths were slain, just try to imagine the reaction of the world when the cure for cancer is found!
I’ve written about this at some length to share a little bit of how I start to build a bridge to the character and his world. I enjoy playing roles that require research; but wherever I can find personal connections that allow me to identify with the character I seize on them, because they are so rich—they are short-cuts which deepen my understanding and help me inhabit the character with conviction and passion.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Jessica, a graduate student at ASU, plays the role of Alice Curiton in Actors Theatre's upcoming production of Secret Order
Prior to Actors Theatre, I have felt that my acting assignments at ASU have been based on my personality. I was cast into certain roles because my own personality had fit the character's personality. And not to saw that I don't enjoy that, those assignments are ALWAYS a ton of fun . . well, acting is always fun so . . . but anyways. After I had found out that I got cast in Secret Order and read the script for the first time I was . . I dunno, shocked . . excited even. I had been cast into a role whose personality and demeanor was nothing like my own:
Jessica - Seattle
Alice - Boston
Jessica - West Coast
Alice - East Coast
Jessica - Rock Climb
Alice - R-cells
Jessica - Cat-lady
Alice - "1000 poodles"
Jessica - Actress
Alice - Scientist
. . . but it was at that last comparison I started thinking differently. I remembered last summer when I got to spend some time in Barryville, NY studying with Kari Margolis. Kari's "Margolis Method" bases actor training off of the laws of physics. More and more, the worlds of art and science are coming closer together. The science of acting, the artistic quality of science. And it is here when I start to see how similar Alice and I really are. For goodness sake, Alice is working as a lab assistant for an internship. Secret Order is my internship for ASU!! Every time I walk into the rehearsal hall, my blood just starts pumping because I get so excited to start working. Alice is the same exact way. Although I may not understand the excitement between r-cells and graduated cylinders, I can understand the enthusiasm a person gets when they get to do the thing they love most in life. Passion makes the world taste better, not Dr. Pepper.
But . . . Dr. Pepper is pretty damn good.
Friday, February 5, 2010
After weeks in the rehearsal hall of yelling over recordings of thunder, lightning, wind, factories and tribal drums, not to mention extensive musical underscoring, Matthew is excited about getting into the theatre and pumping up the volume while I’ve damaged my vocal cords before we’ve even gotten there. The earnose&throat doctor suggests a microphone and a prescription that my insurance company refuses to pay for.
At first we are reluctant to go with a mic because it makes me feel less in control of the performance and there are technical hurdles. For one thing there isn’t anyone to sit in the house and mix the sound live so levels will need to be preset and consistent. Also I do an awful lot of rolling around leaving no place to put the mic-pack on my person.
Finally, the kinks are worked out and we try it for the final rehearsals. Mathew gets excited with the possibilities the microphone affords especially in being able to boost the sound cues again and really rock the house. Which brings us to Opening Night…
About 10 minutes into the show, the microphone (probably dripping with my sweat) starts randomly popping and (stage manager) April Smith makes the call to turn it off. I am not consciously aware of the situation but sense that I have to talk louder and so end up shouting over the newly beefed up louder sound cues. The audience is forgiving and the show is a hit. The next day (Sunday matinee) the mic gets fitted with something to keep it dry and the show goes on as planned.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
I will now answer the most frequently asked question at every audience talkback, organized by any theatre for any production since the beginning of time. If you attend a performance of Shipwrecked! and stay afterward for a talkback and ask this question, I will know that you did not read this blog.
The answer is … Repetition. Why do you know all the words to “White Christmas”? Not from recent personal experience certainly but because you’ve heard it a thousand times. So, I needed to schedule a thousand run-throughs of Shipwrecked! (the words) for myself, even though the audience will only be present for numbers 985 on. This however requires a level of discipline akin to a vow of silence (if only!) and a lot of time.
I set a goal of learning 15 pages a month starting in Sept. in order to be totally memorized by New Years. On 9/28 I realized I had memorized a total of … three pages.
Time for Plan B: the carrot and the stick. I will not be allowed alcoholic beverages until I successfully negotiate the entire play, knowing what happens next and saying the lines perfectly. Don’t hold your breath, people. While I enjoy the benefits of sobriety, I have yet to get through the entire 90 plus minutes without help, but we’re getting closer. Sometimes I think I'm not going to have a drink until after the closing performance. The upside for the audience is that the show will be different every time – a real live event. And I’ve learned that to accomplish one seemingly insurmountable task, take on another. Hey, maybe I should become a motivational guru, write a book, help Oprah lose ten pounds and retire rich and famous.
By the way the closing performance is a matinee on Superbowl Sunday. So if you have feedback you want to give me after THAT performance you’ll find me at the nearest bar to the backdoor of the Herberger. Hmm. I think that would be Hooters.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Any seasoned actor knows that to find the character you need to find the shoes. Shoes affect balance, posture and how we move. Most of the time they literally are what connects us to the world. Think of all the different shoes you own and their specific functions. Now, imagine you live concurrently in every historic period and society on every continent for the past 2000 plus years. That’s a lot of different shoes and functions. If you are on a stage but want the audience to imagine you’re on a glacier, or boat or beach or battlefield or golf course, how you physically relate to the space helps tell that story. Shoes also act as signifiers of status, profession, health, and of course style.
Last winter I visited Ollie in Toronto when he was touring as The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Talk about crazy shoes for a wild character! Toronto has many tourist attractions but the most quirky and fascinating by far is the Bata Shoe Museum: a highly entertaining, informative, provocative and even slightly disturbing look at our feet and what we do with them. I highly recommend it!
Now, I imagined Louis de Rougemont barefoot for the entire show, maybe because he’s in a bathing suit at the end or maybe because I thought about a lone castaway on a one-palm-tree island in a New Yorker cartoon. But Costume Designer Connie Furr and Matthew are very excited by the idea of swashbuckler boots. I’ve worn swashbucklers before: once as Captain Hook and once to portray a Dutch ancestor making nice with the Natives on a hometown parade float. I believe my very Irish friend Tom played the Mohawk. Anyway, my swashbucklers for Shipwrecked! have been ordered and I eagerly await their arrival. It will fundamentally affect everything I’m doing so they can’t arrive too soon.
Meanwhile, extreme hair, like a shaved head (The King and I) or a powdered wig (Amadeus) can also affect how you balance or move. However, most men’s hairstyles are fundamentally ignorable from the inside. We look in the mirror and project ourselves as our own observers and make judgments about what our appearance says about us to the world. Obviously, it’s another choice indicative of character that we make every day and, of course, for the stage. Plus on stage there is an added injunction to keep your hair out of your eyes. Here’s a typical backstage scene: it’s dress rehearsal in the men’s dressing room and a bunch of guys are discussing, sharing, comparing and rating various hair products: gels, waxes, sprays and pomades. No one is functioning from his comfort zone here. It’s a level of social interaction that’s pretty unfamiliar to men, regardless of sexual orientation. The kind of conversation that we imagine women have in Ladies Rooms but men just don’t do well.
Louis de Rougement however is a special case, being an actual historic figure (see photo). Once I got a hold of his picture, I hung it up where I could look at it as if in a mirror at my own reflection. I think I look a bit like him naturally and by internalizing whatever I can from that picture, I truly believe a little alchemical magic happens. To help, I took the picture to Sasa, the real magician who cuts my hair in New York. She enjoys a challenge and experimented with several different gels and techniques, diligently washing my hair between attempts. We did an initial trial in October, then another in December. So, thanks to Sasa, I can avoid the last minute hair product debate.
Finally there’s the beard. I’ve never grown a moustache so long that I carry my morning coffee with me until lunchtime. In the 19thC they had moustache mugs that included a bridge to keep liquid off the lip. In the 21stC we are less advanced and I have stained almost every article of clothing I own with my own drips and spatters. Finally, you couldn’t see my mouth anymore and I had to trim it. See correlating injunction above about keeping one’s hair out of one’s eyes when on stage.
Friday, January 8, 2010
Spend January in Arizona instead of Vermont? Where do I sign? Not that that was my first thought when Matthew asked me to play Louis de Rougemont in Shipwrecked!, but it was my second. My first thought was, ‘How serendipitous.’ To understand why I must digress…
I hadn’t acted since Stones In His Pockets, which Ollie (Oliver Wadsworth) and I did at Actors Theatre and then again at The Adirondack Theatre Festival in 2003. Though I’ve been directing a lot, particularly while on sabbatical from Bennington College, which is when I did The Busy World Is Hushed at Actors Theatre.
Then a year ago I decided to attempt to reactivate my acting muscles. One of my students, a fine young actor named Max Wolkowitz, and I set out to find a two-hander that we could rehearse on our own and put up with minimal production support. We chose A Life in the Theatre by David Mamet. I directed it and Max, with his considerably younger brain, was able to be “on book” for rehearsals, meaning he knew all the lines. All we needed to add for performances was an usher.
I played an old master thespian full of unsolicited advice and he played an eager young talented actor who benefits from my tutelage but then needs to graduate from the dysfunctional aspects of the relationship. Basically we played ourselves and with such brilliant casting the show went very well. Max did indeed graduate from Bennington and I got my actor muscles up and working again.
Soon afterward I auditioned for a venerable old summer stock theater in Dorset, Vermont. I was cast in two shows, a George S. Kaufman comedy and an Agatha Christie murder mystery. These were fun old warhorses for which I provided the exact identical function: curtain up on the old character guy involved in some activity (scribbling in a ledger, reading a newspaper), another character enters and we engage in a conversation that consists entirely of exposition. Once I’ve mentioned all the main characters by name and enough background information so the audience will recognize them, I leave the stage. This being summer stock it meant learning lines quickly and rehearsing play #2 during the day while performing play #1 at night. It was a blast. The company was filled with talented folks on every level and we laughed a lot.
Come August I’m feeling like an actor again. I shave off the handlebar moustache and goatee that served all three projects and I’m back teaching when Matthew calls with the amazing opportunity to do Shipwrecked! Ollie goes on-line, downloads a picture of the real Louis de Rougemont and I start growing my beard back the next day.