Saturday, September 29, 2007

Gremlins in the works

When I was in high school, our second night tradition was to stamp out the gremlins that would infest the theatre after that successful opening night. We'd stamp our feet and chant something, so that we could go out on the boards for a second performance that would be as strong as the first. Tonight, my Big Love could have used some gremlin stamping. Nothing really "went wrong," but it wasn't as sharp as it has been in the past. I didn't feel as connected to my big monologue as I have for the last two nights, and the slippery, water-logged stage has started presenting major problems for both traction and balance. All in all it was a good show, but not a great one.

But as a consolation prize, I've attached a James Bond photo. We were doing our runthrough of the rappel, and I happened to be already dressed in my tuxedo. It doesn't get more James Bond than this.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Opening night!

Last night was the opening night of our show, followed by a pizza and soda reception in the dining hall around the corner (college, I know!) and then we headed off to the local bar for some drinking, nachos, and then slightly drunken kareoke. It took me a beer or two to get up on the stage, but I rocked it out with Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." I had the table near the stage clapping along with me, and Tim was doing appropriate gesture work in time with the lyrics. It was pretty special. I realized that it has been a long time since I closed out a bar, drinking and singing until 2am. It was a really great night.

But isn't that just like an actor to go straight to the drinking and the party, skipping straight over the part about the show itself. We had a nice size crowd, not big not small, and it seemed like it took them a little bit of time to warm up into the show. They were laughing at it, and yet at the moments when I expected silence I was rewarded with it. They seemed to go with the ending bit where all the chaos and destruction erupts onstage, laughing it up as Michelle and I shoved cake into each other's face. Then we got to go to that reception and have people compliment the show. Now every actor likes being told how good he was, but for this show it was even better. This physical work is something that I've never done before, and it's great to hear that it connects with people, and that they can really appreciate the art that we are bringing to it. We have three more shows to go and then it's over. I wish we were doing more, but I'm also excited to head off for R&J. But I'll miss this character, this show, these people. I made great friends here, which is one of the reasons to do it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rappeling photos

So, this is one of the promised pictures of us learning to rappel. That's Dave on the ground with me, our firefighter who helped train us. You can see the scaffolding from which we are working, hanging off into the middle of nothing.

The harness has been getting more and more uncomfortable as I added other costume pieces to it. It's really rough to be up on the balcony waiting in my harness, hooked up to my line. But it's still one of the coolest things to do on stage.

Dead, naked, and covered in cake

A few nights ago, Tim gave me the note to grab a big handful of cake to smush all over my bride's head. So when she shoved a good amount into my face, I grabbed a big ole handful for her head. As I pulled the cake and approached her, I heard everyone in the audience draw their breath, and when I smashed it onto her head and then wiped some icing down her cheeks, everyone started laughing. We then had to do our little sex and violence dance with cake all over the place, with Michelle all the while swearing vengeance against me. Overall, it was pretty funny. But after the show, while washing the cake from my face, I realized that it's only going to escalate from here. Hopefully, I'll get some pictures up here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The end of a busy weekend

Over the past weekend, we did our 10 out of 12 hour technical days, which now means we are running the show at full intensity at full speed in full costume. Granted, I have yet to purchase the eye makeup that I need to wear in such a large space, but I've got everything else that I need. I've actually been having some bad luck in the last few days, in the sense that I've actually broken the same prop two days in a row, in two different ways. The closer and closer we get to opening the show, the more and more excited about it I become. I did my cake-covered pre-death striptease last night for the first time, after which I die beside the pool and get absolutely soaked from the roman fountain. It's quite a dramatic spectacle of a death scene, and I will certainly confess to loving it. In my mind, one of the reasons to be an actor is so that I can do things that I wouldn't get the chance to do in real life, and this show as given me a lot of them. It's not high-profile or high-paying, but it's a lot of fun.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Our amps go to 11

Tim challenged us tonight to play the entire show at level "11," raising the stakes on everything we have done up until this point. But instead of being a little too extreme, the show finally started to take shape. I was slightly proud to have come up with the two moments of the show that were deemed "too far." But the challenge to hit 11 gave us the freedom to take a lot of risks, which livened up the show and made it come alive. It was compared to the moment where Frankenstein's monster moves and starts to come to life. Everything we worked so hard on for the last few weeks finally took on a life of its own. We came up with some great stuff, some of it is very effective, and we get to play with it more tomorrow. Also, tomorrow I promise another post with pictures from rapelling!

Monday, September 17, 2007

First shooting morning for Paper Cuts

You may ask why I was out of the house before sunrise this morning, and it was so I could catch my train to Philly for the first shooting day for the new season of Paper Cuts. In fact, it was so early in the morning that I actually watched the sunrise from the train as we headed into the city. We shot for about an hour and half, accomplishing everything we wanted. I pitched some new jokes into the show, as well as contributed to the blooper reel. My costar Tim was sitting in the front row, and there were numerous times when just looking down in his direction would make me laugh. An entire scene with him was an exercise in maintaining focus.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Where no man has gone before

I recently purchased the complete original Star Trek series on DVD, and as I am currently on the third disc (of twenty one!) of episodes, I am considering it one of the best purchases I ever made. These are ultimate relics of my childhood, and there a part of that 8 year old boy comes out every time I put one of them on. But this connects to an acting blog not with an analysis of the acting in the original Trek, but rather a mention of the new JJ Abrams Star Trek movie about to go into production. This is now the second big movie that I have desperately wanted to be a part of, the first being last summer's Superman Returns. So as an unrepresented non-union actor who is not living in LA, I want desperately to be considered for that film. As much as any Trek fan would love to play Jim Kirk, I would just love the opportunity to wear those outfits and walk around the various sets from a scifi world that no longer exists. So if anyone sees any information about it, please post it here and let me know. When I come back from Romeo and Juliet, I'm going to make it my business to try to get involved with film and perhaps television. I love doing theatre, but my dreams and aspirations are starting to lie on the silver screen instead.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Doing whatever a spider can

At rehearsal yesterday for Big Love, the guys took an hour or so out of running the scenes to work with our "stunt coordinators" on our rappelling lesson for our entrance. We worked with Becky (our costume designer), Daryll (her husband), and Dave (a firefighter) to learn how to keep ourselves safe. We got some gear, and then Dave had us all hang from the rope only inches off the floor so we could see what it would feel like. Then we climbed the scaffolding and lowered ourselves down, slowly at first from a height of about 15 feet. We went through it a few times, each time getting more and more confident in our ability. Our descents became not only prettier but also faster, and every time my feet hit the floor, I was both excited from the rush and disappointed that it was over.

As the final step, we moved out over an open section of air, since our descent in the show will not have the aid of a wall to jump down. That one was a little harder for me at first, since I wasn't quite prepared to go swinging into the middle of the air like I did. But Dave had prepared us well, so I recovered pretty quickly and made a nice landing. All three of us did very well, including our hesitant actor who is a little afraid of heights. It was hands down one of the most fun days of rehearsal ever; all the girls were very jealous of the fun that we got to have 15 feet above the ground. But this post alone cannot do justice to the moment, so some pictures will follow. The technical director was taking photos as we were working, and I've been promised some of those shots for this blog. So when I get the pictures, you'll get to see them.

Back to old haunts

Tonight I went to see "It Runs in the Family," Hedgerow Theatre's annual production of a Ray Cooney farce. I always enjoy going back there as a successful "graduate," still acting and still making a living at it. Old friends are still there, so we can swap stories and recall old times. And I always meet new friends there as well, many of whom I eventually see in the Philadelphia theatre community at large. And in this case, I know a bunch of the current full-time theatre fellows, and one of my good friends from Tony n Tina is their lead. The show was funny and enjoyable, and it was good to see old friends again.

I talked up both Big Love and Romeo and Juliet, and I'm trying to get the Fellows to come up and see Big Love. They run a show that weekend, but it's possible that they could come see a final preview or a dress rehearsal. Fellows came to see my production of Getting Married when I ran that at Bloomsburg, and I hope they can come see this one as well.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sex and violence, sex and violence

Fantastic stuff! Fantastic. Last night, we ran the second half of our show to great success. I made some fun choices that were very strong and different, a few of which worked and a few of which did not work. Working on this show, I find that I’m being both forced and encouraged to stretch myself creatively. I'm normally a very reserved and classical actor, but being in a show that is so unfamiliar to me, it forces me to come up with new tricks and use my techniques in different ways. For instance, I had a very long pause in one of my monologues last night. In a traditional play, such a long pause would not really work, but it was one of the director's compliments to me last night. He said that if the pause ever got any shorter than it was, he would come after me. He liked just what it was, which meant that my first instinct was dead on. It's nice to know I can do such good work, and exciting to have the chance to do something quite new.
After everyone else was released, Michelle and I continued to work on our dance/murder at the end of the show. Just like the time before, it was great to work one-on-one with her, with Tim advising and guiding our work. We came up with some great moves that combine sex with violence, including two lifts where I get to throw her around. It's fun work, although I realize one bicep is a little sore today. I still have two weeks or so to get into shape.

Blocking the finale

[Monday, Sept 10]

Tonight we blocked the finale of the show, in which our dance troupe joined rehearsals and we worked out how all the brides would kill their husbands. It was a pretty wild night, but the best part by far was that Michelle and I got a chance to work on our own for a bit on our encounter. Since she and I are the "principle" couple, and I am the first husband to die, we had the chance to improvise a bit of an encounter before I actually die. I liked bringing elements of my work with Enchantment to the show, including some very physical movement and a little bit of the dance work we had done with Cinderella. Michelle and I worked really well together, and she wasn't at all shy to voice her own ideas or to tell me that there was something better than the one I had come up with. Those are important qualities to have in a castmate, particularly someone with whom I will be working so closely. We didn't quite get to finish the whole sequence, but we'll keep working at it over the next few days. I'm again, very excited.

Iphegenia 2.0 in New York City

[Sunday night, September 9]

After running the second half of Big Love at rehearsal, we loaded ourselves into two vehicles and flew along Route 78 to get into New York City to see the Signature Theatre Company’s production of Iphegenia 2.0, another play by our own playwright Charles Mee. Another modern re-telling of a classic Greek myth, it also blurred the line between historical piece and modern play, with characters named Agamemnon and Menalaus talking about Jeeps and RPGs. It was a lot of fun to see a professional production of one of Mee's plays, especially since they have the budget and the resources to do the kind of spectacle that his plays demand.

The performers were amazing, using their voices and their bodies very well to tell the story. It was also a lot of fun to see Kate Mulgrew, Star Trek Voyager's Captain Janway, onstage in such a large theatrical piece. She was very effective, capturing attention and focus when needed, and seeming at home in the physical demands of such a role. This play also contained the sequences of music and dance that are in Big Love, as well a sequence of intense destruction and celebration at the very end. All in all, I liked the production. I enjoyed the story elements of Big Love more, but I liked the way the spectacle functioned in Iphegenia. It seemed more organic and less forced.

We also had a great time. In the car with the director and three girls of the cast, we talked and laughed all the way into the city, and then played a fantastic mix CD on the way out. I asked everyone there to think of driving music for me for when I leave on tour, and it was a fun time with some new friends.

Above all, I was struck by the dedication and passion of the performers in this New York production. And I realize that when doing a Charles Mee play, the stakes must always be very high. Everything is a matter of life or death, and a high level of committment must accompany every moment. This play is a challenge, and I love it.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Paper Cuts 2.0

This afternoon was the first meeting of the semester for the online TV series Paper Cuts. We had to go through a bit of housekeeping business, and we had to talk about schedules and commitments and schoolwork and plot twists. We got our schedule for the month of September, and it actually starts pretty soon. It's going to limit my time for Pella windows, and this upcoming week might actually be my last one there. Because I'll be working on Paper Cuts in the morning, then coming home to change and eat, and then I'll head off to Allentown in the evening to rehearse Big Love. It'll be long days but fun days.

I'm very excited to work on the show again. People have sometimes asked me how I choose which plays to do, or which jobs to accept, and I can only say that I choose what I think is going to be one of two things. I want things to either advance my career and skills, or I want to have fun. Recently, I've been very lucky about picking projects that do both for me. All of these projects are teaching me things, and I'm having a ball doing them. It was great to see everyone at the meeting today, and I promise, promise, that I will write about filming here on this blog. I'm really looking forward to it, even though it means that I have many more lines to learn.

Friday, September 7, 2007

First rehearsal in a while

Wednesday night was the first rehearsal for Big Love since last Saturday. And as I treaded the boards, I was very aware that I hadn’t thought about the show since then. The blocking and character work were buried deep in my head, but the lines took a little longer to come back to me. But everyone seemed a little sluggish as well, and it was also our first day as a company to work with our lead actress again. Her understudy had been rehearsing for a week, as our leading lady happened to be on a week long cruise. So part of the night was spent working her into new scenes, as well as working on old scenes now that we had her back. We didn't get as far as Tim hoped to get, but we at least made it to the entrance of the guys, and we got to throw our weight around onstage for a bit.