Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tech Rehearsal

Rescue Me has been a very fluid process with many things being found, discarded, and reconfigured often.  Now that we have spent two days teching in the Ohio Theater downtown, a lot of what we had envisioned in the rehearsal room is inevitably (and predictably) taking new shape on the actual stage.  The days are long and there is a lot of artistic negotiation, but the upside is that we are starting to lock things down and get bits of business and blocking down to a science.

One of the things I like the most is, yes the designers can't really work until they can be in the theatre, but it gives you such a rush of enthusiasm to get all of the costumes, set, and goodies at once, and then off you go with all of the imaginary things made real.  Having the tactile experience of the technical elements in concert launches you into the run with great energy...  It's by necessity that tech comes last, but emotionally it feels by design; after all the austerity and privation of rehearsal, you are rewarded with a surfeit of technical riches just before you do it for a paying audience.

Of course, this is also a scary ass time because you've got to make all the technical stuff work and everything is new and the audience is paying to see you in TWO DAYS.  In my experience it takes a full day to get through Act I and then another day to get through Act II, on the third day you get a dress rehearsal in the afternoon and then your first preview that night.

Somehow I'm always in shows with a hundred ensemble characters and the tech can be a nightmare changing in and out of every costume in time for the next scene, but we've been pretty fortunate so far with this one.  There's one big hairy moment we'll have to look at during the dress, but I'm sure it'll work out.  It's all about teamwork and we have a really great team.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Lady Drug Dealer And The Heist

Today Temar and I hosted the first I MEAN...Productions table reading at our apartment.  His new play, The Lady Drug Dealer and the Heist, is an amazing riff on the unreliable storyteller and laugh-out-loud funny for nearly all of its hour-plus running time.   I remember being backstage during the run of The Brokenhearteds and hearing him talk about some of the ideas he had for his next project and him saying, "It's going to be a play about drugs.  I think it'll be called Doing Drugs.  Everyone is going to do a ton of drugs.  The marketing will be: 'This summer, Paco Tolson is...Doing Drugs.' 'Andrea Marie Smith is... Doing Drugs.' Et cetera..."  That's how I remember it, anyway.

Well, those dreams from last summer are now on 86 pages of paper and a lot of those pages are characters snorting, smoking and drinking.  We do a ton of drugs.  It's also about friendship, loyalty, and finding out who you are and what you care about.  And race.  And Astoria.  And ghosts.

There was no fanfare, it was really just for him to hear it out loud, but it was a riot and the start of something very promising.  When it was over though, he kicked everyone out.  In a gentle way.

Since I always like to see who played what in the production history pages of published plays, below were the actors and their roles.

Gray: Temar Underwood
Jimmy: Paco Tolson
Reggie: Mike Mihm
Benjie: Jon Hoche
Miz: Andrea Marie Smith
Odessa Powers: Maha McCain
Hunter/Morrison: Ian Campbell Dunn
Stage Directions: Paco Tolson, with help when his mouth was full of chips.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Elephant Man

So in between running around town like a madman trying to feed Alvaro's rabbit and go to the gym and put my reel together and catch up with friends and rehearse this play I found myself at the Jefferson Market Library.  They have a good drama section although you can't really argue with the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library (ever since seeing Good Will Hunting I've thought going to the library was awesome--probably before that, actually: I went on my first ever date at the Jones Library in my hometown).  Anyway, I was returning Topdog/Underdog, Valparaiso and A Life in the Theater (it was a good haul, all very good reads) and I got out The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance.

I read it in Union Square on a bench in about 45 minutes and my god this play turned me upside down.  It's a very experimental language play for the seventies and it reminded me a lot of Suzan-Lori Parks' Venus (naturally, what with the freakshow aspect), and although it's not crazy deep with the character building, the themes and use of subtext are some of the most significant I've seen in the past few years.  Yes, years.  Some Pinter comes in the same orbit, but the Pinter I've been reading of late (at the Perf. Arts Library no less) is all classic stuff.

Topics covered include the nature of altruism, social performance, the effects of capitalism on decency, what constitutes mercy, and religion's place in a world of commonplace horror.  From the back cover:

"During it's opening season, The Elephant Man won all the major drama awards including three Tonys, three Obies, The Drama Desk Award, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award."

No shit.  I had never heard of this guy before and here he is winning everything under the sun.  Apparently, Billy Crudup did it on Broadway a few years ago, too.   I see the picture in the bathroom at Telsey, but I have no idea whether that was good or not.  Wish I had a patron now more than ever.  How else am I gonna see this stuff?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Refine, Clarify, make Specific

For me, the work in rehearsals lately has dealt with puppetry and dance.  I am a very spastic person, so getting technical and minute is hard for me but it's exactly what the work demands.  It's almost like counting out your stage life and dialogue to a beat:

1. Crouch           "Daughter
2. Look side        Of
3. Creep              Agammemnon,
4. Swing arm      And
5. Make wave     Bright gem
6. Shake head     of Clytemnestra...."

This is very exciting and will ultimately be very rewarding, but right now it is kicking my ASS.  I suppose it's really no different than typical stage blocking, but with that you're just, "Cross left and pick up the cup on 'This cup?'" and not elaborate, sharply defined modern dance-y moves that punctuate each line.  Maybe I'm just struggling with dancing, something I have never been a genius at even when it was easy things like waltzes in musicals when I was in High School.  

It's actually been really enlightening to work with a puppet because you really start to see where things don't work and why.  Usually, it's because you're not thinking of the puppet as your scene partner but as something separate from yourself.  A character of mine interacts with a puppet played by me, so if the storytelling of our relationship is told in a succession of looks back and forth, those looks better be damn clear.  

Here's an example:

A character asks me, "Is it yes or no?"
I'm looking at this other character.

The hand puppet looks at me.
I look at him
He shakes his head "No" 
I look out to the character and say, "" 
The puppet cocks his head sideways.

So if you look at the wrong time or miss one altogether, the beat is mush and you lose the thread of what's going on in between the lines.  Repetition, I think, is the only thing that can get someone as spastic as me to get over the herky-jerky, split personality nature of this kind of performance into a relaxed, settled in, comfortable state where the puppet and I are actually flowing together.