Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Fifth and Final Show

We opened The Maid's Tragedy to a, dare I say, raucous crowd. Opening nights at the ASC are pay-what-you-will previews. Folks get to decide how much they want to pay at the end of the show. But on Friday night, 100+ people had bought tickets ahead of time to ensure seats. That's a great sign.

The hometown crowds like these, I find, are often full of folks who adore the ASC. Having a full house of of superfans is a lot of fun. It's not necessarily indicative of future houses, but still a great gift. That said, I'm surprised with how funny folks thought the show was. There were a lot of younger folks in the audience, and they seemed more prone to laughter than others.

The Maid's Tragedy is...I dunno...I was about to write ridiculous, but that's not quite right. It's angsty. It feels operatic. It's extreme. It's bloody (and we're using blood packets for this show--a first for my time at ASC)! There seemed to be a lot of folks who knew the story--I only say this because there were knowing responses when Aspatia makes her first entrance and Melantius congratulates her on her supposed wedding day (and it's anything but...her betrothed has been set up to marry Evadne instead).

It was a lot of fun to do the Diphilus/Strato insult exchange after the big wedding night scene. I must say Chris and I brought the house down, or at least shook up the foundation a bit. (The exchange has a great "your mom" line. Those Early Modern playwrights knew a thing or two about sophomoric comedy.) During this scene (and much of my other scenes), I felt so at ease. I haven't been this relaxed for an opening in a long time.

All in all, I think it was a successful opening. It's hard to believe that we don't have to rehearse anymore for the Ren Season. We have three weeks of performances left.

The rest of the weekend, we played to very generous houses. Each of the shows had great turnout. I hope this continues as the weather warms up. The Saturday matinee of Epicene got into a good groove. I got to the playhouse 90 minutes early, reviewed all of my lines, and was able to get a luxurious warm-up in before music call. I never called "prithee." I did have some "word burgers" as we call them here--obvious stumbling over some words. John and I got a little kerfluffled during the cursing of Cutbeard exchange, but we were able to get back on track quite easily. It happens.

And now, I'm enjoying a full 72 hours off. It's our "spring break." We don't have to return to the theatre until Wednesday night. I'm catching up on sleep, enjoying my Amazon Prime trial, and making headway through a giant novel The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. It just won the Booker Prize. This is a dense, intricate novel set in the New Zealand gold rush in the 1860s. I also borrowed The Hollow Crown series from the library. I've seen the Richard II (which is excellent) and am eager to review that along with the Henry IVs and V. Additionally, I've received cuts for upcoming productions of Hamlet and Much Ado. I've transferred all of those into my Arden editions.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Talkback - Timon Edition

We're gearing up for our opening of The Maid's Tragedy. We've had a dress and a preview earlier this week. I think it's coming together quite well. I think a giant sigh of relief will release once we get backstage after curtain call tonight. I'll write more about that later.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you some common questions that some folks have asked during talkbacks--particularly as they pertain to Timon of Athens. We had a performance of that last night and it was fun to engage with the audiences about this show. I love participating in talkbacks. We usually have one after every student matinee, and they are more generalized questions about the Ren Season or life as an actor at ASC. The comedies usually get that kind of response as well. But last night (And every Thursday night, we hold a talkback) was a bit different; folks asked more questions about Timon. I'll relay some of those questions and share my thoughts or what other actors said (this is all paraphrasing):
  • How does costuming work?
We are in charge of coming up with costumes. Typically, the actor who's done the most work on the play (whether he or she cut the play or is playing the largest role) has done some thinking about the "design" of the play and comes up with a costume. The rest of the troupe follows suit (or doesn't). In the case of Timon, the logistics of many quick costume changes (I think some of the women have four or five changes in the first twenty minutes of the play). The folks who have to play many characters in this show agreed on having a black base so that they could drape other pieces over without having to do many elaborate changes.
  • How do the speeches grow/change over the course of the run? Do you ever get bored?
In my experience so far, it's never a dull moment during the Ren Season. Timon doesn't get boring, ever. And we're doing this show once a week. Everything deepens and strengthens over time. The language in Timon is wonderful. It's Charles Mingus jazz. The audiences help in "teaching" the play during this season. Our rehearsals of the plays happen while we're performing them.
  • What's the deal with Apemantus?
Josh (playing the role) said that Apemantus is a kind of Fool in this play (even though there is an actual Fool in one scene). Fools speak the truth; however, because that truth is difficult to swallow for many characters, no one really listens to him. There is a kind of cynic/jester role he plays--especially in the beginning. Partygoers laugh at him. In this production, his punk/alternative vibes suggest a warped sense of luxury. It's almost as if having him around makes Timon's household and parties even more special. And come on, that cave seen between Timon and Apemantus is awesome. 
  • What's it like to play so many characters in one show?
I play Flavius for 98% of this show. I do play the messenger of Ventidius at the beginning of the play. It's distinguished with costume, and I deepen my voice a bit. I think my messenger is looking for temp work. He's trying to make some extra money. But anyway, Chris answered this question in the talkback last night. He mentioned that there's a lot of trust with the audience that goes on with doubling/tripling/quadrupling in shows at the ASC. The text is the ultimate guide. Costumes are a big help.

Honestly, the largest hurdle in playing multiple characters in one show is finding the flow of the costume changes backstage. Otherwise, an actor's job deals with investing in the lives of so many different characters. When we're playing a bunch in one show, it's just heightened/concentrated.  For something like As You Like It, I made an effort to change my voice, make significant costume changes, and carry my body in different ways. For some characters, it's not as necessary. The pages who sing "Lover and Lass" are seemingly inconsequential. I didn't develop a giant backstory about that character. I think he's a bit tipsy and fully embracing the forest life. The banishment has been good to him.

When the doubling becomes more significant and switches back and forth frequently, it can be challenging. I haven't had to work on any extreme doubling. I do have an odd doubling that's upcoming in Much Ado: Claudio and the Sexton. Right after the wedding scene, I'm the Sexton for the "Writ down an ass" scene with Dogberry, and then I jump back to Claudio with very few lines to spare for the next scene. It's fast in addition to jumping between high drama and comedy.
  • The second half of "Timon" feels like Shakespeare, but the first half doesn't so much. Can you tell when there are Middleton parts in this show? 
I'm not suited to be an authority on this. I have no experience with Middleton. Critics claim that Middleton is responsible for the character of Flavius. I don't really care. It's my job to deliver the text and tell the story. The only thing I have noticed is how irregular the verse is (which is typical of later Shakespeare). It's clumsy, but in a good way. There's a lot of enjambment and parenthetical phrases. All of that is useful for playing a character who is conflicted and deeply agitated. Flavius also speaks, however, with a lot of rhyming couplets. That suggests a certainty and strength. I love the chance to play with a wide spectrum.

The first half is all over the place. Many scenes span lots of locations and characters. Part of that has to do with our swift cutting of the play. The second half is almost entirely at the cave. I love that shift. Shakespeare's plays are all full of conundrums. Some people think this play was a rush job and that this is an early draft. I won't say it's not without its issues, but at the end of the day, as an actor, I can't worry about those issues while I'm playing the scenes. At the end, if the play has got you thinking, asking questions, and talking with fellow audience members, our production has done something right.
  • How do you like performing an "obscure" show that audiences aren't so familiar with rather than something like "Midsummer"?
I'm loving this. You can feel the audience lean forward. Most of the folks coming to see Timon have no prior experience. They may have heard of its reputation, but there's not really a "All the world's a stage" line or speech in Timon--in terms of its familiarity. Hamlet is chock-full of familiar phrases. I've heard of one production where the guy playing Hamlet wrote "to be or not to be, that is the question" on a chalkboard and then commenced with the rest of the speech. I think the idea being that when something so oft-quoted and familiar can send people out of a production. Who knows. On the other hand, familiarity can be a wonderful thing with audiences. 

But with this show, we get to give the gift of something new to the audience. I haven't done a lot of new work before, but this experience with Timon has felt like that, and I expect many audiences would say the same. That's exciting. They're leaning forward. It's difficult to know what jokes are going to land (yes, Timon has funny moments). This production feels more alive and vital for whatever reason.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Week Wrap-Up

To be honest, I'm losing steam with this. I wish that weren't the case, but alas. I think part of the reason is that these posts can, on occasion, meander through the day-to-day. I want to continue writing about the work, but I think honing the focus will help things out.

Anyway, the season is winding down (in the sense that we're going to stop rehearsing). We've got three weeks left?!

From what I can tell, the first three shows (As You Like It, Servant of Two Masters, and Timon of Athens) are in some kind of well-oiled machine land. Servant may be less so given the challenges of rapid-fire comedy. But since I don't have much going on in that show, it's hard for me to tell.

Epicene will continue to be a bear. We did a Sunday matinee yesterday (our first for this show), and it wasn't our strongest effort. I got to the theatre an hour early to stretch, warm-up, and review my second half lines. I felt pretty good energy-wise, but the long week caught up with me. There were some flukey mishaps throughout the show. None of them were major. But we were white-knuckling this a bit. I wish that weren't the case. This is a hard one for me, and I'm going to be thinking/learning about this whole experience for a long time.

Before the show, the cast assembled to finesse some storytelling moments. I think they were good fixes. These "changes" involve either delaying or cutting a group response (something of that nature). There's a puzzling moment still--and I won't get into the nitty gritty details--and I wouldn't be surprised if that requires some ironing. The more I do this show, the more confounding it becomes.

Yours truly and Andrew (as Dauphine) in Epicene. Photo by Pat Jarrett.

A big characteristic of this play is that everyone is serving Truewit's plotting, but the folks are at different levels of consciousness of the plotting. Even his "helpers": Cutbeard and Otter, are pawns and subject to Truewit's ridicule. The Collegiates are also accomplices, but Truewit banks on their natures, rather than letting them in on the whole jest. To throw another wrench into the mix, Truewit isn't even privy to the ultimate jest of Epicene's identity... While this all makes sense to me, it becomes difficult to orchestrate group reactions in the big scenes. Each of the characters has a supremely individual response to the action, which can be problematic for the larger storytelling (my kingdom for a director!)

Epicene may not ever get to the well-oiled machine land, which is a shame because this show could use it. I think the best solution to this is doing this show more than once a week. A Jonson City Comedy needs to fire on all cylinders and quickly. I will continue to give my body and mind the best prep before it arrives for the remaining weeks. I'm also optimistic the show will start clicking along.

I should point out that I'm not saying Epicene is a failure. This is more of an artist's "divine dissatisfaction." Audiences who venture to the playhouse to see an obscure 17th century comedy have been enjoying it, and I think we've drummed up some vivid characters in some hilarious predicaments.

MEANWHILE, while all this is going on, we're rehearsing The Maid's Tragedy!

I'm grateful for the break in responsibility, but others have giant loads to bear. I'm in full support mode with these rehearsals. We have our first dress tomorrow afternoon, and I need to make sure I review everything before then.

And in other news, I published by new website. Take a look if you'd like (there are more Epicene photos there).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Maid's Tragedy Rehearsal: Tuesday

  • Worked on some music with our trumpet trio (Chris, Abbi, and yours truly) for a song I'm working on.
  • The masquers are trying to figure out this masque. It's a tricky spot in the play. The uncut masque is long and even has a subplot. We have a very limited number of people available for this masque.
  • Staged the Act IV banquet scene. This was tricky. It involves ten people sitting at a table. We experimented with many tables in various positions. There are private conversations and public conversations. Figuring out the angle of the table, where people can sit, if everyone needs to be sitting was a bulk of the rehearsal. This is where I applaud scenic designers and directors. These are questions they ask and answer long before rehearsals begin. We ended up creating a long banquet table, adding two square tables to the ends. It makes a "Last Supper" picture that isn't the most realistic, but this way, the audience will be able to see the face of every actor who speaks with no problem. We've also orchestrated who carries the chairs, the glasses, pages the curtains, brings the tables off and on, etc. What's even trickier is that a bed has to come on stage right after this, and the bed can only live in a certain space backstage. So the table will have to be disassembled in the discovery space as quickly as possible to make room for the King's bed.
  • Looked through the stock of wigs for the masque.
  • I think I found some shoes for this show too. I'm not sure about them though. We'll see.
  • Later in the afternoon, we did a work-through of the first act. This involves the masque. It's complicated. We're using the trap, the balcony, music, dancing, singing, masques, dresses and wigs.
  • After that, we had some music time to work on a Pink Floyd song. It's so much fun. I can't wait for people to hear this.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Double Day: As You Like It & Epicene

It's so late. I should be sleeping, but I'm wired from ice cream and pouring over Austin Kleon's new book Show Your Work. Austin has been an artist/writer/creative/inspiration for the past couple years. I remember stumbling across a list of tips he wish he'd learned in college. Those tips later became the book "Steal Like An Artist."

He got his start with Newspaper Blackout poetry.

Anyway, I've been following his work ever since (on Twitter and his blog and whatnot). He lives his life as if it were one long DVD special feature. That's partially why I thought blogging about the Renaissance Season would be fun to do. I'm a fan. If you're at all interested in embracing a creative life, follow him. I'm going to be exploring more of his advice in the future.

With that commercial over, I'll get back to more Ren Season updates.

The wigs of the men's dressing room.

Yesterday we had a two-show day: As You Like It matinee and then an evening performance of Epicene.

The matinee had more than 300 students. It took them a bit to warm up to the pre-show music, but once we busted out the Doobie Brothers, they were grooving. Yesterday's show also marked the most kids singing along to "Royals." Typically, there's at least three people mouthing along or moving to the song. But yesterday, there were many groups scattered throughout the playhouse singing along. I love when that happens.

In between shows, I did some cooking and reviewed some Epicene lines. I also did a great hatha yoga routine. It had been far too long.

Then: performance I'd been a little concerned about. My voice has been slowly getting back to where it was before the great cold/opening of Epicene last week. I knew I couldn't push it, but I also knew that I was able to give the audience and my castmates a show they deserved.

I guzzled as much water/tea as I could. I did my best to keep a calm headspace going before the show. I knew I had to groove but I absolutely could not push things. And on the flipside, I couldn't be overly worried or nervous about this. It's hard. Truewit is a ringleader, a trapeze artist, and a clown in this show. I believe this character thrives on verbal pyrotechnics, which requires using the extremes of the voice.

The greatest blessing from last night's show was the most generous, giggly audience of 30 I've ever witnessed. The intimate energy of that show was just what I needed for working on the delicate balance of being kind to myself and driving the show. Especially with comedies, you cannot force an audience to laugh. I do what I can to keep the cues tight and listening intently. With this small house, I think we found a good pocket of energy. I think it went well for me (from what I can tell). If nothing else, my voice felt great afterwards.

I'll leave you with that for now. We're doing As You Like It and Epicene again on Saturday in the same order. I'm hoping I'm back to 100% for those shows but that I can still maintain the delicacy with the theatrics for the rest of the run.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Maid's Tragedy Day #1

In an effort to make these posts more visually interesting, here's a rehearsal photo from "Epicene."
But this post is all about "The Maid's Tragedy," and I have no idea if you think this photo is actually interesting.
Jay McClure must think so: he took the pic.

We've begun rehearsing Beaumont & Fletcher's saucy revenge tragedy The Maid's Tragedy today. I for one, am relieved for the chance to take a "back seat." My part is pretty small, but I do have some sizzling one liners that you'd hear in the taverns of King's Landing on Game of Thrones. I share them with Chris Johnston too, so...we won't be having any fun at all with that....

I'm playing Diphilus (we're pronouncing it like dih-FILE-us, if you're curious).

I'm also playing Night in the masque, and given that this character is a queen, I'll probably be wearing a dress. But I haven't figured out my costume yet, so we'll see. I will be dancing. I know that much. But it looks like Greg won't be the only dude in a dress this Ren Season, folks.

We've started blocking from the beginning of the play. I'm in the first scene, welcoming my brother Melantius (Rene) from war. He's shocked to hear that his best bud, Amintor (Greg) is marrying Evadne (our sister, played by Sarah)--NOT his betrothed Aspatia (Abbi).

That's when the complications and suffering begin. It's pretty much all downhill from there.

So many of us say this, but it's true: I love the variety that comes from the seasons at ASC. If I were doing just one of these great plays, I would have a blast. But it would be tough to sustain over the course of 8 shows a week for months on end. The fact we're busting through five plays is something to relish. And they all have their merits as plays and as acting opportunities.

With this play, I'm honing my listening skills. (I mean, I'm never not, but...you'll see what I mean in a minute). I've done very little preparation for this show. My knowledge of it is basic at minimum. This isn't something I advise for any actor. I'm working under the frames of the Renaissance Season, however, working from my cue script (something I didn't do for Timon or Epicene).

Yes, I've reviewed the scenes I'm in. But given the marathon load that was Epicene, this show is a bit of a "break." I suspect I'm working more in a way that an actor on a TV series would. This is a long way of saying: the listening I have to do while I'm on stage is vital because I rarely have any sense of what will be said next. This is quite refreshing. In Epicene, I pretty much know what everyone is saying because they are my cues. That's a whole other beast. I'm charged with the responsibility of keeping the play on course. With this play, I'm very much supporting the action (and providing some twisted comic relief). I have to be there for the leads, making sure that I'm giving them enough resistance or support when necessary.

Most of the day, I worked on music. I'm hoping we can work up a Johnny Flynn song for this show. He's an English folk singer/songwriter/trumpet player/Shakespearean actor. Needless to say, I feel a kinship to this guy. John Harrell (playing Calianax) has drummed up a re-imagined version of a Pink Floyd song. We worked that up in the afternoon, and it was so much fun.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


I've lost track of the number of days. Maybe I'll figure it out sometime. Here's a quick recap of things:

Epicene preview. I was a bit nervous, but doing the show once yesterday was a gift. The folks seemed to like it. Our pace is just off. But that is to be expected for a comedy that we've only been working on for, what, ten days or so? John Harrell mentioned in the talkback that Ben Jonson plays need to click along, and I agree. I feel a pang whenever there's a little gap in the action. The troupe is getting more and more solid with lines (myself included). Another wrench: I've picked up a cold that's been hovering around the Blackfriars. A couple of us have it. It's just a pesky cold (exacerbated by this schedule, no doubt) but it's supremely annoying.

The afternoon we had a four-hour block to look over stuff. We tweaked some things here and there. We cut a couple lines out of the final scene, which helped smooth out some jagged edges. They both affected my cues and lines--so I made sure to review those again before the performance. We opened Epicene to a great house. The pace quickened. I nearly stopped the show on the line "How? Maim a man forever for a jest?" There was a moment of panic when I forgot to grab a gallant stool for an intricate prank scene, but I was able to get things back on track. I felt great before the show. The energy continued throughout. It was just plain ol' fun. I know I went beyond what was healthy for my voice though, and...well...you'll see how that plays out in the days to follow...

The adrenaline got the best of me and the cold sort of returned with a vengeance. My voice felt pretty ragged. I opted out of singing "MoneyGrabber" for Timon and "Hongry" in Servant. The shows went just fine. I was incredibly hoarse during Servant, however. Fortunately, it's a tiny part. Been sipping water and teas all day.

In bad shape voice-wise. My body/energy felt fine. The cold is pretty much gone. The vocal folds, however, are probably in shock. I did, however, sing "Royals" during the interlude. It's not a demanding song range-wise (we changed the key from the original). But my Hymen Hymn was something else. I made up the melody. I attempted to figure out a way around the hymn and the vocal choices I made, but nothing came to me. If this hadn't been the last show of the week, I may have even asked for an understudy, or some kind of re-staging of Hymen. I dunno... The end of this race was something just short of a trainwreck. I immediately went on vocal rest after the show. Our stage manager Sara appointed Symmonie (our all-time understudy) to read my lines for The Maid's Tragedy read-through that evening.

Woke up feeling incredibly rested. But remained on vocal rest through the whole day. It's getting better. This day off is exactly what I needed. I got some reading done. Worked on my cue cards for The Maid's Tragedy. I also started working on a new actor website. It's simple and pretty easy to manage. I'll share it someday once it's finished.

That's today. I have nothing more to share (other than I'm on the lookout for a job during the months of April, May, and June).