Tag Archives: Rehearsal

The Latest 10-3-2016

I know that I’m not going to generate much sympathy, but Wendy and I really struggled this week to get back on schedule after our time on Kauai. Like most people, our autumn schedule is packed full and jet lag did not help us manage the stress well this week.

We are deep into rehearsals for Union Street Players production of The Christmas Post. Wendy is directing the show. I’m both producing and performing. It’s a heart-warming Christmas musical based on two Norman Rockwell paintings. Wendy’s directed the show twice before. The last time was 10 years ago. So, our free time has been sucked up by 4 rehearsals a week and production responsibilities on top of that. Performances are Dec 2-4 and 8-10.

Work has also picked up for us of late. We’re grateful for a couple of new clients and new projects! Of course, that means some increased business travel for me. Off to Texas this week. Trips to California and northwest Iowa are on the horizon in coming weeks, and there’s potential for even more. That, of course, conflicts with rehearsal schedules for the show. You get it. It’s busy.

2016-10-01-megan-kappa-sigma-isu

I did get to enjoy attending parents’ weekend at Iowa State University’s Sigma Kappa sorority with Megan this past Saturday. Megan played my daughter in USP’s production of K.O.L.D. Radio back in 2010. I’ve been blessed to get to continue playing an honorary “dad” role for Megan after her father, Mike, passed away during production of the show. So, I drove up to Ames for a late breakfast at the sorority house and hung out with Megan and her mom, Cyndi. We all walked to the ISU vs. Baylor football game. It’s always a joy to be with Megan.

boeing-boeing-date-night

Wendy and I had a date night on Saturday evening and attended Theatre Central’s production of Boeing, Boeing. One of the actresses is a USP Alum and it was fun to see her in the show. The cast and crew did a fabulous job. Wendy and I laughed a lot.

I’m continuing to preach on a regular basis in the auditorium services at Third Church. I was wrapping up one series on Sunday and will kick-off the next series next Sunday. That’s been a lot of fun for me, and I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity.

Taylor is back from Scotland. She continues to live and serve at the Des Moines Catholic Worker. We had a chance to spend an hour or two with her earlier this week and hear about her adventures working the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was a great experience for her. She’s continuing to pursue jobs in the art world and has had a few interviews.

Madison is continuing to grow life, community, and career in South Carolina. She works in sales and training for a cosmetics company. She’s on the road regularly across South Carolina and is enjoying her work, even as she learns the ups and downs of it.

I’ve had several friends ask about Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, who lived with us over the past few years. Suzanna is living with her folks in Ankeny and working as Assistant Manager of the Family Bookstore there. We’re looking forward to seeing her this coming weekend!

 

 

The Latest 01-31-2016

January was an unusually busy month for me. Along with two business trips there was a lot of extra-curricular activity that filled our evenings and weekends.

Rehearsals continue for Almost, Maine. Wendy and I have really been enjoying the 3-4 rehearsals each week. The fellow cast members are awesome to work with and we’ve loved the ensemble. Our friend, Kevin McQuade, is a blast to work with as a director. Wendy and I play three scenes together as three different couples. We’re loving the challenge of developing completely different characters and quickly moving from one to another. On Thursday night Kevin called an early halt to rehearsal and took the cast to Kaledra for drinks. He knows how to keep his cast happy! Almost, Maine will be performed here in Pella April 14-17.

Taylor will be moving out next weekend. She’s decided to move to Des Moines and live in the Catholic Worker community full-time. She’s working on a couple of different creative projects and has taken up gaining a more in-depth understanding of photography. She and I took a couple of hours this week to play around with light and lenses in my office studio.

Matthew and some of the men who attended the More Than Conquerors workshop at Westview.
Matthew and some of the men who attended the More Than Conquerors workshop at Westview.

My friend Matthew Burch and I have been doing a four-week series of Sunday morning messages in the Third Church auditorium on the subject of shame (audio here). The messages were a microcosm of our men’s workshop, More Than Conquerors which we then presented at Westview this past Friday evening and Saturday. Wendy and I headed to Des Moines on Friday. While Kevin Roose and I were at the workshop, she and Becky enjoyed some girl time and Wendy helped Becky organize their basement storage room.

The More Than Conquerors workshop uses Shakespeare’s trilogy about King Henry V as a backdrop to discussing issues of shame. We loved our time with the 24 guys who attended. It was a great journey. How did it go? I think the answer to that question is in the picture (above) I snapped of Matthew sitting at a table of guys who stayed well after the conference was over to ask more questions and continue learning. When men give up their weekend, sit for almost 12 hours listening to you, and then want to stay for more…I’ll take that as a good sign.

Wendy and I are looking forward to a quiet day today. Here comes February.

The “Sui Generis” Moment on Stage

It happened last night at rehearsal for Almost, Maine. It surprised me. It’s early in the rehearsal process and, while it’s not unheard of at this point in that process, it’s relatively rare in my experience.

The Latin term “sui generis” means “one of a kind,” and there is an experience that occasionally, mysteriously happens on stage that I find to be sui generis in life. It is an experience I have found unique to the art of acting, and actors who experience it once usually long to experience it ever after. It is a moment on stage that is other worldly, when actors cross over into another dimension, into the reality of the scene they are playing. It doesn’t happen all the time. You can’t predict it and there is no formula for conjuring it. But, when it happens you never forget it.

When this moment happens, when you cross over, you feel the emotions your character feels and think the thoughts that are flying through your character’s brain. You are at once in both dimensions: being two actors on the community center stage in Pella Iowa, and being two characters in a living room at 9:00 p.m. on a dark winter’s night in northern Maine.

It is an indescribable experience. It is sui generis.

Wendy and I were rehearsing our scene Getting it Back last night. We haven’t rehearsed it many times. Our lines are not memorized, we don’t have all our props, and we’re still struggling to remember our blocking. Yet, as our characters began to argue and things escalated between Gayle and Lendall, it happened. We crossed over. It was incredible. When it happens, I can sometimes also feel those watching being ushered into the moment with us. That happened last night, too.

Wendy and I often comment that we love the rehearsal process almost more than performances. Last night was an example of why. It is in the rehearsal process that you do the work of excavation and exploration. It is in rehearsal that you seek out the doorway to that sui generis moment. Like the portals into Narnia the portals to those moments can mysteriously appear and disappear. The same entrance can sometimes usher you to that moment multiple times. Then, suddenly, the way is shut and you pick up the quest once more.

The quest for that sui generis moment is part of the mystery and magic of acting. It is what draws me back again and again. And when the moment surprises you, like it did at rehearsal last night, it is a one of a kind experience of Life.

I can’t wait for rehearsal on Thursday.

“Almost, Maine” Rehearsals Begin

Last night the rehearsal process for Almost, Maine began in earnest and it killed me not to be there as I’m traveling on business all week. Wendy and I were cast as part of the ensemble back in December and the show will be performed in Pella April 14-17.

Almost, Maine, is likely unknown to many people though in a short period of time it has become arguably the most produced play in schools and community theaters across America in the past few years. It is a wonderful script.

The setting is a moonless night in the dead of winter. The action takes place in the mythical, unincorporated small community of Almost in northern Maine. A solar storm has kicked the the northern lights, the Aurora Borealis into a spectacular display of heavenly fireworks. At exactly 9:00 p.m. there is a magical moment for several people in Almost.

In a series of eight scenes (plus an ninth story that acts in an overarching theme) we meet and witness that magical 9:00 moment for 18 people who are all searching for and struggling with love. The show is poignant and thought provoking. It’s the perfect show for a date night or a small group evening out to the theatre.

A few reasons I’m excited about Almost, Maine:

  • Wendy and I get to play opposite one another in three different scenes and there is no one I enjoy being on stage with more than Wendy. We’ve had precious few opportunities to actually act together, and I’m so pumped to work with her.
  • The show is being directed by our friend, Kevin McQuade, whom I love and respect as a fellow lover and student of the stage. I am really looking forward to being directed by Kevin, exploring the world of Almost, Maine, and putting together an awesome show.
  • The ensemble cast and crew are a spectacular group of talented individuals. Some I’ve worked with before and a couple people are new to me. It’s so much fun working with a great team.
  • In the course of two hours I get to play five different characters. While I’ve occasionally played dual roles, often that means one or more characters are smaller, secondary roles. In Almost, Maine I get the challenge of creating five fully developed characters and presenting them to the audience in a way that their unique differences are distinct and believable.

featured image by Mat Kelly

Capturing The Process Behind the Performance

A Christmas Carol RehearsalI love the process of theatre as much as the performance. It is also one of the things about the stage that I love to capture with a camera. Most people attend a play or a musical at some point in their lives, but few see the process of rehearsals, character development, set construction, make-up, and lighting. It’s such a fascinating thing to be a part of, and to watch taking place. The magic of theatre is the culmination of an amazing amount of human effort, and it creates so many opportunities for interesting photos.

Wendy and I have bit parts in this holiday’s production of A Christmas Carol and the other week I had my camera with me at rehearsal. In this shot, Lonnie Appleby (playing Scrooge) is sequestered in fear on his four-poster bed which at this stage of the production is nothing more than a bench with a couple of posts screwed on. I’ve loved watching Lonnie play with and develop the physicality of the role and I liked the way this photo catches the contortion he’s both developing and which is being forced upon him by the set piece.

 

“Ham Buns” is Cast

Canon EOS 6D f/4 1/30 ISO250
Canon EOS 6D f/4 1/30 ISO250

On Saturday afternoon the cast of Ham Buns and Potato Salad was officially cast by director Ann Wilkinson. Last night the cast met for the first time and read through the script. I’ve been asked frequently if I was going to act in the show and that discussion continued until the final moments of audition. In the end, I decided that I did not want to be in the show. As the playwright, I’d rather watch the rehearsal and production process. I know there are things that are going to need to revised and rewritten to make the script even stronger (several things came up at last night’s read through) and I’d like to pour my energy into that process.

Not being in the show also means I get to take photos of the process, which I like to do, as well.

I’m excited about the cast and crew. Auditions yielded a strong group of actors (especially women and girls) and Ann had several difficult choices to make. It’s always hard when you know there are good actors who would have done a nice job in this or that role. That’s part of the sometimes brutal realities of theatre. Choices have to be made and for every person you make happy by casting them, you make several people unhappy by not casting them. Wendy has been cast to play one of my favorite characters in the play. There are two newcomers to the USP stage and I love having a few newbies in the mix along with a capable group of local stage veterans.

Here we go.

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Preparing for a Role: Production Week

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In a stage production, the final week before opening night is generally referred to as “Production Week.” It’s the home stretch when all of the various elements of the show must come together before that first performance. My previous posts have been about my role as an actor, but much of what makes the actors look good on stage is dependent on an invisible army of people who work long, hard hours preparing things like:

  • Lights
  • Curtains
  • Audio/Sound Effects
  • Set
  • Flies (Set pieces that can be “flown” in and out via pulleys)
  • Scene changes
  • Costumes
  • Make-up
  • Hair styling
  • Props (all of the things people handle on stage)

A good stage production is a symphony of various individuals and teams all playing their part for the good of the whole. Production week often starts with a rehearsal called “Cue-to-Cue.” In this rehearsal, the actors take a back seat so that all of the lighting, sound effects, scene changes, and curtain cues can be rehearsed and set. A Stage Manager is typically the person tasked to “call the show” which means they have their headset on and are connected to all of the crew members around the theatre. They follow the script, the action on stage, and all of the outlined cues to make sure that everything happens exactly when it’s supposed to happen.

Our Cue-to-Cue rehearsal for Ah, Wilderness took place this past Saturday. Actors reported for a 9:00 a.m. “call” to be ready and on-stage. Actors were instructed to bring homework or something to read because there is a lot of sitting around quietly waiting for the technical crew as they adjust lights, sounds, flies, and sets. In stead of running entire scenes, in a Cue-to-Cue you run “cues.” I had to leave the rehearsal at 4:00 p.m. for a previously scheduled engagement, but the rehearsal went on for a few more hours and I’m sure some crew were there late into the night making adjustments.

Let me give you an example of the types of things you work in a Cue-to-Cue.  In the first act of Ah, Wilderness! there are a number of sound cues that call for exploding firecrackers. The sound effects are a combination of recorded sounds and live blank rounds fired backstage. To practice these cues, the actors will start with a line or two ahead of where a sound cue is to take place in the script. The person responsible for making the sound will practice their timing. Typically we will run the same couple of lines over and over again until the director is satisfied that the crew has it right and the cue is “set.” The director then announces “Moving on!” You then skip to the next cue in the script which might be several pages of dialogue later.

Cue-to-Cue can be a booger of a rehearsal to get through, especially for actors who do a lot of sitting around. The rehearsal is critical, however. The last thing you want is for technical problems to disrupt the flow of a performance. You don’t want a cue for a trolly bell to be a marching band instead. A dropped cue for a firecracker shot means the actors line about the firecracker (which the audience didn’t hear) suddenly doesn’t make sense. A long scene change can wear an audience’s patience thin. You get the picture.

Production week continues with Dress Rehearsals in which you run the show exactly as you would during a performance. Our first Dress Rehearsal was yesterday afternoon and it was the first time for actors to be in (almost) full costume and make-up. Dress Rehearsals are the last chance for everyone to get their lines and cues right and to polish up scenes which need some touching up before an audience sees it. Typically the director will not stop a Dress Rehearsal for anything less than an emergency. Then, after the rehearsal and after the cast get out of their costumes, the cast and crew gather for “notes.” The director, legal pad and pencil in hand, will go through and try to decipher all of the notes they took down to give to actors and crew.

Production week is also a good time to blow off some steam. Everyone has been working long, hard hours and a little fun before performance can help keep everyone loose. So, Wendy and I invited the cast, Stage Managers, and the Theatre Profs from Central over for a little pizza and Oscars party at our house. Wendy whipped up a cheesecake and some cupcakes and we packed our little house with twenty-some guests. A good time was had by all. If it’s one thing theatre people know how to do – it’s have fun (and eat).

Two more Dress Rehearsals. We open on Wednesday. Here we go!

Production & Ticket information for Ah, Wilderness!