Monday, May 26, 2008

Drinks Anyone?

Rough Crossing: Week 2

As we work through the immense amount of details Stoppard has set out for us, it becomes blatantly clear that I need to tackle one challenge at a time. Dvornichek is the herald of the show, as well as the jester, narrator and comedian. He is the cabin steward for the gentleman embarking on a crossing from Cherbourg to New York in preparation for their new show, which is incidentally not finished. Rough Crossing is in essence a situational comedy on misinterpretation and misconception with elements of slapstick and farce mixed in. My challenges with the character have come primarily thus far, from the physical aspect of the show. Stoppard has indicated that Dvornichek is on his first crossing and has not gotten his sea legs. He is then inherently swaying to and fro throughout much of the show (save a small part of the second act where the ship encounters rough seas) while trying to fulfill the desires of the other characters. The physical dichotomy of trying to keep the stumbling real while keeping a cool and collected air about him is proving very difficult. Dvornichek is a wonderfully charming character and much of his likability comes from his ability to fit into any situation. I have begun trying to downplay a bit of the swaying and focus primarily on the intentions and characterizations and leave the physical as the final layer. We will see if this proves fruitful.

I am always one for realism and am mainly focused on making things believable as an actor. There have been several situations in this show however that really stretch that threshold for me and I have been impressed so far with George's ability to intermarry both elements of farce and realism. Yesterday, we worked on one of my monologues and found a very fun aside which will give the audience a great look into the inner workings of Dvornichek the man. I don't think I would have been able to push the threshold as far had I not had the suggestion of George and his overall sense of what each character is bringing to the story. I felt very strong about where we left things and I think it will only get stronger from here.

Earlier in the rehearsal process, we discussed the look of the show. George felt very confident about his choices for each of the characters and I think we are all want to agree with him. I think as rehearsals move forward, each character is revealed through the actors choices and you begin to lose your original preconceptions about the character and begin to see them through the actor. Since this is happening already, I am very excited about what the show will look like come performance time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Week of Reflection

Rough Crossing: Week 1

It’s been over a week since King Lear closed and I must admit, I have had some serious withdrawals. I’ve been in contact with several of the other cast members and they’ve confirmed the same sense of loss; a wonderful show past into that special place inside an actors heart that only those involved can truly understand. I will forgo the common mistake of trying to articulate this feeling, but I will say it was a wonderful experience, all I could have asked for and something a little more.

So it is with that I am on to my next show. Hit the ground running on this one. A full day off between closing and the first rehearsal but that’s what we strive for as actors, stacking work. I have tried to leave the experience and happiness of Lear behind but I feel it is only natural that some of that experience will creep in to this show. I guess some of that is a good thing as we try to grow with each performance, I just hope that it will not affect the uniqueness of this experience or corrupt this show’s process in any way.

Rehearsals have been steady, although slow. Trying to navigate Stoppard is like wandering a minefield blindfolded. To some extent, you must simply go with God. I do feel, however, that great effort is being extended in our interpretation of the script and am very happy with which the ensemble is approaching the work. Our Director, George Pierce, has given the cast an opportunity to share their ideas in an open forum before we set everything in stone. I really enjoy this way of working as a team and I feel it will make us all the closer over the long run. He has many keen insights into the staging of the show and has already shown his intelligence when it comes to script analysis. It sets me at ease to know that if something isn’t working, we can discuss it and try to make adjustments accordingly.

George has made a very unique (and subsequently quirky) choice to overlay some of the conversations over one another, juxtaposing the actor’s perspectives in several scenes with their individual intentions intact. It makes for great humor but will be very much reliant on the audience to decipher for themselves all that is happening on stage. It takes a great sense of timing and control to pull this off and although we still have a long way to go, I think it will be well worth the effort once we arrive. “Rough Crossing” may yet prove to be all its name entails but, for all those existentialists out there, will provide all the more spectacular a view from the other side.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Running Hot!

King Lear: Performance Day 3

Hitting your stride can be a beautiful thing. A few shows in and we’re beginning to find that confidence and completeness that we’ve been striving for. Theatre so much reminds me of team sports, not only in the obvious ways but more in the performance after hours of grueling repetition. The zone is something athletes refer to as an oneness or autopilot they find when they are completely focused and involved. It is almost as if they can see into the future. In theatre, you can see the future every night when you run the show and you fill every second with your concentration. It becomes apparent when the past, present and future converge in one moment, an instant ahead of the moment you are in. In this place of complete relaxation and concentration you reach a place described in eastern philosophy as “non-action” or “non-being.” This is the ultimate for any athlete and as much so for any actor.

It is also apparent that with any opening night, there must be a closing night as well. With a show like this, the closing already looms in the back of our minds. When you get the thrill and energy of a show and then have to walk away, it is frightening. Many of us will go back to our day job or back to the city to look for another role, to start the process over. I am lucky. I start rehearsals for my next show the day after we close so the let down won’t be quite as great. Something, however, tells me this one will be hard to walk away from.

As I am sitting at my table in the dressing room at intermission I find a calming thought wash over me. I am in the middle of one of Shakespeare’s greatest shows, with a fantastic cast and back in the profession I love and have missed for so long. We have opened to thunderous applause and wonderful reviews and I couldn’t be happier (check out the review in the Burlington Free Press at http I am exactly where I want to be. I will wait to deal with the let down of closing when we come to it. For now, I have act two to worry about.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Opening Night

King Lear: First Performance

This is it, we are open! After all the hard work and hours of rehearsals we have finally realized the show that is "King Lear." With all the excitement and antipathy of a child's new toy, we played our house this gripping tale of tragedy and woe. Our new toy is out of the package and we can't wait to use it again tonight.

Backstage, there was almost a somber tone as we opened, I think due mostly to the focus level of everyone performing. We were also forced to kill the running lights in the men's dressing room due to spill-over into the house. This was a little disconcerting at first but may have helped with the undertones in trying to capture this tragedy. It was a blast to witness as we transitioned from scene to scene like some finely oiled machine but hours on the job. It is this focus level that allows the talent to slip into character and the language to float on top of the action and mechanics of the show. It is with complete confidence that I transitioned from one entrance to the next, relying on all involved to hit their marks. I was not disappointed.

An explosion of light outlined the intermission call as the dressing room lights were illuminated to full power and brought everyone to that midway station, giving us a breath to reflect on the opening act, if just for a moment. The general consensus was that we were running strong but still playing it safe (to be expected with an opening night). I love the feeling backstage when you know something is working. All the hard work has payed off and now it's play time. As we exchanged approving glances and handshakes we slowly slipped back into the world of Lear to begin the second act.

I think we silently resolved ourselves to take more chances in the second act, which began with a snapping lurch as the audience (and ourselves) was thrown back into action. Sometimes speed can be your best friend when you want to infuse more energy into a show and there was not lack of it out of the gate. Weaving an intricate pattern of plots and perspectives, the second act is intensely active and requires an unparalleled amount of attention. It is when everyone is tuned in that individuals are allowed to take their moments and make them their own. It is so much like a meditation in that respect. That we are all one but still contribute a unique quality that is integral to the overall outcome of the show. And still discoveries are being made. I myself found a moment with Chris (Edgar) on stage when I recognize his character and offer up a piece of information that moves him into action. I do not have a ton of time on stage but it is moving to know that even my few moments are imperative.

As the lights came down on our first show, the house erupted in thunderous applause, giving us all the indication of a job well done. What a relief. Truly, until you hear the applause you can only hope that people will enjoy the show, but never certain. I feel we can be now. The cast convened in the house after the curtain call for cocktails and congratulations from friends and fans. We were ecstatic to meet and greet our public as we could all see the relief wash over each others eyes. We've done it and not a moment too soon. The magic of the theatre is just so. It does all work out in the end. We don't know how. It's a mystery!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Gods and Audiences

King Lear: Day 14 & 15

In Shakespeare we are never speaking to ourselves, we are speaking to the gods or the audience. As performers we would not exist without the audience so in a sense, they are our gods. So let's just make that leap and say that very often we are speaking to god. It is so important to make an experience happen for the audience. As actors, we work on back story and character relationships so we can play our parts. Even though most of it will not be discernable or only inform one or two lines, it is still worth it for those audience members keen enough to pick it up.

I had lunch with Wayne Teterick (Cornwall) today and we spoke a bit about his on stage relationship with Jenny Rohn (Regan) and the back story they have worked out. The fact that Cornwall is a power hungry, ambitious fellow informs us of how Regan may warm to him or what their personal life may be like. Jenny and Wayne have decided that they both feed off each other and enjoy their ambitious attitudes as they play off each other. They have also made the choice that their characters are swingers and have an open relationship. Of course, this only plays in a few circumstances, most specifically in scenes where Edmund is present. Their ambition and pleasure in each other’s dark sides plays most obviously in the scene where they torture Gloucester, blinding him and setting him lose to wander the countryside. Again, only several people will be aware of their back story by watching their reactions, but it is that kind of depth that separates a good show from a great one.

It is interesting to find these little pieces of acting gold in a script and even more fun when an audience member “gets it.” My feeling is that these are the people we tailor art for. This show is no exception. It is packed so deeply with layers that the most learned will continue to get more and more out of it. This should make for some good theater.

One Week Out!

King Lear: Day 13

Crunch time! As we started finishing up the final scene of the show tonight, it was very apparent that the entire cast was completely aware of the fact that we have one week left. There was a general sense of intensity and focus as we moved through the full run-through. Picking up cues and keeping energy high was much easier with everyone feeding off each other and with the percussion included. What a difference a set makes. Being able to see your environment is indispensible. Props, costumes and lighting, coupled with our intensified energy level made for a wonderfully creative environment and a lot of strong choices.

I had a discussion with several of the other cast members about other characters in a show informing us of our own. Shakespeare gives us wonderful clues of who we are in our own text but it is through other characters that we may find the biggest clues. In life, it is those around us that inform us to ourselves and hold the mirror up so we can see the impact we have on the world around us. It is the same on stage and all these avenues should be explored before setting a scene. Through reactions, thoughts and feelings articulated in other characters, we can truly get a sense of who we are.

I have come to some strong realizations of my scenes and I am feeling much more confident about my characterizations, having taken into consideration the characters around me. I have also decided that some of my own baggage has gotten in the way of my acceptance of the scene choices and I must move though it. The actor’s ego is a very delicate thing and mine may be even more so since I have not been working for some time. When your confidence isn’t completely there, your defensive instincts tend to take over and make it tough to be accepting of other people’s feelings and choices. In my attempts to be the best actor I can, I have cut myself off from one of the most valuable resources we have as actors, the people around us. Although I connect with all the members of our production on a personal level, I may not have been connecting with them on a professional level, due to my overwhelming desire to be right. It is something I am striving to overcome.

The patience of Mark as both a director and as a teacher has been a very leveling influence for me thus far and I am most thankful that I have had the opportunity to work with him, especially on my first show back. In fact, it is the entire cast’s passion and enthusiasm that has taught me the most about what it is to be an actor. Most of the cast and crew have other jobs and lives to balance and are here because of their pure love of the craft. It always makes me mad when people bitch about spoiled actors and accuse them of being lazy, self centered and self indulgent. I think acting is one of the most underappreciated jobs in the world. We dedicate countless hours of time and energy for very little monetary compensation, all because of the pure joy and love of it. It is my feeling that if we had a few more "actors", the world would be a better place. I think actors are some of the least self centered people in the world. They may be confused with those people because of their self awareness and comfort with becoming or trying to become, someone else entirely. The empathy that takes is nothing short of miraculous and would boast well for any person of influence. Perhaps it should be a mandatory prerequisite for any world leader.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

First Day in Flynn Space.

King Lear: Day 12

Although it was wonderful to have the rehearsal space and all the adjacent rooms, it is great to start identifying with the actual dimensions and parameters of the show. We also had full percussion and painstakingly worked our way through the first act, ironing out all the sound cues. It is extremely difficult to stay focused while Brian and Mark are working out the details. It reminded me of film work, when you are placed and manipulated to fit the framing of the scene. Obviously, this wasn't quite as restricting and the overall outcome will bring a dimension to the show that will both capture and disorient the audience as set forth by the themes of the show.

I am getting frustrated by some of the blocking with France again. I have been presented with a unique challenge by being asked to construct two different characters, which appear very close in proximity in the first act. My instinct is to want to differentiate as much as possible. I have been attempting to use physicality and vocal tone to inform these characters, which does not seem to be the direction Mark wants to go. I am concerned there will not be enough variance in these characters and I fear the implications which that brings. I will have to continue my exploration of France to find something that may inform me more. On the bright side, I feel very confident about Peter and hope this will keep my instincts sharp as we move into the final week of rehearsals.

Maybe it is self-indulgent to worry so much about my part. I know that my part is small in comparison, and that the other actors must be working through their own stuff. Of course, if they are as concerned as I am, we are going to have one hell of a show.

So I guess it can pay to attend the work with as much intraspection as one can muster. Though I know frustration does not serve the scene, my general unrest may give me the opportunity to explore until the scene feels right. Hopefully, that will happen before opening night.