Thursday, October 28, 2010

Trailer for "Rendezvous"

This past weekend, I worked with my partner Rob from Digital Reality Films on a 5-Day Film Festival. I'm planning to write a post about it, but until then I will direct you over to Rob's blog, The Cutting Room Floor. You can find that at filmrebel.blogspot.com

But until my blog post is uploaded, please enjoy this teaser trailer for the upcoming short film.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Working between the Panels

A few posts ago, I mentioned a fun project that I hadn't written about yet. Well, this is an entry on that project. A few weeks ago, I headed down to a photographer’s studio to be a character in a comic book. I’ve been reading comic books since I was six years old, and I am now an avid collector. I love those old newsprint pages from my youth, and they fire something deep in my imagination. So when a friend of mine sent me an email from an artist who was looking for actors to pose as character models for a comic book, I made sure to answer that email right away.

David, the artist, responded very quickly and explained the overall plot of the graphic novel he was illustrating. Based on actual events, the comic book would chronicle the series of nights when Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley, and two other guests gathered around a fireplace to entertain each other with ghost stories. Each issue would be a different character’s story in which the storyteller would take on the role of “hero,” the final issue being the most famous story to come out of that party – Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” David cast me as Lord Byron, discussed some costume things, sent me the script for the comic, and then we scheduled the photo shoot.

I arrived at his studio not knowing what to expect, but thrilled to learn. When everyone had arrived and gotten into wardrobe, we moved into the studio, which David had decorated as small sets. I had read the script and so I knew the story behind each scene. But since David was shooting still images for the comic, it was an interesting acting challenge to convey the intent behind dialogue without getting the opportunity to actually say any of it. We worked out a system, though, where we read the dialogue for each panel, and then struck a pose to convey the intention. Without the use of my voice, I relied on body language and facial expression. David explained that he will use the photos as a reference when illustrating the comic, so I really tried to create the character in my eyes.

The entire group wrapped shooting at about noon, but David and I stayed for another few hours to finish up the first issue, which had a lot of solo shots of my character as he was telling his scary story. In this ghost story, I got the chance to play a Jekyll/Hyde character. And since Jekyll and Hyde is one of my favorite books, I was thrilled to play the part. At the end of the day, David let me keep one of the wardrobe shirts (which I have already used in another project), and he promised to send me the artwork when he finishes some pages. And you can sure believe that I’ll be posting some of that here if he allows me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hamlet (Week One)

So, we blocked Hamlet in four days. And that includes the fights. I’m going to give you a chance to think about that again. Hamlet is one of the longest and most complicated of Shakespeare’s plays, and we blocked it all in four days. Granted, we’re only doing a 4-actor, 75-minute version of the play. And if that sounds almost impossible, it’s because it is. The first set of challenges is learning how to run around backstage in order to make all your costume changes as well as play musical cues, and then still remember which side of the stage you enter on. Then acting happens on top of all that.

Because of how quickly we have to work to get ready for the show, the pace in the first few days was hurried and somewhat hectic. As we struggled to remember the lines we had learned on our own, the work on each scene was necessarily brief and perfunctory, consisting mostly of ideas of the “you stand there, then move over here, then exit” variety. While I understand that is the best way for us to start because of our schedule, it is a style of rehearsing that really doesn’t work well for me. When the process starts with detail work so early, I sometimes feel like a puppet. It robs me of some of my creative impulses because I feel that they aren’t really wanted yet.

Luckily, the fourth day of work did involve some work on quieter character moments, and we changed the blocking accordingly when we found something didn’t work. So our uber-specific beginning isn’t an insurmountable obstacle, but it certainly took some of the wind out of my sails right from the beginning.

Every artist (actor, director, designer, writer) invariably has their own rhythms and their own preferences when it comes to how they work on a show. One of the biggest and least understood challenges in theatre, however, is that those artists need to learn how to work together and allow those rhythms to complement each other, instead of letting conflicting patterns shake the entire production apart. It’s a challenge that each artists needs to address in their own way, and it’s one that I’m not completely confident with yet. I haven’t yet figured out a good way to deal with that sort of conflict, but I’m trying to figure it out.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fan "Superman" trailer

I'm normally not one to re-post things that I've found online, but this one was shown on The Bitter Script Reader, one of the blogs I follow. And since I just played Superman, and Zach Snyder was just hired to direct the new big screen version, the subject here is at least topical.

But seriously, check out this fan-made trailer. (Fan-made!) This thing is epic. And creative. And exciting. Please, Mr. Snyder, give us a Superman movie that would also be described by those three words.

Pieces of the Puzzle (At Work)

So, I've talked about two Fringes, my upcoming "Hamlet," and I still have a day that I haven't told everyone about yet. And, of course, all the current projects currently on the drafting boards at Radio Hound. These include various upcoming Stray Dogs Project episodes, our miniseries "Scream Til You Die Shocktober," as well as another upcoming "Boson Higgs" live event. In the mean time, Rob and I have been developing the story for an online webseries that we want to produce. Originally we had hoped to have the script done by this time of year, but we have fallen behind due to some other projects that have cropped up.

We had some excellent writing momentum a few months ago when we were meeting once a week to work on story outlines and character backgrounds.
We had a multi-page Excel spreadsheet that charted the entire webseries, essentially page-by-page. With an outline completed, only the actual scriptwriting was left. Instead of splitting the writing chores, Rob elected to take them all on himself. We get together now and then and read our way through his first "scratch draft" of the series.

This work on the webseries is also matched by the work I am doing on a short film that I really want to produce. I had an idea for a single image of a film. I set a timer and challenged myself to rattle off the rough draft of the film that included that image. As I've been working on the script since then, it has taken shape. Strangely enough, that initial inspiring scene is no longer in the film, but the script is much stronger. It's a little eight page short film that I'd like to produce, but it's certainly sitting on the desk until at least November. It's not buried in a drawer, though...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hamlet begins

My newest theatrical project, as I think I mentioned in a previous post, is a production of "Hamlet" that will be touring as a school production. I'm returning to a previous realm of being the morning Shakespeare assembly for bleary-eyed high school students. But instead of touring the country as I did as Mercutio in R&J, I will be touring the Philadelphia suburbs as both Claudius and The Ghost in a 4-actor version of "Hamlet."

We met for the first time last Monday, where we read through the current version of the script, talked about the overall production, and got the first "how to speak the Shakespeare" lesson while we ate our lunch provided by the theatre. (Free lunch!) Then we were set
loose for another week before we begin our rehearsals this coming Monday. Even though we had been working on the script by ourselves, it was great to bring the whole band together and get everyone in the same room.

Because our rehearsal time is limited, the director has asked us all to come to the first rehearsal off-book, with all our lines already memorized.
This is not normally something that actors are asked to do, and in fact the performer's unions expressly forbid producers asking actors to do this. But, non-union as we are, I understand the request given the rehearsal time involved. However, it's not the way that I prefer to work. I've always found that memorizing completely in a vacuum limits my creativity and flexibility when it comes time to rehearse the show. A little bit of familiarity is helpful, but too much knowledge with them can actually be a hindrance as much as a convenience. For that reason, I try to memorize as I actually rehearse as much as possible. But to honor my fellow actors (and also not be the only delinquent member of the group), I am steadily working my way through the Hamlet script to beat as many lines as possible into my brain.

At the first rehearsal, however, we were told that our cutting was still 15-20 minutes too long, and we should expect more lines to be cut from it. A few days later an email brought a new draft of the script. Suddenly, lines that I had learned and lines that I had loved were no longer in it. This is one of the unforeseen dangers about cuts to a script after the actors have their hands on it. Over the last month, I have started to feel possessive of the lines I have; to cut them now invites question and concern. I have two or three lines that I am planning to ask to be put back in, because I've learned the speeches with those changes of thought. To suddenly take out a transition is to force me to stumble my way through the speech again, which in effect defeats the purpose of preparing it in advance in the first place. Tis a sticky situation, but a trap that actors need beware of.

Now if you'll excuse me... I have one more scene to learn.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Where I've Been (Part 3)

Okay, so in the last two posts, I pretty much sped through everything that I've done since the last time I had an opportunity to post. A couple more projects are currently in the works, and I'll be sure to share information (and hopefully pictures) of those projects as they develop. But before we leap to the present, we have one more stop to make in the past. It's somewhat of a long stop, but only because pictures take up more space on this blog than text does. And so, here are some pictures!

First up, Jensen Bucher and Lucas Nguyen as Brianna Green, Detective, and Boson Higgs, Science Detective.

Michael McElroy as Charles Tuscany, a man with a problem... and a secret.

Jennifer MacMilan as Valerie Burbank, Charlie's fiancée, accused of a crime she did not commit.

Stephen Lyons as Mr. A. Leopold Burbank, Valerie's father. A man who has been wronged.

Rachel Gluck as Detective Jordan, businesslike and efficient, with a soft spot for Mr. Higgs.
And a final picture of the entire cast, including Andrea Pinyan (onstage director) and Nick Troy (live sound effects.)


I hope you've enjoyed our little photo album of "Boson Higgs," and my next entry will start delving into my current projects. But don't worry, Boson Higgs will return.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Where I've Been (Part 2)

In the last posting on the blog, I talked about two shows in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. As I was working on these two shows, I was also writing and preparing The Peer-Reviewed Journals of Boson Higgs, Science Detective, a show I produced for the 2010 Wilmington Fringe Festival. At the first Fringe Wilmington last year, Radio Hound produced its first live audio drama, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This year, our show was a comedy adventure of Boson Higgs, Science Detective. I had done a previous episode about Mr. Higgs for a live theatre event in April, and the Wilmington Fringe seemed a good time to bring that character back for a full-length project.

I wrote the script over a stressful two weeks, struggling a little bit to get the entire script done in time to have it printed and ready for the actors at the first rehearsal. But I did it, and I went to the first read-through with a stack of pages in my bag. When the actors arrived, we read through the script and I took pages and pages of notes on things to adjust for the next draft. I was up into the early morning that first night, making changes and improving the jokes before handing out all-new scripts on the second day.

We had a week's worth of rehearsal on the show, and we were fortunate that our rehearsal space was made possible by a generous donation from Flashpoint Theatre.
This meant that we could inhabit the space, get comfortable with the nightly routine, and also leave our equipment and props in a safe space overnight. The actors went through the shows, director Cara working the script moment by moment and really finding all of the comedy as well as all of the drama. I love working with her because she always takes my scripts and finds meaning and depth to them that is admittedly unintentional on my part.

Fringe Wilmington ran the first weekend of October. The shows were not very well attended, but everyone who saw the show really enjoyed it. I was very happy with the work that everyone did, and I'm already working on the next live show for Boson Higgs. More pictures from the show will follow soon, as will up-to-date reports on the school tour of "Hamlet" that I'm now rehearsing.

(The first picture is Jennifer MacMillan, Stephen Lyons, and Lucas Nguyen rehearsing a fight in the radio play. The second photo is Jensen Bucher and Lucas Nguyen as detective partners Brianna Green and Boson Higgs.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Where I've Been (Part 1)

Wow. Okay, so, no posts for the entire month of September. Wow. That whole month, just sorta lost to the expanse of the Internet. What was I up to all of that time? Why, I'm glad that you asked.
In the beginning of September, I played Superman in a staged reading of a comic book as a part of the "Superheroes Who Are Super" project done as a part of P&P Theatre in Philly. We performed two early issues of Action Comics from 1938, in which Superman is a tough guy going up against corrupt politicians and slumlords by throwing them through windows. Our director designed the show to resemble a 1930s show from the Works Project Administration, including homemade props and costumes. Hence the hand-sewn Superman costume in the picture above.

The show was a lot of fun, and we squeezed five performances into three days. We were a hit, though, and I had some friends come to see the show who were big comic book fans, and they really enjoyed what we did with the show. One funny moment of the process for me was when, as Superman, I had to pick someone up and fly through the air with them. Fortunately, the actor I had to "pick up" was also a comic book fan growing up, and we knew exactly how to pretend to do that. I grabbed his neck, we both looked up, bent our knees, and then straightened our legs. I looked all tough and flying, he waved his arms like he was in the air. It was simple, effective, and very funny.

After my time in the cape was over, I moved on to play Roderigo in a show I mentioned briefly on this blog, DdS. Here's a picture:

That's me, second from left, dressed in one of the nicest shirts that I've ever worn. I'm playing the young waiter at the restaurant. While the other three in the picture may have gotten more lines and more stage time--in fact, the two guys in suits were onstage for 45-minutes straight--I did get to end the show by drinking some wine onstage. According the script, my character lifts a decanter of wine to his mouth and drinks hungrily, greedily, until the wine pours out of the decanter and runs down his chin and down his body. Something like this:

I went home after every show smelling like grape juice. It was an amazing moment of theatre to have the wine running all the way down my shirt, and the director Aaron and I had a few discussions about what this moment should be. It presented a unique challenge, however, because we couldn't "rehearse" the moment due to the amount of liquid and the mess involved. So we would talk about the moment, I would do the big pour at the end of the run of the show, I would get cleaned up, and then we would talk about it again. A pretty strange way to rehearse a moment of a show, but a fun one.

So, that's what I was up to until September 18th? And what about after September 18th you say? Wait for a day or so, and I'll have a new post up about the next show. I will. Promise.

Friday, October 1, 2010

MIA

Folks out there, I have been lazy when it comes to posting lately, but I have been working on a whole bunch of projects that I will try to talk about and reflect on. But for now, just surf over to the RHP website and check out the project page for "The Peer-Reviewed Journals of Boson Higgs, Science Detective." And if you're in the Philly area, come see the show at the Wilmington Fringe festival.

Be back soon.