Wednesday, October 26, 2011

NEXT FALL blog 3: Debra K. Stevens (Arlene)

Celebrating My G.R.I.T.S. Roots

I am one of the G.R.I.T.S.— Girls Raised In The South. I have come to understand how much that status means to me, especially since I moved away from the South several years ago. There are certain characteristics, expectations, and experiences that are particular to Southerners. We say ya’ll, yes ma’m, and yes sir. We all LOVE the pig—fried, smoked, or barbequed preferably. We greet each other with smiles and courtesy whether we know each other or not. We have spontaneous, intimate conversations with total strangers (like the day I opened a door for a woman while entering the mall and she touched my arm and exclaimed “Your sweater is sooooo sweet!” We talked for a good 10 minutes about sweaters and the best places to shop for them.) There is a certain vibe about a Southern man or woman and we can detect it in each other a mile away. It is very comforting to find one so far from home.

I play a southern woman in “Next Fall.” She is not just any southern woman –she is an extreme southern woman. A southern woman on steroids. She is familiar, caretaking, eccentric, beyond verbal, and entertaining. She is also often offensive in her complete oblivion in regard to all things foreign---i.e. New York-ish. She has quite the sense of humor and is often self-deprecating, but I can’t help but worry that she could easily slip into a caricature. “Arlene” walks a fine line between being entertaining and downright offensive. I find myself cringing at some of the things that exit my mouth as I speak her lines. I have spent a good part of my life overcoming the attitudes and prejudices that permeated my upbringing—friends from school, acquaintances, even some family members. I sometimes feel I am betraying all the efforts I have made in my quest for tolerance in one swell foop! Don’t I have a responsibility to my people? Then I think of all the celebrated southern writers—William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Truman Capote (who earns an homage in the show), and The Poet of my People, Tennessee Williams. What would they think of Geoffry Nauffts’ depiction of this character? Then I remember their writings-- their take on southern culture.—the good, the bad, and the ugly. They illuminated what needed to change and they celebrated what was joyful. That word,”joy,” keeps coming up in rehearsal. Matthew is all about finding the “joy.” There is a lot to be joyful about in this play, with this cast, and this challenge. So, I continue on my journey with Arlene and strive to celebrate her with joy. So, let the Magnolias bloom, Child!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

NEXT FALL blog 2: Andi Watson (Holly)

“What are you doing right now?”

“I'm in rehearsals for Next Fall.”

“For what show and why are you rehearsing a year in advance?”

“No, the name of the show is Next Fall.”

“Oh. Hmph. Never heard of it.”

What I thought would be yet another amazing show that no one has heard of has already proven to be much more than I could possibly blog about in one sitting.

A lesson in serendipity.

I just returned from my first visit to New York. This was my first trip to the city and was somewhat spontaneous in nature, so I didn't have much of an agenda. I had picked up my script two days before leaving so that I would have something to occupy myself on the plane and perhaps in the audition 'holding rooms'.

And here's where the serendipity begins...

Holly (the character I'm playing) is a citified hippie. She's part New York business woman, part crystal-clutching, shakra-healing, master of the downward dog. Her faith is in energies and higher powers rather than specific dieties and she finds comfort and fellowship among her self-help groups and charity fundraisers. I'm not afraid to admit that Holly and I share more than a few common characteristics, not all of them healthy or 'normal' by the majority standards, but we serve a necessary, if eclectic, function in the world.

When in NYC, I stayed with a friend at 73rd and Columbus and read (with some amusement) Holly's story about walking down 74th and Columbus. Some coincidence.

I read further to Butch's reference of his driver from JFK; “Saheed was a yakker with a lead foot,” and guffawed out loud. My driver from Newark Airport was a chatty Pakistani (in the city 22 years) named Sayyed.

I could go on to include the many Jewish references in the show (most of which I had only just learned about from my friend Sandy – who bears the same last name as another character I reference)... or the shared favorite candle scents... or the pot-smoking friend named Rachel... but needless to say, I was emotionally bonded to the script (and Holly) after the first read.

But that isn't where the serendipity ends.

There is a kind of 'theatre magic' that happens on some projects that is unexplainable.

I had the opportunity to work with Matthew on Noises Off for Phoenix Theatre most recently, and further back had worked with David Vining as a dialect coach and Debra K. on a one-night reading of Lysistrata. I'd also worked at length with April Miller and David Dickinson at Southwest Shakes and Shakespeare Sedona. But the culmination of all this is Robert Harper, playing Adam, Holly's life-saver and BFF. 'Robbie' and I have worked numerous projects together. From community theatre, to corporate events, to private gigs to professional and regional theatres, he has alternately been my director, my choreographer, my teacher and my castmate. More than this, the man is my mentor and my friend.

And so it was, on the night of our first read-thru, that we sat across the table from each other as we read the final pages of our script.

“He looked at me.”

My eyes met Robbie's... and with one look, he cracked open my heart and gutted my soul.

I understood at once what this play is about. It's about faith. It's about relationships. It's about protecting the ones we love. It's about loyalty and acceptance.

It's about serendipity and believing in something bigger than yourself.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

NEXT FALL blog 1: David Dickinson (Brandon)

First Day of Rehearsals:

My over all feeling coming out of rehearsals from our first day was that I had laughed more in that rehearsal than any other first rehearsal I've ever been a part of. Our cast is really funny, and we got on a roll at times.

Matthew led a table discussion of the script that got completely side-tracked at one point. One of the blond members of the cast (there are only two of us… you decide) assumed that the script was correct in saying that all Jewish doctors had hook noses and wore beanies. Matthew, being Jewish, was a bit disturbed about this. He then asked if there were any other assumptions about Jews and New York we may have taken from the script. This began a tirade of comments that included Abraham parting the Red Sea, mezuzahs, the ten plagues and Mongolian goat herders. The tirade ended with this assumption about retirement. (see video below).