Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hamlet One-Shot

Nope, not the latest offering from DC Comics, Marvel Comics, or even Charleton Comics. It's the way I spent my Monday last week. After two weeks of intensive rehearsals and one school performance, we put Hamlet to bed until our touring starts in earnest at the end of February. But we had one show that was added to our schedule last Monday night, so we had a daytime brushup rehearsal before our evening performance.

Overall, the rehearsal and the performance went much better than I had expected them to. I knew there would be a certain amount of "oh, yeah, this is how it goes" as we stumbled our way through the show. Whether it was a forgotten prop or a forgotten character quick-change, we struggled our way through the play and everything really hung together. We took a quick dinner break, ran the fights again, and then did the show for the first audience in three weeks. Before we ran out onto the stage, I was actually a little nervous for the show, and a little excited to show off my work to friends that I knew were in the audience. The show went well, even if it didn't quite capture the magic of our afternoon rehearsal, and the crowd was very complimentary afterwards.

It felt good to get the wheels turning and run the show again, but even stranger knowing that we're not going to run the show again for another two months. But we slipped back into the show with ease, so I think that we'll be good to go when we start running again in February.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

NYC Play reading

The title of this post says it all. Last Sunday I made my way up to NYC to take part in the reading of "Julius Caesar." My friend David was hosting an informal reading of the cutting of the play he wants to produce, and he wanted to get some actors in the room so that he could hear the words out loud and bounce some ideas off of us. I saw his post on facebook looking for men who were available, and I sent him a message right away. I like working on small projects like this with friends, and it gave me an excuse to get up to NYC for a day or so.

I was pulling some multiple duties in the show, playing four characters through the script. All minor roles, I nevertheless had some fun as the soothsayer and one of the conspirators. David was very interested in the idea of how some moments in the play are presented for the public and other moments are private ones. He encouraged us to be aware of that as we read through the show, and to really play up the differences in those moments between the public face and the private one. It was a strong and clear interpretation of the show, and it certainly prompted a good discussion after the reading about the play itself.

I really like doing work like this play reading with friends. It is always fun to get actors together and have them do their thing. Even though I wasn't any major roles in the show, I had a lot of fun working with the other actors. It was great to work on a project where the stakes were low, the fun was high, and the companionship in the room was palpable. I enjoy play readings like this, and I really enjoy working with people that I know as they try to put something together.

I always do as many readings as I can, because you never know when the reading could turn into a full production. Not that I do readings hoping they become productions, but it's a nice side benefit sometimes. I actually met #1 director/collaborator because I signed up to be in a reading she was hosting, and she and I are now very good friends. In a business that is all about connections, play readings are a great way to make some quick connections.

"Beware the Ides of March...."

Six months later...

Back in the spring, I played Duke Orsino in a production of Twelfth Night. We ran for a few weeks, closed the show and struck the set, and then moved into other projects. Well, thanks to the magic of cameras, youtube, and the Internet, that performance has been both captured and released to the world at large. You can check the show out in sections on youtube, the first one of which is posted below. Check out our steampunk Shakespearean goodness.

Even more strange, however, is that I came across a review of this video. I was searching myself online to see what had been posted, and I stumbled across the article written by an expert on Twelfth Night who both discusses our show and also compares it to other productions of the play. It's a really great write-up, all the more amazing because it comes six months after the play closed. Ah, the world in which we live....


After all those technical rehearsals for Dracula, the show opened and ran very well. The students had a really good time working on the play, and all the faculty that I met really enjoyed the show. The first performance had some minor technical glitches in it from a sound design point of view, but that was only because we really hadn't had many chances to run the show with all the cues before opening. But even with those minor goofs, the show was great. A few notes took care of all the problems, and the second show the next day was even better from the technical end.

I only got a chance to see the first two shows because I had to make a trip up to NYC to take part in a play reading with a friend. (More on that in a later post. I know I say that a lot, but I have the post written already and I just need to put it up.) Dracula was a lot of fun to work on, and I might get the chance to come back to the school to work on the musical in the spring. Working at SHHS reminded me of working up at Cedar Crest College when I did three shows for them a few years ago. It was a lot of fun to work with students and teachers on what were essentially low-stakes productions. Finance and support comes from the schools, which frees the artists to create some awesome art. It's a fun environment in which to work, one to which I would like to return now and then.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Technical Rehearsal, from the other side of the table

Last night was the first night of technical rehearsals for "Dracula" at SHHS. This is my first major experience working as a designer for a show, so it's the first time that I get to sit with the director and watch the show take shape as the technical elements layered into it. The sound crew is really efficient and on top of things, even if the head operator of the crew is a little unfocused sometimes. I had emailed him my sound cues on Thursday before I went on vacation, and he had modified them a little bit before I showed up against yesterday. That work he did is fine with me, since I'm not "really" a sound designer by profession. But I do think that I want to just give him a little warming about working with any professionals that he may encounter down the road. Better he get that lesson now than with someone who will really bristle at what he did on his own.

In any case, the first night of tech went really well. We made our way through a lot of the show, moving through toward the end of the play. Tonight we're going to go back to the beginning and working the first act of the show. Things have gone really well so far, so I'm not expecting it to be any harder tonight. I know that Allison (director) is a little stressed about the entire show coming together, but it's refreshing to me to only be working on the sound aspect of the show. And that sound is coming together nicely. We're going to have some cues to work through today, and we still need to figure out when the Foley artists get their microphones turned on and off through the play. Easy stuff, but just stuff that needs to get done.

Well, off to rehearsal! More to follow.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Working... working...

I am currently sitting in a Borders store. I have a coffee on one side of the laptop, the script for Dracula on the other side, and I've spent the last twenty minutes or so working on a sound cue for Dracula's many creepy entrances in the play. I'm playing around with the cue to give the director a few more versions before I head off for my vacation this weekend. I'll be back at rehearsal on Monday to work the sounds into the show, and until then the director will be working with my Foley performers on the live sounds themselves.

I'm really enjoying this gig as sound designer, which is a theatre job I haven't done since 2004 when I was an apprentice. Back then, I directed a one play in a series of one-acts, and I was given the job of finding and selecting the music to play between the plays. That was the last time I was credited as the sound designer for a production, although a lot of what I do for Radio Hound would be listed under the job description of a sound designer. This case is different, though, since I'm working with a director who is giving me notes and suggestions on the sounds, as well as a sound team that will be performing the live effects and playing the pre-recorded ones. It's pretty cool to be working with a team!

Foley work Day 3

I'm now three days into my work as the Foley designer for "Dracula" that I mentioned in my last blog post. As we've been rehearsing, the set is coming together around us, and the show is coming together within the set. I've included a picture so you can see what things are like in this working phase.

Off to the right side of this picture is a black platform. When that is fully completed, the sound artists will be up there with their table and effects. Right now, you can see them on the floor in front of the stage (also on the right hand side of the photo.) We've worked out all the different live sound cues, and now the performers are getting a chance to actually perform the sounds as we do runs of the show.

The two students that I'm working with had no experience when we started on Monday, but they are picking it up really quickly. There are the normal amount of technical obstacles to hurdle, but they are getting very good at "acting the sounds."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Have Foley, Will Travel

I started a new job today. Allie, the stage manager of my current Hamlet tour, is directing a production of "Dracula" at a local high school. When she found out that I produce radio plays and work with live sound effects, she asked if I would be interested in coming in to work with some high school students on live sound effects for the production. Always interested in making contacts, working, and earning some money for my art, I jumped at the chance. My first rehearsal was today, although Allie and I had tried unsuccessfully to meet up over the last week to chat and get the script to me. So today I watched a run of the play while making notes regarding some possible sound effects. I gave the production manager a wish list at the end of the day, rounded up handfuls of wood, screws, and metal, and then headed home to research the sound of bat wings.

I love my job.

As of right now, I think that designing the live sound effects on this show should be pretty easy. There are only a handful of "sounds" written into the script that I need to figure out, even though they seem to happen over and over again throughout the play. Most of the work is going to revolve around two or three "atmospheric sound cues" that are going to create different moods for different characters. The idea I have is that certain characters are going to get sound cues to serve as their "theme." As the director, Allie can then decide when and how she wants to use those themes to underscore or foreshadow things happening in the play.

When I go in tomorrow, I'll start working with my actual sound performers on the rhythm, style, and cues for live sound effects. Having done so many live shows, Radio Hound Productions has developed something of a "house style" that I now have to teach to high schoolers and let them process it further. It is what I get hired for, so its what I get to do. Updates to follow.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Chemistry... Noir!.... LIVE!

Radio Hound Productions was live in Philadelphia last night at the Chemical Heritage Foundation for their First Friday event. We premiered the newest adventure of Boson Higgs, a live radio play called "Chemistry... Noir!" We set the equipment up and then had some time to wait before the first show, but when we realized that there were people literally waiting to come in and find some seats. We did two performances, and we had about 50 people at each performances. That makes "Chemistry... Noir!" the most successfully attended Radio Hound Production ever. Performing for that many people was great, and I was sitting in the back row during both performances listening to the assembled crowds laughing at the jokes I wrote.

It was a good day to be a writer.

But it was an even better day to be a producer. I got paid for the production, people signed up for the mailing list, I heard nothing but good feedback on the entire performance, I have a great episode that will be posted next week, and I've already been approached with the idea for future collaborations with CHF. After the show I went out for drinks and food with friends and costars, and we talked about future versions of Mr. Higgs. It was a great night, and I did a whole lot of producing for the win. It was a fantastic night! Here's a picture of the crew:

(L-R): Sarah J Gafgen, Matt Dell'Olio, Jensen Bucher, Nick Martorelli, Lucas Nguyen, Andrea Pinyan

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chemistry... Noir!

Last night, I loaded up the recording equipment and went to the first and only rehearsal for "Chemistry... Noir!" a live radio play that I am producing on Friday down in Philadelphia. A friend of mine works for the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and when she and her colleagues heard the first adventure of Boson Higgs, Science Detective, they approached me to produce a new episode for them as a part of the First Friday series. I jumped at the chance, thrilled that someone was going to hire me to produce an audio drama.

As preparation for writing the script, I went down and met with reps from CHF, and I got a tour of the exhibits they are showing to see if anything would serve as a good basis for a story. There were a lot of cool ideas, but I attached myself quickly to the ideas of both poisoning and electroplating. A mystery started to form in my mind and I made notes and started working on the script. It proved to be slow-going, however, and two days before my draft was going to be due, I did a complete bait and switch on the mystery. Instead of a case of poisoning, it turned into a story about a theft in a museum.

The new script flew along really quickly, and I had the rough draft done in about a day. A few more days of editing and polishing, and then it was ready for our first rehearsal last night. With only one exception, all the actors had worked on the previous live show so we could fall right into a nice rhythm with the rehearsal. There were new jokes to work through and new science to explain, obviously, but it went very smoothly and we finished with time to spare.

I'm always delighted to work with very talented actors because they can really make the words on the page spring to life. Suddenly hearing it aloud, jokes were coming across really well, and they were even finding jokes that I hadn't intended to be jokes. And it was much more than just jokes - the actors found the relationships between characters that were only lightly suggested in the script. I love when that happens, because then I can tailor the script to support and reinforce what the actors bring to the table. That is one of my favorite aspects of writing, and it is even more amazing to be because it was completely unexpected when I started producing my radio series. It has been a natural discovery along the way, and it has been a fantastic one.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Five-Day Film Festival

Last weekend, I was a part of the cast and crew for a movie produced as a part of a five-day film festival. Rob and I entered this festival two years ago, and that's how we produced "The Chrononauts," which we are currently trying to develop into a webseries. This year, we produced a short film called "Rendezvous," and you can find more information about it over at the RHP website. The whole process was a lot of fun, as most of these festivals are, and we finished an entire movie in less than a week. I think we have a very good story and a very good script, and we have two lead actresses in this film who are heavy-hitters. Overall, I think it's a great project.

But let me tell you about it in slightly more detail...

On Friday night (last Friday), Rob and I were working on the story when we learned that the location we wanted to use was probably going to fall through. Stressed and panicked, since we had actors showing up in literally 12 hours, we scrambled to find a new story that we liked as much as the old one. After a few hours of this, we got an email that the location was going to come through after all. So now we had our work cut out for us in writing a script. We sat down around 11pm to start working, and I left his apartment around 1am with a fully completed script. We printed it out, emailed it to actors, and then tried to catch at least a little sleep before starting early the next morning.

Early the next morning, I was out the door bright and early so I could pick up Amanda, one of our actresses, from the train station. We arrived at the set around 9am so we could get into
costume and discuss the script, and then head off to get started with the filming. We had a beautiful day for it, although my wool costume did make it just a little bit uncomfortable. The first scene we filmed as the final scene, which was a big fight between the heroes and some Nazi soldiers that stumble across them in the woods.
We filmed the fight scene first, broke for lunch, and then hustled ourselves through the rest of the script to make sure we could finish all the scenes before the sun went down. As it was, we finished slightly ahead of the sunset, and we actually had to wait for it to get dark so we could film a nighttime scene and a dream sequence.

Our production crew dug a fire pit and made a campfire, and the actors made s'mores while Rob set up the camera and the lights. Then we broke out the fog machine and the air cannon to get shots of the dream sequence, and we ended the day by blowing me up. Rob's exact note to me was to "Die like Willem Dafoe." In Platoon.
It was a great shot to end the day on, too. When we watched it on the playback, we knew we had something awesome for the film. The black smoke behind me filled with pieces of debris makes it a great image, and it works really well in the film itself.

As we were shooting the movie, I confess to being nervous about getting the chance to finish the whole thing. Rob and I habitually bite off more than we can chew when it comes to shooting movies in a single day. I always panic a little bit when it gets to lunchtime, and I worry that we're not going to get everything done that we need to get done. But we always get everything done (mostly), even if Rob decides that he has to cut some setups in order to finish in time. And I know there have been times when we've had to run out of a location without getting some shots we wanted. But that didn't happen this time, and we got more done that I was expecting. We all went home happy with the footage we had, and now only needed to put everything together as a movie. But that's the next post.