Wednesday, July 27, 2005

First rehearsal

I forgot how difficult and weird it is to watch other people perform your work. This isn't the first time, but it still continues to surprise me. It's not that the actors weren't good. They were great. But the words are so much inside my head that I can't relax. I am mentally saying the lines along with them, and at some points even physically mouthing them because my jaw actually hurts a little. I found that once I put down the scripts and forced myself to just watch it was a much more enjoyable process.

Still, it will be more fun when we rehearse the piece I'm acting in. It's a strange feeling to be at a rehearsal and not working. Well, I'm working, of course, but you know ... I'm very mindful of my place and not interfering with the process. Rob, the director, runs things and I try to give my opinion only when it's asked. And then only about things that are truly critical.

For a first rehearsal, we had some really nice moments. At one point one of the actors did something that was completely opposite of what I intended in the script. And it was a pretty pivotal turning point in the story. But the cool thing is, it worked really well. When Rob asked what I thought I pointed it out but said I liked it. He noticed the same thing and agreed we ought to stick with that new direction for now and see how it works out.

Before I started acting I never understood what an actor brings to the process, since everything is supposed to be scripted out. But there really is a ton of latitude around the written word. Which I suppose is why there are so many lawyers in the world.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

When it rains, etc.

It's funny that this trite subject line just came to me. Tonight it rained for the first time in like 90 days and, naturally, it poured.

So I've been offered a part in another show. Right now I've got One-Eyed Cat going up Sept. 9. Just before my show proposal was accepted I got cast in a show that opens this Friday at Brown Couch Theatre Company. I'm in two different plays on a bill of one-acts, so I've been rehearsing those for the past four weeks.

And now, after much, much, much consideration, I've accepted a role for a show that goes up the weekend of August 20-21. That will start rehearsals just after the Brown Couch show opens.

My schedule this week looks like this:
  • Sunday: Held auditions for replacement actor for One-Eyed Cat
  • Monday: I auditioned at the Goodman Theatre (VERY COOL -- they're one of the five best theatre companies in the city, if not the country), then went to rehearsal for one of my Brown Couch plays, then rehearsal for the other one;
  • Tuesday: tech rehearsal for Brown Couch
  • Wednesday: first rehearsal for One-Eyed Cat
  • Thursday: dress rehearsal for Brown Couch
  • Friday: Show opens at Brown Couch
  • Saturday: theatre audition; second One-Eyed Cat rehearsal; second Brown Couch show
  • Sunday: third One-Eyed Cat rehearsal; third Brown Couch show

Then rehearsals begin Wednesday for the August show. Ugh. I can't help it. The opportunity for this new show was just too good. It's being directed by the artistic director of the side project, which is a very highly regarded storefront theatre here where I just did a play in June. I was -- here's that word again -- HONORED that I was not only asked to audition, but actually cast. Very cool. So I have to do this.

And the play itself is excellent, too. And the venue is the 17th Abbie Hoffman Died for Our Sins festival, which brings together a ton of great theatre groups and performers. So it's a great opportunity.

My hope is, since something will have to give, that work (as in work-work, my jobby-job) will be slow in August. That's the only way I'll be able to manage all this.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The cast is complete. Again.

Okay, we have our actor. Thank God! He's a good guy, someone I worked with in my last show over at the side project. The other people we talked to were very good, too -- some faculty members over at Act One, a major training center for actors here in Chicago. They, too, were very, very gracious about my scripts. I am feeling more and more confident about this thing. These guys are playwrights themselves, and award-winning veteran actors. The word that keeps coming back ... honored. Really honored.

I've also been working on the marketing materials. The designer is excellent, and has given me some really interesting options. The marketing campaign is going to be as good as the show. We'll be using an actual one-eyed cat as our icon on posters and other materials. We'll put up teaser flyers all over the place, I'm working on a dedicated web page, etc., etc., etc. Much, much, much to do.

First rehearsal Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A bump in the road

Things were going a little too smoothly, I suppose. One of our actors had to drop out -- the Second City faculty member. He's just got too much on his schedule, which is totally understandable. And at least we found out early so we can make a change without much disruption.

I'm still honored that he agreed to be in the show. Come to think of it, honored that Rob wants to direct it. These are people with lots of choices of other projects. Our faculty guy was a former mainstage actor. When I get insecure about this show, I have to remind myself of this stuff.

So now we're scrambling, trying to find a male actor, '50s/'60s, which is no easy task. A lot of actors at that point are union, so ineligible for this production. We've got names of faculty over at Act One studios, plus some people that I and other cast members have worked with.

Good times.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Auditions II -- we have a cast!

Wow. Rob was right. The invite-only audition was the way to go. We saw just a couple of dozen people, but they were all very good -- many of them perfectly capable of stepping in and doing the show.

It's so valuable for me as an actor to be on the other side of the audition table. It reminds me of how random the process can be. You can knock yourself out and turn in a great performance, but so often it comes down to factors beyond your control. Maybe you look too much like the other guy they want to cast. Maybe someone else just had better chemistry with the person they're playing opposite of. And sometimes, the casting people just change their mind about what they're looking for based on something surprising they've seen in the audition. That happened with us, and the result is a really interesting cast. And none of them really come from the improv/sketch worlds, which wasn't intentional, but just the way it worked out.

Now I have the unpleasant task of telling people who did a very good job -- many of them friends and people I like -- that they weren't cast, which is a drag. On the other hand, it made me feel good to introduce to Rob some really talented people that he hadn't come across yet.

The other great things about the audition process was finally seeing my scripts being performed, out-loud, by other actors and not just in my head. I've been working on these scripts for so long. Some for as long as year. Some are in their fifth draft. I've been working on them so much that I wasn't even sure anymore whether they were any good or not. And in addition to seeing them performed -- and, embarrassingly, laughing a LOT at my own material and what the actors did with it -- I got some very gracious comments on the scripts from many of the actors. And not all of it was typical sucking-up by people hoping to get cast. It seemed very sincere. So I am feeling very good about the scripts.

Another interesting thing is that a young man by the name of Belushi -- he's Jim's son -- auditioned. He was very good, but a little different from what we were looking for. He was the spitting image not of his father, but of his uncle John. I mean, it was haunting. And cool. That kid will go far on those eyebrows alone!

Now we just have to create a rehearsal schedule that accommodates the conflicts of seven actors!

Oh, and, Rob and I reached an agreement. I'll be performing in one of the five plays, which is a good compromise. (Most others are in two). That way, I'm still a part of things on stage but I won't be quite so crazed when the marketing crunch hits. In fact, the auditioners were so good I was almost prepared to write myself completely out of the show. I mean, they were that good!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Auditions and performing your own work

The big priority right now is to get actors on board. Rob thought it would be a good idea to do an invite-only audition. Broadcasting an audition notice ensures you get lots and lots of people coming out, but more is not always better, I suppose.

Still, holding auditions makes me nervous. It's like throwing a party -- what if nobody shows up? So we're reaching out to people that we both know and we're getting a pretty good response.

As part of that, we've been discussing casting. Rob wants to make sure I'm not overextended. To me, all along, it's always been my vision that I would act in my own shows. That's really important to me, for several reasons. First off, as a fairly new actor, I have, from time-to-time, performed some pretty lame material. This is mine. I know it's good. And many of the characters, of course, are written from my viewpoint and voice.

But the other thing is, you can produce or write or even direct, but nothing -- NOTHING -- beats that bond among cast members. In the end, it all comes down to the actors. They're the ones on the line. They're the ones who ultimately have to step out on that stage and make it happen. It's a very, very, very intense experience that brings people together in very interesting ways.

And yes, I like the applause. I don't deny that. But as I've gone on with this, that has meant less and less than the other things. And finally, I think for my friends and family, to get them to come out to the show, they want to see me on stage. Just seeing stuff I've written doesn't hold the same attraction. It's just less ... tangible.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Why hire a director?

A lot of writers direct their own shows. Some have directing experience, but others don't. Directing is HARD. And directing your own stuff can be really challenging. The point of having a director is to bring in an objective voice. Someone who can save you from your own bad instincts. A director will put his stamp and vision on your material (as will the actors). He'll give you a different way of looking at your material.

In fact, Rob, like Joe before him in my last show, in many ways serves as head writer. They both looked over my scripts and gave me their opinions on what works and what doesn't and how I might go about improving them. I welcome all that. The chief goal here is to put on the best show possible and I always value the opinions of people who have the experience I lack.

Directors also do all the other stuff. Conducting the auditions, running rehearsals, working with the actors and bringing out the most in them, creating a running order, figuring out stuff like pace and tone and technical things like lighting and sound and costumes and stuff.

And a good director will walk that fine line --putting his or her personal imprint on the show while also preserving the writer's core intent.

Oh, and the last thing about a good director? To me, personally? He or she has got to be a good person who works well with people. It's no different from my experience in the corporate workplace -- the best managers/directors inspire and motivate their people with POSITIVE reinforcement. Not fear. This is hard work, but it should also be fun. And everybody deserves to be treated with respect.