We had planned on doing an invitational preview performance Thursday night, but nobody who was invited actually attended, which was just fine so far as I was concerned, as it gave the tech crew (and the sound operator in particular, who had only had one previous tech rehearsal to run cues) one more chance to work out the bugs before having to do so in front of a real audience.
Friday's performance went generally well. We had a sold-out house (yay!), even turned a few people away - they'll be back - and except for a couple of small sound glitches, everything else went pretty smoothly. Both casts were really itching at that point to get in front of an audience, and despite a few Opening Night jitters (and one actor still suffering from a lingering head cold), they fully met my expectations.
Saturday went even more smoothly, with an almost sold-out house, only one tiny sound fumble, but with a crucial prop item magically "appearing" on stage during a scene break. The item is so important to that particular episode that I had briefly debated whether to rush offstage during the blackout (I was sitting at the far end of the audience, closest to one of the off-stage exits, arguably the "worst seat in the house" - if you've been to The Schmea, you'll know what I mean) to tell somebody to get it onstage somehow, but quickly decided against it. Fortunately, my eagle-eyed Stage Manager also noticed the missing item and had already made arrangements to have it brought out during the scene change. A scarey moment for everyone, no doubt, but seeing it show up as it did gave me that extra boost of confidence that I'm leaving everything in very capable hands.
I'll probably take in one or two more performances over the course of the run, just to see how things are going, and because I do think they're fun pieces, and I certainly enjoy them. But, it'll be strictly as an audience member. From my own experience, I know there are few things that annoy a cast and crew more than having the director constantly looking over their shoulders micromanaging things. It's just not professional for one thing, and it also indicates a decided lack of trust in the collective abilities of the people to whom you've entrusted your production. And these are good people - they'll do just fine without me around nit-picking every little detail of their performances.
So, if you're in the neighborhood, come on down and take in the show; I'd appreciate your feedback.
Well, the CD I ordered yesterday from Amazon arrived at about 2:00 p.m. this afternoon, so I now have the "official" theme music to splice into our sound effects for The Show, thus giving my sound designer just a tiny bit more to do before she can finally ask me that question I'm sure she's just been dying to pose for the past week, "am I done yet?" And I think I'll be able to tell her, "just about."
It also means the sound board operator will now have a complete inventory of all the actual cues we'll be using in the show, and not have to substitute ersatz effects, which will make her happy, the stage manager happy, and one actor in particular VERY happy, since a couple of his major speeches are timed to these specific pieces of music.
Now, if my set gets finished, and a couple of costume pieces altered, AND my tech crew gets a chance to work some of the changes we discussed after last night's run, I think we'll be in pretty good shape.
Down to the wire, and all that, but hey, that's pretty much par-for-the-course in Fringe Theatre.
She Said That She Was Hungrier Than I Was Brilliant
Starting in on the final push to get the show up and running as our Friday opening approaches - and a lousy head-cold that settled in late last week isn't helping my disposition any.
For those of you not privvy to the arcanic process whereby live theatre is created, this is the time when, for the director all your hard work with the cast; shaping the production, developing characters, creating interesting and dynamic visual images, etc., all gets thrown out the window, as you begin to integrate all the various technical aspects of the show: lights, sound, scenery, costumes, et al, into the process. And as is always the case, you feel like, having just made significant leaps forward with the actors, suddenly you're being dragged backwards by the glacial pace of incorporating all these new elements, which ironically occurs within just a few days time before it's all put in front of an audience for the first time.
None of this is new to me of course, as it's simply a fact of life at this point in the rehearsal process, and I have complete confidence in the team of (mostly) youngsters assembled by the theatre's production manager, but it's still pretty nerve-wracking (as presumably my very extended nightmare last night of being on an airplane that crashed repeatedly - in typical "Twilight Zone" style - would seem to bear out) until these final pieces of the puzzle all fall properly into place. After all, it's my name up there on the "directed by" line, and for better or worse, I'm the one who will garner the praise (along with the actors) if things go well, or alternately be ripped to shreds if any aspect of the production appears underdone or misconceived; them's the breaks of the game, as they say. Besides, for the most part they're all just following my lead, giving back to me what I've asked from them, and ultimately, it IS my responsibility to bring all the disparate threads together into a cohesive whole. So, a certain level of anxiety is to be expected.
All that being said, it really has been a pleasure working both with a group of long-time friends, as well as a whole bunch of new folks, all of whom have held, and I have no doubt will continue to hold up their end of things marvelously. It's been a great experience, particularly after the complete debacle of my last major directing effort several years ago - which does not warrent retelling, believe me - after which, let's just say I was rather soured on the whole process for quite some time. I feel completely different this time around, as the theatre has done a truly phenomenal job of providing me with the logistical and support structure I needed to be able to do MY part of the job with a minimum of distraction, nearly zero interpersonal conflict, and certainly without being put in the position of having to take on so many additional responsibilities, as unfortunately occurred on my last major directorial outing.
So, by Friday it'll be up in front of a paying audience; presumably a critic or two might even deign to say a few words about it, and basically the "baby" will be taken out of my hands and given to the cast and stage manager to continue to nurture until closing night. That's always the hard part for a director, I would imagine no matter how many times they go through the process, that giving up of this thing you've worked so hard on for so long, in such intense collaboration with all these other individuals who collectively have infused it with their own creative and artistic energies. And suddenly, it doesn't belong to you anymore, and you just have to walk away from it, hopefully with pride in the fact that you've given this living thing all the skills it needs to thrive and grow over the course of its limited lifespan.
But, I'm not quite there yet, and in the meantime, there's still a great deal left to be done between now and Friday.
Yeah, yeah "Global Warming", blah, blah, "El Nino", blah. I've heard all the scientific explanations, and sure it makes sense, in a sort of counter-intuitive way, but seriously, we here in the Upper Left Hand are getting sort of sick of all this snow, snow, ice, snow, snow, and snow.
Admittedly, it could be a lot worse - we could be in Nebraska. And yes, it's supposed to start melting away in the next few days, so really, we've got very little about which to complain. And frankly, the only thing it's really negatively impacted in my own life is a longer bus commute (assuming the bus actually comes, which in a couple of instances, it didn't), a kaput DSL line at home, and a couple of cancelled rehearsals for the show I'm directing, which are all inconvenient, but realistically not anything insurmountable. At least the stores are open - and nobody's slid into my parked car yet, so really, things aren't so bad.
Still, I think we're all looking forward to some good, old-fashioned, above freezing mid-January temps come later this week.
Heck, I'll bet some of the immigrants even forget to complain about the rain for a few days.
I'm A Tail Wind Road Locomotive From The Days Of Cheap Gasoline
Okay, here's the completed version. Stayed up until 1:00 a.m. adding in the final element, but it just seemed to want to get itself to the finish line, as it were, so I kept going until it was done. The lighting isn't the best, as the image is a lot brighter than it appears here, although I think this actually does a better job of capturing the greyer, more muted lighting quality from the original photos. And I'm not at all happy about how the clouds turned out - I would have preferred something more naturalistic, but it turns out rendering decent clouds is pretty difficult, and I'm going to need to do a lot of technical exercises before I come anywhere close to getting them right. Oh well, what was it Picasso said? Something like, "You never finish a painting, you simply reach a point where you have to stop working on it."
I'm still debating on the title, and right now have it narrowed down to either, "Still Life of abandoned pickup, dairy tanker, and farm buildings, Stinky Corner, WA" (kind of long, I know, but I LOVE the fact the place really is called "Stinky Corner"!), or else "Rusty Old American Dream", which is the title of a song by singer/songwriter David Wilcox, from whence today's headline comes (If you happen to be in Bend or Salem, OR this weekend, you can catch his gig).
So, now the question is: would you pay $300 for this, assuming I mount and matte it? (and of course, assuming you had $300 to blow on an original work of art created by a somewhat talented, completely untrained artist with no name value whatsoever.)
Another little art project I've been working on, nearly done, although I kind of like the effect of the "negative space" of the unfinished image. It'll be hanging in the Stetson Gallery for the run of "Small Town" if you want to take a gander.
Oh, and it's for sale too - I just have to figure out how much I think it's worth.
Had my semi-annual 14/48 dose this past weekend, as an actor, as opposed to my usual cooking extravaganza. I have to say I was feeling some ambivalence coming up on the weekend. It's been two and a-half years since I was last on-stage (at a previous 14/48 of all things), and although I was definitely looking forward to seeing, and perhaps even working with a lot of friends, I was also carrying around a sense of dread. What if I didn't have "it" anymore? Performing is like any other skill, it generally demands constant exercise in order to keep the instrument limber and in-shape, and I hadn't so much as picked up a script to memorize for quite some time. And 14/48 is designed, in a very deliberate sense, to push participants beyond what they think they're capable of doing, or die (metaphorically at any rate) trying. It requires you to not only attempt something that shouldn't even be possible to achieve given the limitations of time and resources, but to succeed, and spectacularly, or else go down in flames and have your name never be mentioned again in conversation. Most likely anyone who had never heard of the event before would simply say flat-out that it WAS impossible; they simply wouldn't believe such a thing could be done. And to be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to hack it.
Nevertheless, Friday morning saw me sitting in the basement of Capitol Hill Arts Center (aka, CHAC) with about 60 other people: actors, writers, directors, designers, support staff, crew and volunteers waiting to see what script I'd be doing and with whom. It's all done randomly, you see; nobody knows ahead of time what play they're going to be doing, or who will be directing, etc. Everything is decided by basically pulling names out of a hat (or in this case two oatmeal containers: one with adorned with a picture of Tom Sellick, another with Farah Fawcett - boys and girls, get it?). Mine was the second or third name picked for the first 10 minute piece. "Number one on the runway," I thought, which is a good position to be in for this sort of insane endeavor. First spot in line means you don't have to do a lot of waiting around: you get to work your show with the tech crew first, and you get to do your show first in the two evening performances, which means it's over and done with before anyone else, so you get to wind-down, relax, watch other the other shows and drink beer while the keg is still relatively cold - and full.
The theme for Friday was "Critical Mass". Our piece was about a young woman, desperately anticipating her first date in two years, who is suddenly confronted with the fact that, not only did said date bail out at the last minute, but that her ex-boyfriend who set her up has brought along a couple of losers as possible rebound dates. I played one of the rebounds, a blue-collar working stiff biker with an inflated ego. Naturally, it was a comedy. Our director was sharp, to-the-point, had great insights, and kept the rehearsal process running smoothly all day long. My castmates were a fun group, one of whom I've known for more than 10 years, but never before worked with. So, by 8:00 p.m. I was feeling pretty good, aside from the usual anxiety one gets from standing up in front of an audience to perform a piece one just learned mere hours ago - and is in fact still trying to learn, right up to the curtain - and based on the feedback I got later, the piece went off well in both shows.
Saturday, the whole thing starts all over again, except with a new theme: "Jump Start". I could very much relate, having spent the better part of the previous evening/morning trying to metabolize a long day's accumulation of caffeine and adrenaline. This time, I got the last slot (#7) of the evening, which meant on the one hand, I'd have more time to prepare before the first show, but also that I'd need to keep my energy level up until close to midnight when the final show ended. And of course, in typical, totally randomized 14/48 fashion, I ended up with the same director as the day before (good!), and was cast with one of the actors I had also worked with on Friday, plus another good friend that I've never worked with, along with a couple of other folks, one of whom I'd never met prior to our introduction when we started rehearsals a few minutes later.
And of course, it was a completely different part, in fact, about as different as you could get: a dying geriatric suffering from Alzheimer's who is about to be moved out of his home by his children and placed in a hospice. Not quite so comedic as before it would seem, plus my character was the central focus of the piece, and had the biggest line load. If I had just been nervous about getting through the previous night's piece with most of my lines intact, today I was carrying a much heavier burden of responsibility, and with much of my natural energy reserve already depleted.
Fortunately, my director was patient with me when I got confused over who was whom while trying to sort out all the character relationships, and gave me some great things to work with as we rehearsed throughout the day. I knew right away we had something particularly special; people don't usually start crying at the first read-through, but that's what they were doing - and didn't let up for a good part of the rehearsal day.
Needless to say by 7:30, I was getting to be a bit of a wreck. The 14/48 staff does a great job of keeping people fed (as who should know better than myself?), but it does tend to be carb-heavy, which makes me sleepy, especially when I'm already low on juice, and so I decided on using the "crutch" of an energy drink. I'm also not prone to irrational outbursts, but I momentarily succombed to a brief panic attack when I temporarily misplaced my wallet; like they say around here, "be prepared to bark with the big dogs or get off the porch", and I was starting to yap like a chihuahua. Fortunately, the crisis was averted when I found the wallet tucked safely in the pocket of the prop coat I was carrying around like a security blanket. After that it was all a matter of trying to keep my head together while waiting for our slot.
According to the plan we had worked out with the tech crew earlier in the afternoon, in the transition between piece #6 and #7, they were to set up our furniture, at which point I and another actress were to come on stage with our props, settle into our chairs, and then the lights would come up and the piece would begin. Unfortunately, the person running the light board jumped the gun, and I was caught, still in the middle of draping my jacket over the back of a chair, and a good three feet from the one I was supposed to sit in when suddenly I was in full view of the audience.
Normally, this would be the point where the real panic takes over.
But, instead from someplace deep inside of me, a tiny voice cut through the chaos and whispered, "just do what you need to do. Take your time." And so, I set the other props, sat in my chair, took a moment to settle in, and (thank you band!) waited for the music to start, which was my cue to begin speaking.
Nine minutes isn't all that long of a time by objective standards, but in the subjective realm of stage-time it can either feel like an eternity, or flash by with the speed of a freight train. Suddenly, it was all over, the other actors were rushing up to take our group bow, and I was left with the realization that somehow, through some miracle, I'd made it all the way through, having only skipped one line, and more importantly NOT having fallen flat on my - er, back in the process.
By the time of our second run, roughly 12 Midnight, I was still fully revved up from the combination of Red Bull and adrenal excretions; perhaps a little too much, as I noticed a bit of involuntary twitchiness while standing backstage waiting for the preceding piece to finish. (Later, someone would specifically mention how "realistic" my Parkinsons-like palsy had appeared on stage). Then suddenly, the lights went out, the other cast was making way, the tech crew was setting up, and it was our turn to once more take the stage.
And then, the light guy blew the cue again.
Well, we were used to that by now, and it didn't phase us nearly as much as the first time, so we just did what we needed to do get ourselves set, and then we started.
There's a strange thing that happens sometimes when you're on-stage, a sort of an out-of-body experience where, while performing, you have the sensation of being separated from yourself, of observing your own actions, as if from a point just beside where you happen to be standing. I felt a bit of that during the last performance, but it was also accompanied by an acute sense of focus and clarity when time just seems to become suspended, like what happens when you are so concentrated on a specific task that hours can pass in what seem like minutes. Everything in your peripheral vision melts away into nothingness, and all you see is just the people on stage with you - you're all in the same world, but it's one completely separate from that of the audience. The people watching you become like ghosts, a presence felt more than seen.
Then, suddenly it was all over, I was back in the same room with the audience again, and I found myself spontaneously hugging my scene partner as the other 60+ participants crowded onto the tiny stage to take what would be our final bow of the weekend That was it, all done. Nearly 30 hours worth of work crammed into a 48 hour period, and all for the equivalent of about half an hour's worth of performance.
And despite the exhaustion, despite the fear and uncertainty, despite all the odds, it felt really, really good.
Actor's are by nature egoists, and their self-absorption is tempered only by a large dose of masochism, so by any stretch we are generally not the best judges of our own work. Still, I knew we had a great script, and that I'd been given a good role, and I have enough experience to know with a fair degree of certainty when I've at least come up to the level of the material. But, I really wasn't prepared for the response I got afterwards. I can't think of many times in my career when I've been in a position to receive the kind of praise and admiration I got from that last audience, many of whom were friends and professional colleagues; people whose opinions not only matter a great deal to me, but whom I depend upon for an honest critical assessment. So, it was both gratifying to know that I do still in fact have "it", but also humbling because I get so few opportunities these days to use the skills I spent such a significant portion of my life developing. One is always afraid of atrophy, of decay, of losing the edge, but according to the people who took the time to speak to me late Saturday night, I think I'm allowed a small measure of satisfaction in knowing that "it" is still down there somewhere, waiting patiently for the next chance to be called into service.
Thanks everybody, I really needed that - even the panic.