Friday, February 29, 2008

"Dude, we look so WB!"

That was the quote of the morning today when we showed up to shoot our newest promo for "Paper Cuts." We were instructed to be dressed up with a "glamour look." So it was dresses and suits, and when we were all standing in a line, Brad made the comment that we looked like a commercial for the WB. Dressed up, black background, balloons everywhere, "intense faces," and a fan for our own wind machine, and we were totally the cast of One Tree Hill. Or, as I prefer, Smallville. After we got the group shot, we did one-on-one shoots where we sang and danced to a song Dan provided for us. It was a good time, and I enjoyed dressing up in our suits and nice shirts. But there was also a fun bit of waiting around at the @ss crack of dawn, as the production team went through each character one at a time. Since I was at the end of the rotation, I had some time to sit in the "green room" and wait. The group shot is below, and I can see that I'm clearly in the dark even though I felt light on my face when we were shooting. I assume it'll all work itself out in post...

Coming soon... with new episodes..... PAPER CUTS

Laughter in the 90th Percentile

Whenever I see directors/producers scribbling notes while I'm performing, I would give anything to know what they say. Whether it is good or bad. If they think I have a nice voice but too little support, that could help. If they think I shouldn't be in the business, that will also help. Funny how those people who are best in a position to help us develop our skills are also in that one position where it a taboo to ask for feedback of any kind. This all comes to mind because yesterday was my season audition for the Sierra Repertory Theatre in California. I sang my two contrasting songs (one of which was "Forest for the Trees"), and then delivered an abbreviated Iago monologue. I felt prepared going into the audition, and then I felt confident during the audition. But as I walked out of the room and waited for the elevetor to take me back to the street, I knew that I hadn't done my absolute best. Yes, it was a good audition. But it should have been a great audition, and I wasn't quite sure why I didn't feel that it was. I ultimately placed myself in the 90th percentile. Of all the actors they were seeing yesterday, I was confident that I was in the top 10 percent of them all. But I wasn't in the top 2 percent, and that's the percentile that gets cast before they leave the room. As I get older and older and work harder and harder, I need to make sure that I put myself into that top group.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Let it Go

Last night, I went out for another audition. We'd been closed at Spitfire for just over 24 hours, and I was already back pounding the pavement. It was the second open call for a fun musical at a local Equity theatre. I had a good feeling going in, but when the accompanist missed the key on my song, I chose to calmly restart it. We went from the beginning instead of the middle, and I think I did a good job. But as I was leaving the theater, I thought of a lesson I've read in my most recent book. When you leave the room, he says, forget the audition. It was a good job, but not my best, and I'm going to just move on to the next couple auditions I have scheduled. I have five coming up in the next week or so, and I'm trying to schedule more. That's the bit of the business that I hate, but the payoff is worth it. There is nothing else I would rather do than be an actor, and I'm just struggling to make a living at it.

the last few spitfires

So we finished our run of Spitfire Grill this weekend, performing only three shows instead of our anticipated four. But those three shows were great ones. I nailed my song each and every night, and there were a few discoveries that I made over the weekend. I had the notes of my song completely in my range, but the rhythm was giving me trouble. When I spoke to the musical director about kicking up the tempo a little faster, that made all the difference in the world. Also, since the lyric for my high part was simply "Oh," it took me a while to figure out what that section of the song meant. So once I did, the song made perfect sense. An an acting lesson, I had to understand the song before I could sing it properly. Once I tapped into the emotional arc of the song and actually lived in the moment of the musical, the performance just came out of me. There was one moment when I played the idea of being unable to speak, and that my only solution was to sing. Very effective.

I had friends and family in the audiences on Saturday and Sunday, which was a thrill for me. There were people who have seen me in other plays, and they could offer compliments and observations based on past performances. And on Sunday, a friend from Pella windows came to see me. It was the first time that someone from my "day" job has come to see me in my "real" job. He and his wife had a really great date up to see my show, and he also sent me a very complimentary email about the performance. Maybe he'll even post a comment or two up here, as he's a regular contributor to the blog.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Way too much ice and snow

Remember that snowstorm as I was coming home after opening night? Well, that storm was enough to cancel our performance last night. I got the call from our stage manager at about noon, letting us know that the college had not only cancelled classes for the day, but they had also decided to cancel the show for the evening, due to all the snow, ice, sleet, and "wintery mix" that was supposed to be heading out way. Everyone had their ticekts rescheduled for either Saturday or Sunday, and the cast was left with a very strange night off. On one hand, it was nice to have some time off. But on the other hand, we spent so much time and energy on the piece, it's a shame to only do the show for three performances. Now, Sunday is going to be pretty well sold out, so it will be exciting to have a big crowd for the last show.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Opening night

Are there any two sexier words for the actor? Okay, maybe "You're hired." Or perhaps "open bar." Okay, all three of them are sexy. Last night we opened "The Spitfire Grill" to great success. Posted below is a nice little cast photo of all of us.

We hit the ground running, even though a group of 50 people cancelled their tickets and rescheduled for Sunday afternoon. So Sunday is now just about sold out, and we had a good-sized but not huge crowd last night. They were responding to the show right away, listening to the story and laughing at the jokes. Sometimes, audiences will be very vocal with laughter and applause, and other times they will be rather silent in the instant feedback, but then you receive a standing ovation at the curtain call. Last night's crowd was a nice mix of both types of audience, and a great crowd to "warm up" on. We were still having our fair share of music and sound troubles, but we once again made the show our own by taking charge right out of the gate. My first song had a very bizarre introduction, which forced me to just start singing, hope I was on pitch, and pray that the orchestra found and kept up with me. But by the time I got to my second (and better) song, I nailed it. It was probably the best that I have ever sung the song, and I was thrilled because of my friends in the audience. Also, that was the performance that was taped, so my performance is on film. Awesome.

After the show and the pizza and cake party provided by the school, we headed out to the local dive bar for some karaoke and drinking. But not in that order. When we went out to celebrate "Big Love," I tried so hard to get our director to sing a song. He agreed, but we hit last call before he got a chance to perform. So he was first under the mic when we got there last night. And I'm sorry, Tim, but pictures of the triumphant debut of The Spittles have to be posted here, singing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." I think we're both just lucky that no one was taping us with any sort of video recorder. Because in these still shots, we sound fantastic. The night was not over, since we also sang "Man of Constant Sorrow," and were entertained by many other songs from our castmates. You'd think we were in a musical or something.

A snowbound drive home followed after last call at the bar, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. It was a great show, a great night, and a great time. Even though the paycheck is always low, it's nights like this that really remind me why I'm doing theatre. People were singing the songs at the reception after the show, everybody was having a great time, and people I worked with on "Big Love" were coming up to me, saying that they knew I could act but had no idea I was such a good singer. A total success. And more than the audience reaction, I feel great about this show. I did the best job with it that I could, and nothing makes me more satisfied than that.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Final rehearsal/First preview

When the show you're doing only runs for a week, the final rehearsal and the first preview are one and the same. We went into the night knowing that it might be a struggle to get on the same page as the orchestra; we've been having trouble now for almost a week. But knowing there was no way to fix our problem gave us the chance to transcend it.

And by driving the music and driving the show, our director said that we really managed to make it out own. All of his notes were complimentary, talking about how we found the perfect pace and the perfect sense for many of the scenes. For my own part, once I solved all of my musical problems with the show, the performance just seemed to flow better. I could find and hit moments with more ease and clarity, and I just generally felt better about the whole thing. We open the show tonight, followed by karaoke at the local dive bar. Aside from the low theatrical paychecks, there's nothing else I'd rather do.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Support Your Local Sheriff

If a picture is worth a thousand words:

This is the first photo of Sheriff Joe Sutter from backstage of our first run in costume. Since then, we've change the hair design just a little bit, but this is essentially what I will look like in the show. The belt is one of my favorite parts. You can see some keys dangling off my belt, and you can just about see my flashlight on my other hip. There is also a set of handcuffs on the back of my belt, and we have taken some pictures of the Sheriff handcuffing everyone in the town. You can also see a microphone in my picture, coming up over my right ear. Since our orchestra is backstage, they need to be amplified over the speaker system. And so in order for the actors themselves to be heard, they also need to use microphones. It provides technical challenges, though, because it is often hard to hear the orchestra over the monitor speakers set up on either side of the stage. It is also a challenge because we cannot see our musical director, so there can be no communication between us while singing. We're still working those problems out, but I also found another picture of the set that I can post. There was more work done to it in the last few days so it's changed already. Also, it looks a whole lot different when the lights are hitting it. We find more and more set dressing added to it every day; the kitchen shelves have more and more on them every time we come in. And since the show is about letters being sent to the grill, we have stacks and stacks of envelopes and letters backstage.

I always really enjoy working with props and costume, as I feel they really give the show a full sense of reality. As a small example, there is a scene late in the show where Joe gets a stack of mail handed to him. We had been playing the scene with just a handful of clean white envelopes. But thinking that it didn't look real, we roughed up the envelopes and added some pieces of different sizes and colors. And when it was handed to be onstage, my first honest reaction was to start flipping through it to see what I had gotten. That is exactly the reaction you have to real mail; you start sorting junk, bills, and honest letters. It was a great honest example of "in the moment" acting.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Playing light, before playing hard

Tonight at rehearsal begins the process of technical work. We run the show for the crew tonight, and then tomorrow and Sunday we move slowly through the show, working out all of the sound and light cues, costume problems, and any other technical things that we've ignored up to now. So as we look at a long weekend of detail work, we spent most of last night just catching up on things that needed to be done. We worked with our revolving stage, we looked a couple of problem areas, and we sang some of the numbers that are giving us trouble. We started out warming up around a table, looking to find that sort of ensemble work that would allow us to blend our voices together. But as we started singing one of the songs, it quickly became a hand-holding, arm-swinging, lighter-swaying festival. I think it really did a lot to build the idea that we are singing this song as a group, including the fact that we just started to have a lot of fun as we were singing it. We each took a chance coming up with some bit of "choreography" for our dance session, and the rest of the cast members just followed along with it. Our director was wandering around with a camera at that point, and these pictures are courtesy of him. So the work is really about to start on the show, considering that our first performance is a week from yesterday. But I think we're in a good place, and that it is all going to work out pretty well. I'm not expecting a train wreck of any kind on this show, just careful and deliberate days of tech work.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Old Man Winter, that Old Man Winter

Sheriff Joe Sutter, all decked out in his winter best, is prepared to face Old Man Winter as he comes blistering his way into Gilead, Wisconsin. If you need anything during these cold and bleary months, you can count on your local sheriff's deparment. Call the office, leave a message with Nancy if you have to, and Joe will get out to your place just as soon as he can. But keep in mind the winter conditions will make out-of-town traffic dangerous, only to be undertaken with extreme care. If you can take the law into your own hands, Sheriff Sutter advises that you do so.

The weather around here has been pretty awful lately. Normally, that wouldn't be a subject of discussion for this blog, except that we have had rehearsal cancelled on us for the last two nights in a row. Tuesday night was bad all around, calling for all sorts of freezing rain and "wintery mix." But last night, the area near me was perfectly clear with temperatures in the high 40s. But Allentown was still getting hit pretty hard, so the campus was a mess. And so it was cancelled last night as well. Let's pause for a moment and realize...

We had a three-day weekend. We rehearsed Monday, then had two more days off. So out of the last six days, we rehearsed once. Our tech rehearsals start on Saturday, so this is really the worst time that something like this could happen. It's my favorite part of rehearsals, where we have a little breathing room to play with the scenes and see what we can find. But since we missed those last two days, there is just a little bit of crunch going into this weekend. It's nothing that we, and our fearless director, can't handle. Given enough cigarettes and coffee...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Playing Actor

So taking my own advice, I watched the most recent episode of "Paper Cuts." A friend of mine commented that she would have watched it over and over, picking apart every little detail of her performance that she wasn't satisfied with. To which I responded that although I had no interest in watching myself, I was also not about to subject myself to that kind of scrutiny. But viewing the episode, I found myself being more critical than I thought I would be. I've always thought I would be one of those actors who doesn't like to watch themselves on screen. And now with Paper Cuts, I realize that it's true. I enjoyed watching the shows at the premiere we had, sitting in a crowd that was all enjoying the show. It's just sitting at my desk alone that I don't need to see stuff I could have done better.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Newest episodes of Paper Cuts

So it's 10:30 in the morning, and I've already been up for six hours or so. I was in Philly shooting my brief scene in the next episode of Paper Cuts (see the link on the right.) The shoot this time was quick for me, but the writers tell me that I'm going to have a lot of work in the next couple of episodes. So this picture is from the last episode we shot in September, the one currently online. Check it out!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

An empty theatre

There is something very unique about an empty theatre, like the one in which I currently sit. In half an hour, the rest of the cast will arrive, the work lights will be switched on, set pieces will be properly placed, and the place will turn into the magical world of Gilead, Wisconsin, home of the Spitfire Grill. But right now, as I look at the stage from the second row, it's just a room. No one is here except me. And as such, the room is silent. Well, I can hear the ever-present humm from the ceiling where the lights are on, I can hear people walking through the wallways that line the upper balcony, and there is the soothing, rhythmic sound of the clak-clak-clak as I type away on the keyboard. Of course, the space bar makes a different sound, more of a ka-ump, but the general sound scape is there. This stage has been so completely transformed since it's time as the villa in "Big Love." And in the next two weeks, the tech crew will complete the change into the grill. To use the well-worn proverb, if only these walls could talk.

Theatres exist in so much history, I sometimes wonder at the artistic duty that is exercised in creating a new one. When I was an intern at Hedgerow Theatre, the building itself had 80 years worth of history that included Jasper Deeter, Sean O'Casey, Tennesee Williams, Richard Basehart, Keanu Reeves, only to name a few. And this theatre at Cedar Crest has been a home to not as many famous faces, but to an immesurable degree of education and experience. What kind of history exists over at the new theatre on Broad Street in Philadelphia, which is only now showing their fourth production ever?

After I achieve success and stardom, I'd hope to have pictures in my study that chronicle the places where I have been lucky enough to perform. Places where I have been able to tap into the history and legacy of a physical space, of the room itself, and where I have been granted the privledge of adding my name to their roster.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The last technical piece of the puzzle

Tonight, we put in the last technical piece of our theatrical puzzle - the final beats of our choreography. We went through the rest of the musical numbers and worked them through. Very few of the songs today took a lot of work, since a lot of them were already complete and well-done. Then we ran through some of our music before calling an early night. But this time I have pictures of me onstage...

This is a shot of me while singing "Forest for the Trees," my big solo song of the show. It was one of the songs that our choreographer Missy liked the way it was tonight, so we just made some minor adjustments to it. I'm approaching the song in the same way I approached the movement section of "Big Love," looking for physical gestures that will illuminate but not illustrate what the song is about. My current idea is about using the three verses of the song to close the physical distance between Percy and Sheriff Joe. Right now the experiment is about figuring out how much the distance closes each time. In a future blog entry, I'll discuss some of the research I have done for this character, but so far it is all working really well.

So much to catch up on... auditions

Over the last two days, I've had some pretty exciting auditions. On Monday, I went up to New York early in the morning to audition for the touring company with the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA. (Check out their website: Their touring company is doing Hamlet, The Comedy of Errors, and Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The projects seem really exciting, and I was really excited to audition for this company again. A friend of mine and I auditioned for their tour two years ago without getting cast, but then he spent all of last season working with their resident company. So I was very excited to go up for this audition.

For my brief prepared monologue, I did a piece of Iago from "Othello," and I think I really nailed it. Lots of others in the audition were living in "Shakespeareland," where they don't really understand what they are saying. It feels stilted and measured, like they are delivering fantastic recitations but not really saying the words. The artistic director gave me a nice "Good," as I finished and sat down. Then I was asked to read for Guildenstern and the King in Hamlet, and I think I did really well. I sang a little bit from "Spitfire," and that was the audition. I think I did really well on the audition as a whole, and there was another guy in the group who was really a good actor. It was a very good day.

Then yesterday I went on an audition for the Eagles Youth Partnership, applying to be their Storybook Man. It's a job that is part of their educational outreach program, in which they go to schools and read stories to young school children. I had to read a book and a poem to the auditors, and it went very well. Not as well as I would have liked, but it was one of the best auditions in a while. They are going to be letting me know within the week if I'm moving on to the next round of auditions, where I'd have to actually go to a school and read to a classroom full of children. The gig is an okay one, but the pay is really amazing. So it's the kind of thing that I might do for the two months of the contract, making money, and then strike out into the acting world again. There are worse ways to make a living.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

So much to catch up on... Spitfire!

Okay, so it's been about a week since I posted anything new. But that's only because I've been so busy doing what it is that I do. So let's try to catch up a little.

Sunday afternoon, during gorgeous weather outside and a Mythbusters marathon inside, we gathered around the rehearsal room to sing through the show with the orchestra. We have only been rehearsing with the piano for the last several weeks, so this was our first chance to hear what the show was actually going to sound like when we perform it. Overall, the rehearsal went very well. There were a few glitches here and there when it came to timing and such, but there weren't any train wrecks. And that is always a good thing. We finished up with enough time to head over and watch the Super Bowl. Even made kickoff!

Monday night, we did what Tim called a "status check" run-through of the show. It was also our first day being forced to remember our lines as opposed to using our scripts. So it didn't go too terribly, even if we were off on a bunch of musical things. There are two bars in my solo that always give me trouble, and I was having trouble staying on pitch on the rest of it. Oops. It was a long day.

Tonight we worked more on musical staging with our choreographer, helping us find gestures and movements. These pictures are from that work tonight, and I hope to be able to post a lot more of our work as we go along. Might even get some pics of me up on the site. We're are planning to contine this work tomorrow, and then we'll run through and work out final problem areas on Thursday. We have this weekend off, which will be a nice break before we start rehearsals next week that will take us all the way through to closing night. We have our work cut out for us, but there is nothing else I'd rather be doing.