Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Producing a Play? Read the script! Be Prepared & Keep an Open Mind!

There are no excuses for having a set without a window when there's a line in the script, "Get away from that window!".  There is no reason why a character should be wearing pants if another character comments on her skirt.  I do not understand how a props person can fail to add a coffee cup to the props' list when an actor is supposed to throw one!  I understand that mistakes happen but I am not talking about mistakes or the ONE night someone forgot something.  I am referring to the lack of commitment to take the time to read, re-read and get to know a script inside and out before mounting the show.

Many professionals plan their theatre season ahead of time by choosing the script and holding auditions ahead of time for all the shows they intend to put up.  Along with this selection process comes the reading of scripts and analyzing the details.  I do not own a theatre or have a board of directors. I do it just for fun but I still have to respect the playwright in anything I produce and do the same amount of preparatory work as "the big guys".

After selecting a script which interests me, and before holding auditions, I do three things: 
First, I purchase a journal which I will use for the sole purpose of writing ideas, putting down questions, drawing costumes or set concepts and recording the notes I give my actors once rehearsals begin. 
Secondly, I contact the theatre where I intend to mount the show and work out an opening date and start making the payments for the rights, the scripts and the stage rental.  This ensures a reserved spot for me in their busy schedule and also gives me as much time as possible in advance to make small payments towards the (otherwise "hard to swallow") amount due.
Lastly, I read the script again and again until I have a good feeling of the set & cast requirements...or until I get a headache.  Then I put the script down, sleep on it, dream about costumes, cast, set, sounds, pauses, mannerisms, music, timing and whatever pops into my head. The next day, as soon as I have a moment free, I read it again and this is what my life looks like until I hold auditions.

The best and most important part about preparing to produce a play (in my opinion) is knowing your script and the playwright's intentions AND keeping an open mind.  Once auditions start, the live actors will sound differently than the ones who have been in your head for the past several months.  Once rehearsals begin, actors will move, converse and interact differently than you had dreamed and it is important to stay open to their input and ideas.  As a director, you may have had a script on your brain and in your dreams for months but in a rehearsal, it is the actors who are living and breathing as the character you've placed them in and it is the actors who will blow YOUR mind...if you give them room to do so.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Working with Blind Actors - Truly an Eye Opening Experience

I am currently stage managing and directing a one-of-a-kind piece of theatre with Out of Sight Productions in London, Ontario.  This theatre company uses both sighted and sight-challenged actors in their productions.
Listen to the owner, Kelly MacDonald, talk about this theatre company and hear what actors are saying about their experience here: I Only See Shadows

It is amazing what I have learned about myself and others through directing actors who cannot see me.  At first I was nervous about saying the wrong thing or offending someone by my ignorance but the actors on this project have helped me to better understand what life is like for them everyday.  They are also very good at taking a joke and dishing them out!

I remember at the second rehearsal asking an actor  to make the hand gesture of someone talking and the actor did not know what I meant.  It made me stop.  My mind went blank and I feel as though, right there and then, that I experienced something that changed who I am.  As a director, I often tell actors what I want them to do and when I want them to move their hands or body in a certain way to express emotion or inner thoughts.  It was magical being able to hold the actors hands in mine, and show her what I meant.  "The thumb  is like the jaw of a mouth, " I said "and the other fingers are held tightly together above the thumb representing the top of a mouth.  When you open and close your hand making the thumb touch the bottoms of your fingers and separate repeatedly, this looks like a mouth opening and closing - like someone who doesn't stop talking.".

At another rehearsal, I caught myself asking an actor to put up her hand to make "the peace sign" with her fingers towards another actor.  She did not know what I meant.  I felt a piece of my heart break a little just then.  The "peace sign".  Something many of us have seen as a symbol of love, change, revolution, hippie times, acceptance, the Beatles and diversity.  Something we all take for granted.

The most powerful part of working with this group (for me) is being able to share body language, hand gestures and facial expressions with people who have never seen them before.  As a director with this group, I can't simply ask an actor to frown as if she smells something rotten, I have to show her by having her touch my face while I frown or by touching the areas of her face I want her to move.  I can't ask an actor to "pop out her hip like a young teenager giving her mother attitude".  I have to stand beside her and show her which leg to straighten, which leg to bend and which hip to place her hand on.

I have never felt more connected to a cast than I have with this group.  The show will be dedicated to the memory of my late Uncle William Douglas Baker who was blind since the age of 12 and passed away this year at the age of 47.  May he rest in peace.

It has been a wonderful journey and the best, I'm sure, is yet to come.  The show goes up at the ARTS PROJECT on Dundas Street in London, Ontario on September 28th at 8pm. Tickets are $15 and all are welcome!

Friday, August 26, 2011

And so it Begins!

The Verdict is In!
As of today at 2:49pm, I have chosen the play I am going to produce next year in May and I have booked the time slot at the theatre where it will be produced!

Thanks to everyone for their feedback regarding the plays I was (and still am) interested in.

The show I have chosen to direct and produce will open on Thursday, May 17th at 8pm at the ARTS PROJECT on Dundas Street in London, Ontario.  Tickets will be $15 and only $10 for those 12 and under.

Many people will think that this is too early to announce ahead of time but I AM EXCITED!  The last play I produced was in my head and on my mind for a full year before it opened. This time around - just under 10 months.  The last play I produced had a cast of 3 - THIS play, has a cast of 11!!! Go big or go home right? ;)

Auditions will be posted in early January at theatreinlondon.ca and rehearsals will run twice a week from February till opening night.  Auditions will be held in January at the Central Public Library in downtown London, Ontario and they will be open to everyone!

Character descriptions of the specific roles in this play will be posted on this Blog in December later this year. I can however tell you that the lead character will look as close (as possible) to the image attached of Nurse Wilson from the movie "Return to Oz".

Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

""The Shape of Things" by Neil Labute - A masterfully disturbing script that makes you think

I recently finished reading "The Shape of Things" by Neil Labute and the words and characters have still managed to remain on my brain.  Though the vocabulary used within this script is quite simple, the messages portrayed are far from juvenile.  This play will mean something different to each person who reads it.
It was first published in 2001 at the Almeida Theatre, London.
It has four main characters: Adam, Evelyn, Jenny & Phillip.
It takes place in various settings around an arts college in a conservative Midwestern town.
This play could be produced in a small black box theatre to create intimacy between the actors and audience members but the scene & set descriptions are very vivid and I could also see this piece produced for film.
It HAS in fact been made into a movie. See the clip here: THE SHAPE OF THINGS 2003
It is a story of how far one can go in the name of art.

The story opens in a museum. There is a tall statue of a nude man in the center of the room wearing nothing but a leaf covering his genitals.  A woman (Evelyn) is giving off a vibe that she is about to do something to the statue.  A security guard enters (Adam) and he is wearing an old jacket, his hair is slicked back and is described as "bulky".  Evelyn, is an artist.  She believes that art should make a statement and make people think.  These two characters end up falling in love.  At least, HE falls in love with her.  Both of these characters have very different goals in mind as to the outcome of their relationship.

During their 18-week relationship, Evelyn drops little hints to Adam such as "you shouldn't style it so much.  Your hair.  Just let it go..." and "it's cosmetic, not corrective...it's no big deal. I promise..." pertaining to him getting a nose job.  Throughout these 18 weeks, Evelyn manages to change the way Adam looks, feels, acts and even thinks.  He throws out his favourite (but tacky) jacket and thinks it was HIS idea.  He goes under the knife and has a small amount of flesh shaved from his nose and THINKS it was his idea.  He also starts jogging, toning and losing weight all the while recording everything he does and thinks into a journal which he ALSO thinks is HIS idea.

Without giving the actual ending away, I will close this post with this:  "The Shape of Things" forces the reader to make up their own mind about what ART is to them.  Is it about making a statement? Making people think? Making people feel? Is it about showing something people don't often get to see? Is ART about opening a window into hidden rooms and forgotten dark closets?  This is a script which plays both sides of the "Morality Coin".  If one is able to create a piece of ART that will challenge humankind and our ways, just how far is too far? Is is ever okay to cross the line between right and wrong in the name of ART?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Old, Yellowed and Used Scripts - My Second Obsession

I love old scripts! I love the way they smell like "comfort" and "hard work" at the same time. I love how they feel beneath my fingertips like tissue paper that may fall apart if I turn the pages with too much excitement. A used bookstore, which carries used stage scripts, is my comfort place and safe zone. If the selections were any larger and the aisles any longer - I could get lost for hours and take enough books home with me to push me over the edge into bankruptcy. I am obsessed with these hidden, lost and forgotten treasures.  What is truly a special treat is when I find a hidden treasure inside one of the scripts like a signature, an old program for a production, an actor's notes or contact information.

Today, on my lunch break from work, I found myself walking towards the local bookstore where I purchase my scripts every time I get my pay cheque. As I enter the store the man behind the register waves to me and gives me a smile. He recognizes me but he doesn't know my name.  I b-line it right to the aisle second from the last near the back of the store.  First, I stand tall and skim the top shelf. Second, I slowly bend over so that I am completely at a 90 degree angle from the waist AND THEN, by the time I reach the second last shelf, I am on the floor sitting cross-legged...in a dress.  I didn't fully realize just how much I adore reading these pieces of art and skimming the shelves until I found myself sitting on the floor in a dress. Oops!

When I finally left and returned to work, I had spent almost $40 and was almost 40 minutes LATE coming back from break.  Thankfully, my current projects at work are theatre-related and THUS this trip to my favourite special place was (in fact) all in the name of research and preparation. It's better than my last trip there which cost me $46 ;)

In the past 30 days, the $86 BEFORE TAXES allowed me to bring home the following treasures:
"High Pressure Homer" by Bruce Brandon, 1937
"A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tennessee Williams, 1947
"Moo" by Sally Clark, 1984
'Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe" by Edward Albee, 1962
"Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)" by Ann-Marie MacDonald, 1990
"The Diary of Anne Frank" by Goodrich & Hackett, 1956
"The Night of the Iguana" by Tennessee Williams, 1961
"The Importance of Being Ernest" by Oscar Wilde, 1961
"Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Beckett, 1954 (still not sure what I think of this one)
"Bus Stop" by Tennessee Williams, 1954
"Four Great Plays by IBSEN: 
          A Doll's House, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People & The Wild Duck", 1932
"The Crucible" by Arthur Miller, 1952
"Two Plays by Edward Albee: The American Dream 
         & the Zoo Story", 1959
"The Country Wife" by William Wycherley, 1973
"The School for Scandal" by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
         (1751-1816), 1991
"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" by Tom Stoppard, 1967
"A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" by Tennessee Williams, 1955
"William Golding's Lord of the Flies"
          adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams, 1996
"Sight Unseen" by Donald Margulies, 1992
"Beside the Seaside" by Leslie Sands, 1956
"And Things That Go Bump in the Night" by Terrence McNally, 1966
"Deathtrap" by Ira Levin, 1978
"My Fair Lady" - a musical play by Alan Jay Lerner adapted from Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, 1956

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Pressure of Finding ANOTHER Perfect Play

In September of 2010, I worked with a dedicated production team and three passionate actors to bring Norm Foster's "the LOVE LIST" to the Arts Project.  There were challenges when it came to finances, deadlines and one of our actors even had a back injury.  This play, however, is a piece of art filled with comedy and drama as two best friends have their frienship challenged and tested when "the perfect woman" comes into the picture.  This production went on to receive the Bext Comedy of 2010 award at the Brickenden Awards in January of this year. Now, I have to find yet another gem to direct and produce for next year.

Since June of this year, I have borrowed from the central library and read over 50 scripts.  These scripts were a collection of comedies, farces, abstract fanstasy, drama and theatre of the absurd pieces. Out of these 50 scripts, I have found four that I would personally consider producing. Since producing the Love List, it has been a challenge for me to find a script that I fall in love with the FIRST time I read it.  This doesn't often happen and only after a few read-throughs can one truly grasp the intentions of the playwright and the magic that it could bring to a stage and audience in performance.  I fell in love with Norm Foster's "the LOVE LIST" the first time I read it and that magical experience has yet to strike my passion bone this second time around.  But these plays have come VERY close ;)

The four plays which I have come to consider (at this point) are the following:

Sunshine Boys, by Neil Simon: Two men were once stars as they played across from each other in a comedy show in their younger years. Now, both in their 70's, the public has requested that these two characters get back together to do one last show. The only problem is, they can no longer stand each other. This play peaked my interest because the unique relationship between these 2 characters anad the realities of their dealing with getting older.  It is a full-length comedy for 5males and 2females and the royalty owed to the playwright is $125 per performance.

6Rms Riv Vu, by Bob Randall: An apartment with 6 rooms is for sale, that is until it becomes sold - but 2 perfect strangers don't get the memo.  These strangers come into the apartment for their review only to find that the doorknob is missing and now they are both stuck in this emtpy beautiful aprtment together.  What happens when 2 perfect strangers get locked in an emtpy space for hourse on end with nothing else to do but "talk".  I appreciate this play for all that these two characters are holding back and holding in.  I like the idea of having a simple set for a play can have a simple set without it being a bad one.  I love the balance between comedy and drama in this piece and, to me, these characters are so real and multi-dimensional.  Full-length comedy for 4males & 4females. Royalties are $75 per performance.

Miss. Twiddle & the Devil followed by Miss. Twiddle Meets an Angel, by Maurice Hill: *though this production has subject matter dealing with the devil, god, angels & Hell, this is supposed to be a purely etertaining piece rather than a religious sermon* The Devil, is bored. He decides to challenge himself to "convert" an entire household of innocent beings over to the darkside (so to speak).  When the Devil arrives at the chosen abode, he discovers a new tenant he was NOT aware of - Miss. Twiddle. This woman is so evil that the devil himself does not wish to spend an eternity with her "down below" SO he changes his plans and tries to save her soul~! In the second half of the play, durastic measures need to be taken and a Guardian Angel is called in as reinforcement.  This play is fun, light-hearted and family-friendly.  It is done all in good fun and the characters are nothing less than entertaining. This is 2-one act plays which I would produce together as a full-length comedy for 4males & 5females. Royalties are $65 per performace.

Jake's Women, by Neil Simon: Jake LOVES women. He loves women who love him and he is nothing without them. He is a writer who likes to be in control SO, all of the women in his life - he rewrites to better suit him and his needs.  He is on the verge of going crazy as he cannot distinguish the differences between the REAL women and the women in his imagination.  After his wife asks for a seperation things go from bad to worse. In jake's Women, we discover just how much a man is willing to give up for the most important woman in his life.  I enjoy the back and forth between the characters and I admire any actor who steps up to the challenge of playing Jake as he never leaves the stage and every other line belongs to him.  Jake is on a rollercoaster of feelings and emotions and we, as the audience, get to go along for the ride. 1male & 7females. Royalties are $125 per performance.

As you can see, I'm faced with a dilemma - I want to produce them all! But all in due time.  If anyone has any feedback or opinions and/or preferences as to which I should start with - all comments are welcomed and I would appreciate any input.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Characters ALWAYS Care - Even If They "Don't Care"

An actor playing the role of someone who "doesn't care" has a lot of work to do.  A playwright will not always hand over the thought process of characters behind their look of disinterest.  If a character doesn't care - there's a reason for it, and it is your job as an actor to find out why.
The important thing to remember is - you HAVE to care.

If you are playing a character who appears not to care in the script or the stage directions state that "he is indifferent to what she says to him" you HAVE to dig deeper! Why does a character appear uninterested? Why is he sitting perfectly still and staring blankly out to the audience? Why does your character state in the script "I don't care."?  Characters, like people, ALWAYS care. They may be hiding their feelings, they may be embarrassed by how the feel, they may feel forced to hide their emotions so as not to be faced with the consequences or they may be yelling "I don't care!" to get someone out of their face because they feel threatened.  If you play this type of role without some kind of feeling or thought process behind your disinterest, the audience will also lose interest in your character and your performance will fall flat!

Some playwrights DO inform the actors of the thought process and explanations of just how the gears are turning inside a character's mind and THIS - is a gift.  If we take the role of Brick, for example in A Cat On A Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams, at the beginning of the play.  His wife Maggie is reaming him out about the fact that they are yet to bear children and she pushes him (or tries to push him) into feeling and expressing some kind of emotion.  During her rants, the script states that Brick speaks "...with a tone of politely feigned interest, masking indifference, or worse, is characteristic of his speech with Margaret." and "...he is not looking at her but into fading gold space with a troubled expression."  and goes on to use words such as "wryly", "indifferently" and "absently".  I adore Tennessee Williams for phrases such as these.  On the surface, one might watch Brick putting up with Maggie's badgering and assume that he must be bored with her or that he feels nothing for her.  This is NOT however the case. Brick has been through the trauma of losing his best friend and has zero interest in taking his wife to bed.  Williams leaves so much room for the actors portraying these roles however, it is important for anyone playing the role of Brick to have a thought process going on in his mind onstage, he MUST feel something towards Maggie (positive or negative) and he must CARE.

Don't deprive a character you are portraying onstage the opportunity to LIVE in front of an audience
because you think it's best to play them as someone who doesn't care.