Letters to Holly

Wednesday, December 31

Quite A Bit

While Your Sis dragged herself back to the school, I started drawing a comic page based on a proposal to the comic publisher last year. The contest sparked five ideas from me, and four of them have potential. It asked for a new superheroine. The winning idea would be written by the creator in a miniseries drawn by a specific hotshot artist. Flash forward to today, and the mini is drawn by someone else entirely, and the publisher has co-writing credit. I think I dodged a bullet in losing. The idea I chose to draw first for these hallway pages is the most fun combining wrestling and Scooby Doo. Sorta. Kinda.

I thumbnailed the page and let that design simmer for a while. Yesterday, I started by altering the page layout and sketching out my panels. It was a good art day, the kind where the pencil cooperates and the art flows without much hassle. I know I'm not going to be completely pleased with the final product, but I have to get the thing finished. The subsequent pages can be better. Frankly, considering it's been so long since I drew anything, the page has no business looking this promising.

You might recall that I inherited a piano in August. It was Granny's (mom's mom) and it had been held at my lat uncle's house. When Mom cleared out his home, I hauled the piano home. Your Sis and I almost got that thing into the house, but it has sat since in the storage room. The local piano company called us back about moving it, and the owner came by yesterday to inspect the request. He decided we could do it, and it was done in about 20 minutes. He had two ramps, a dolly that resembled a lunar buggy, and his young son helping out. Now it sits in the big living room. It needs tuning, and he said he'd call us back to set up an appointment for that. It won't be concert-worthy, but he said it would be in fine condition for home play. I have delusions of writing songs on the thing. Granny would never sully it with a secular song, but it screams to play boogie-woogie. It's got that sound.

I was supposed to go to Spartanburg yesterday to visit with Esther. She had to drive back home instead. Her father-in-law was dying. That's a long drive to race to his side. Mom still mentions the many laws I broke getting down the mountain back in May. I told her I learned from Your Sister.

I used the iron skillet to make fried chicken. You have to use iron and Crisco to get the best dish. It's fundamental. Also, you can't make decent gravy in a steel pan. Just can't. I made my first decent gravy in a decade last night, and we gobbled it up while watching collegiate wrestling from Chicago. And House. Your Sis is on a House kick. I'm going to dry a duck dish on Thursday. we're inviting friends over. The theory is that the probable food poisoning will inconvenience four people instead of killing two.

It's New Year's Eve. I don't know what we'll do tonight. I'd bet money Your Sis doesn't make it to midnight.

Tuesday, December 30

Since Then

Let's see what I can remember ...

We drove down to see Mom on Thursday. We gave her the DVDs (over which she was giddy), and we ate supper at Denny's. Her TV is on a constant rotation of Hallmark Christmas movies, and they don't sit well after a Denny's burger. We arrived home before it got too dark. I appreciate the Nettie Pot. Your Sis got me a iron skillet and socks. She got Shakespeare scripts with CDs of famous performances and a new mix CD.

We picked up the giant TV Friday. Mom was determined to pay for one, and we bought a model similar to hers. It barely sits on our TV table, and this is a relatively small model. It's below the average size of advertised TVs, and yet it's remarkably huge. It makes Guitar Hero much easier to follow, and we played a long while, unlocking new instruments and songs.

I drove back down to Spartanburg Saturday to visit a high-school buddy only to find she wasn't in town. Back up the mountain I went. I did pop in to see Mom, and she seems to be handling the holidays well. She's hypnotized by Mama Mia.

We read research papers this weekend and watched football. Your Sis picked three teams who made it to the playoffs, and I only managed to pick two. We went to the local bar for trivia with another teacher couple, and we almost won on our first try. Also, I drank a lot. As is my way.

We saw The Spirit on Monday. It looks like Sin City but has none of the skill. It's a fun mess. We had the theater all to ourselves. I got a call from the spring director, and I'm again between him and the theatre president over joining the board of directors. I don't even know what they do. I didn't know until yesterday how long a member's term is (three years!). I've done three shows with these people. I've directed nothing. I've stage managed nothing. I have no business leaping into the board. I told the director I need some idea of bylaws and responsibilities before I can sign on. Also, I'm still reeling from the Christmas show. The theatre desperately needs focus; the opening show for this big fundraising effort was a disaster, and someone on the board should have worked with the show to ensure we made the best impression to potential donors.

I've begun running again, and my legs hate me. Still, I manage to keep chugging for a half-hour at a time. I got a running strategy book for Christmas, and it just happens to be written by professors from Your Sis's alma mater. She knows them well enough to pass along gossip.

I don't go back to work until next Monday, and I hope to draw today. I'll be able to post Pictures of the Day again when I'm using a PC with a faster internet connection.

Monday, December 22

The Last Two Shows

Fifth Night

It's a smaller crowd, and they are nowhere as responsive. Rothschild has a bad night. Specifically, he forgets the phrase "extraordinary measures," the key phrase of the play. He freezes in place and bends lower and lower as if the words can come out either end, and then gingerly offers "unmeasurable lengths." Not a bad replacement. But his body language has devolved this play. He crouches when he's talking to witnesses. He barely whispers a line if he has any doubt about its proper place in the play. He's back to sitting through objections just in case they're in the wrong place.

Scrooge is no vamping grunts throughout his lines and, worse, in reaction to others' lines. He's stepping on our dialogue left and right, and the grunts have become verbal spackle when he loses his place. He sounds like a tubercular MC. He and Rothschild have also begun dropping lines consistently, and the reason the play is shorter this week is because we're skipping chunks of dialogue left and right.

Scrooge gets lost during his confrontation of Cratchit, and the actor locks eyes with me as he searches for the words. I know them. I can cue him. But I don't. Fuck it. I just ad-libbed to cover a previous hiccup, and I'm not inclined to be charitable. Also, I have a stage mic about three feet from my face. Any word I say will be picked up. We share a stare for what feels like five seconds, and he eventually assembles a line to get to the end of our scene. And offstage I go to change into Future Ghost.

The judge is now blatantly reading his script onstage. When he insults his bailiff, he sometimes is looking straight down at his desk top to read the lines. The end scene goes very smoothly tonight, but everything else is getting worse.

Final Show

Marley and I are done with our makeup at 2, and there's no one else to be seen. We worry that the actors have either forgotten about today or are slacking. And it's indeed a relaxed atmosphere backstage. Brick and I talk football. Mrs. Cratchit and I talk legendary Hollywood actors. It's a large audience out there today, and we hope they catch the humor.

It goes about as usual. Scrooge is adding as much extra noise as possible, but now he's adding full lines. His scene with Marley won't end. He's adding questions, questions Marley can only answer by using lines intended for the other attorney and the big punchline is wasted on Scrooge. Instead of finishing with "No more questions," now he's saying "I see. I see. Hmph. Yes. I have no more questions for this witness, your honor, at this time. Bah. Ha. Mumble grumble." How are any of us supposed to know when to start talking if Scrooge won't shut up? He stammered originally to make noise while he remembered his lines. But now he's doing it in place of his lines. We miss some good dialogue today.

Marley still can't stay quiet backstage, and his chains are rattling before his supposedly dramatic entrance. Brick is shaking with laughter onstage at this. I crack up when the judge again loses his place while reading the script and confuses our poor bailiff.

The ending goes better, but Marley and Scrooge decide to stand right in front of the Future Ghost through the last scene. Because I'm on the witness stand, I have nowhere to go. My hand gestures are lost. Otherwise, Future and the translator get good laughs. The show ends, and we thank the audience and hang up our costumes for the last time.

I don't have any sense of accomplishment. That reduces any sense of relief. It's just over.

Saturday, December 20

Fourth Show

Everyone has heard the saying "the show must go on." It's a necessary credo, especially on the volunteer level. No small hiccup can derail the production. And in order to cancel one of this production's shows, you need the president, artistic director and publicity director's agreement. Our director discovered this just 15 minutes before show time.

Our Scrooge is sick. In one of those rare times when we could also yell the other theatre cliche "is there a doctor in the house" -- we instead look to our judge, a retired general practitioner. He diagnoses Scrooge with food poisoning, and it's apparently bad. He's sick at both ends, and the director calls a huddle to ask if we should cancel. Scrooge won't have it, and we prepare for a possible show. We set up a trash can and water bottle on his side of the stage wings, in case he needs them. We check the actors' bathroom and discover it's, of course, locked. If Scrooge has to go to the bathroom during the show, he'll have to run past the entire audience. Our tech person is told to prepare an extra intermission if Scrooge needs it. I suggest we grab the visiting college student who did a show with me in the spring; he can read Cratchit, and I can do Scrooge. That gets no traction.

Scrooge arrives from make-up, shaky and quiet. He won't cancel. And it becomes his strongest show. Because he's concentrating on staying upright, and not on the words, they come to him naturally. Act One zips by a full ten minutes shorter than normal. Doc has trouble again, and Marley says a big line three pages too early. It's a good audience in size and response; they're really enjoying it, and the entire cast is giddy at what we expect will be a Future Ghost scene that will kill them.

It comes very close. They go crazy for the ghost and translator, and we're in that rare groove where the slightest gesture will knock them over. But right before we get to the heart of the scene, Doc kills it. He jumps ahead a full page, and the audience knows something is wrong. We lose them. We never get them back. Scrooge again falls apart when he confronts the Future Ghost, and the audience is now silenced. It's heartbreaking. We never hit this high before, and we scuttle it within a minute. Even Brick is mad; he lost a few good lines. I'm typing this almost 18 hours later, and my stomach is still sunk over it. It's crushing. But Brick and I get a good response on the curtain call. That helps. The show must go on and all that.

Friday, December 19


The rehearsal between performance weekends is usually a linethrough. You sit, you rattle off the lines. It goes by quickly. But we need more than that. We need to do the entire play onstage. And we do. We skip the makeup and costumes though.

It goes about usual. The attorneys get lost, the judge calls them to the bench and feeds lines, they go back to the play. There are times when we jump ahead a few lines or pages. Early on, the defense attorney blanks while questioning me, and it's one of my rare lines where I can skip his missing question and keep talking. When I'm up as the ghost, he skips a load of dialogue, and the director reels us back in to get those lines in. So, no, I don't think he looked at the script. I know I didn't, but I also haven't blanked in every performance of the show. I just scoot up on the witness stand and open my head and out come the lines. We finish very quickly.

We discuss the review. One actor complains that the first act isn't funny. Another actor counters that it is funny, but the audience isn't laughing. I keep mum. The play is funny. it's very funny. If you know the lines and deliver them properly and understand what makes funny. But we're not performing it as comedy. We're doing it straight. Mostly. Some lines are obviously punchlines. But some situations need to be played for laughs, and that ain't happening. Usually when the audience isn't laughing, that means you're not funny. That's usually a reliable indicator.

The cast party is announced for Sunday night at 6, but I've already made dinner reservations. I might drop in beforehand. Maybe not. If it's a bad show, no. I have no enthusiasm for the last shows. I just want to be done with it.

The keepsake cards are printed, and I'll spend Saturday attaching the magnetic tape.

Thursday, December 18

Carol Consideration

I learned late that this week contained both a birthday and anniversary for a pair of buddies. We took them out for Mexican and heard about their Thanksgiving cruise. Your Sis has been on two cruises. I have been on none; I don't think ferries count. But now I'm very curious about cruises and wonder if this is something we can do next year.

We discovered the Patrick Stewart Christmas Carol adaptation last night, and we saw most of it. We got all the way to the departure of Christmas Present. It was sadly not up to the George C. Scott version, which I had just raved about with half of the couple over Mexican. The Stewart version has weak ghosts. They chaperon Scrooge instead of guiding him to recognize where things went wrong. The Marley was blase, and that's a mortal sin. Marley should spook you.

We rehearse tonight, and I still won't even sniff in the direction of the script. I suspect the cast party will be scheduled for after the Sunday show, but that's when I intend to take everyone out to dinner.

Picture of the Day
The Brazilian martial art of capoeira as displayed by members of a Santa Claus convention.

Wednesday, December 17

Taking Stock

Sometimes being a local celeb has its rewards. No, not me, Your Sis. We hopped into the town's Italian sports bar, and the owner is the parent of a current student. He chatted us up for a while and returned later to say he covered our bill. He certainly didn't have to do that. Especially since his kid is close to failing. He complimented me on the muttonchops, and I confessed they're for the play. Because I only had my plastic to pay the bill, I had to run out and find an ATM so I could tip the waitress. But I get leftover lasagna for lunch.

We watched the annual Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon, and it's just not the same without the ads for York Peppermint Patties. This year featured many ads for Kohl's, Macy's, and jewelry stores. All ads for adult consumers. Were any kids watching this?

It's an odd time of the year for us. I'm between play weekends, and she's preparing for a stack of grading over the holiday break. This formula of ending a semester after the new year is stupid and stupid some more. No teacher likes this. No kid wants homework over the break. And a failing kid can't miraculously save his semester with work done over the vacation. Your Sis and I had a sit-down yesterday to get our marital bearings. Everything is fine, but we both noted that we're stuck in the amber of cumbersome schedules.

An online buddy sent me a hand-drawn Christmas card. I use pictures of House as my avatar on our message board.

I made him one to mail today.

Tuesday, December 16

Time Off

As soon as I opened the back door of the house, Your Sister presented me with a bottle of Rogue Dead Guy Ale. It's for the ritual wings dinner. It's 38 ounces of Guaranteed Tipsy. Once the wings hit the table, I popped open the bottle, clinked it against her water bottle, and toasted her with "let the awkward advances commence!" Your Sis is a good gal.

I'm not even looking at the script. F' the script. I worked on the magnet yesterday, and I decided to forgo the usual illustration and just work with the reference photos. Frankly, I don't have the initiative to devise a swank design. I'm burned out.

I'm shopping for Mom through Amazon, and I think I know how to distract her from a depressing Christmas at home and occupy her holiday time with a stack of throwback DVDs.

Picture of the Day

Monday, December 15

Third Show

I try to arrive early for make-up, but Marley gets there first and grabs the lone chair. It takes half an hour to paint him up. I sit off to the side and quietly run my lines. Our makeup lady is also our costume lady, and she has two parts in the show. When the judge arrives, he immediately argues that she messed up a line. She argues back. The judge won't let it go and asks me for my script. It's in the car, I say. I ain't getting into this. The line doesn't affect the judge anyway; she says it to another actor onstage.

She also offers us the use of another space heater from the warehouse. I volunteer to take it, but only after I confirm with Scrooge that this won't blow our wiring in the dressing room. Nope, he says, as long as the heaters are off before we turn on the stage lights, there will be no problem. Of course it blows our surge protector. At least we have daylight for our costume change.

We vote to run a full rehearsal Thursday night onstage. We decline to just run lines at a table. We need as much familiarity with props as possible. I kinda sorta make the argument that clinches the vote.

Before we go onstage, Mrs. Cratchit pulls me aside to explain why she didn't join us onstage Friday. Normally, she sits in the gallery and leaps up to shout her lines before the bailiff escorts her out. This time she came running from the wings when it was her cue. She explained to me today that she's supposed to startle us with her lines. I try to explain: You can startle Cratchit, but don't startle ME. She laughs it off.

Act One is our strongest yet, and Scrooge is in the zone. We all focus on picking up the pace, and the first act flies by. We have some hiccups. Doc loses his lines, and the judge whispers them to him. Instead of covering it, Doc turns to him and says "I'm sorry?" Twice. During intermission, the attorneys joke about which ending we should have today based on the previous three nights -- A,B, or C.

Act Two boogies along until the future ghost comes onstage. Brick makes a rare mistake and forgets what the ghost is trying to say.

Doc: What was the purpose of your visit that night?
Brick: ... I, um ... wanted to see what he was doing. [Doc locks up, the stage is silent.]
Me (whispering): redemption.
Brick: ... and redemption.

And we're back on track.

Scrooge again has trouble confront my ghost and collapses into blabber when he accuses all the ghosts of conspiring against him. Christmas Past refers to her hand for her lines. But today, the attorneys heed the judge when he whispers the lines to get us through the conclusion, and it's as smooth as we've ever done it. So it's D.

Dan and I joke about his minor mistake, and we all run to our cars wearing half our costumes. It's the end of tech week, this was our eight consecutive day of this show. We're brain dead. I get home, toss mom in the car, drive her to Spartanburg, hit the passenger eject button, and drive back home. And my head is dead dog tired by 9 p.m.

Here's the official review, and again it's designed simply to get everyone's name in print:

Cratchit in full glory:

Sunday, December 14

Second Show

The director calls us to announce an early call for make-up and lines. Unfortunately, only 2/3 of the leads get this call. When Doc and Brick show up at the normal time, Doc has missed half an hour of practice time. I drive him over to the stage, and we run the last scene as the audience begins to dribble into the building. We try to give Scrooge mnemonic devices. The script has plenty of them -- "fabricated future and counterfeit corpse" -- but they don't stick. Christmas Past has written the first words of her last two lines on her left palm, and now she's worried about the audience seeing them.

When the director called, I was in Spartanburg picking up Mom. It's a three-hour round trip, but she wanted to see the play, and she doesn't like mountains. I leave her to Your Sister while I go to the theatre early. I've warned them about what this play has become.

The dressing room still has no heat, and all of our clothes are a toasting 30 degrees when we put them on. So we at least feel properly Victorian. The costume lady has fixed my britches. I realized right before last night's show that the backside has split open. Thank God for black underwear.

Act One drags and drags as people clamber for lines.We've done this show every days since last Sunday. Our brains are mush. The line trouble is spreading to other actors. Scrooge mangles his first scene with Fred the nephew, giving away the scene's punchline early and forcing himself to repeat it to get Fred off the stand. Marley forgets the easiest line of the play ("A year ago today."). He is forced to say "I don't know" and Scrooge has to work Marley's correct line into his own. The leads are becoming fairly adept at ad-libbing by necessity, but that skill is backfiring: They add to many words to their dialogue and become lost when they realize they're not saying script words anymore. Brick sits next to me the entire first act, and he is shaking with laughter as the others lose themselves and freeze onstage. When we are alone during intermission, we practically on the floor laughing. We've reached that point. It's all goofy now.

The crux of the play is Act Two's conclusion, and that begins when Christmas Future takes the stand. Tonight, Scrooge leaps over an entire page of material with him and detonates the crucial "confession" scene. As he harangues the ghost, my character is reduced to simple yes and no answers. But tonight, Scrooge asks a question requiring a noun-verb answer, and I don't have one. I mumble a generic answer and then look to the translator to improvise and answer. He wisely jumps us ahead in the script. But Scrooge is now lost more.

The end is again the two actors scrambling their conversation, and we three ghosts are lest on the far stage left, whispering to each other as we realize we are wandering in the wilderness and our Moseses are working without maps. Tonight, the judge is clearly feeding them lines from his bench, but they are ignoring the actual lines as they follow their own dim notions of where they are in the script. We finally, finally get to the blessed line that gets us offstage ("Let's all go to my house for a party"), and we practically run passed the attorneys before they can leap back into the quicksand of wrong lines.

The director pulls me aside right before I leave. "You never complain," she says. I feel a little two-faced about this. I vent here, but remain optimistic there. I don't see the need to grumble aloud and add to the drama. I ask here why I should grumble there. I get to be Cratchit, and I have the most fun role as Future Christmas. I don't have to carry the show. I know my lines. I'm the youngest cast member. We're almost at the end of opening week. Monday's wings and beer are closer every hour. And we both joke: This is the best ad-lib exercise anyone could ask for. It's a different show every night.

The missus, my mom, and I dissect the show when I get home, and we stay up very late recreating what we saw. But here's the highlight of the day. As we talked earlier about British accents, Mom asked if we would sound like Monty Python, whom she could never decipher. How can they be funny if you can't understand them? Oh, but they're hysterical, I contend and grab my Python scripts. I read her the Dead Parrot sketch in my normal voice, and my Mom is grabbing her sides in laughter. I've tried to advocate Python to her since high school. And here we are.

Yeah, why should I grumble?

Saturday, December 13

First Show

It's a blur of emotion but here are the highlights:

1. This is the grand ribbon-cutting for the new theatre space. Tonight's audience will be treated to a presentation of planned renovation and hit up for donations. Our play is a fundraiser, of sorts. As soon as I'm backstage to dress, a rumor spreads that the playwright is here. Now, Brick is a Facebook friend of his and assures who he can that the guy is in Florida, acting in this very same play. This doesn't help. Marley is apoplectic. The director is thrilled. She was introduced to an audience member, misheard the name, and thought he was the playwright. She learns her mistake and leaves the green room to apologize to the guy.

2. Scrooge is the last to arrive from the makeup session. With half his costume on, our tech lady sneaks in the green room to confess she's lost the sound cues on the computer. Everything is gone. He's kind about it until he learns this actually happened last night, and she's waited til right now -- maybe ten minutes before we start the show -- to tell him this. He has to put on his street clothes, wade into the audience, and reset the tech PC, come back, change into his costume, and psych himself back into character.

3. We stand in the wings to start the show. All the lights are out, and we're waiting for the stage lights to come on so we can take the stage. There's a knock at the backstage door. It's the tech lady. She doesn't know how to turn on the stage lights. Scrooge has to save her again. When she's gone back to her station, he mumbles that this will be her last show with this duty.

4. Despite a strong beginning and a responsive audience, the leads go offscript at the same spots as last night. The audience deflates, and the first act feels like a marathon. The two attorneys are so focused on their lines that they have ignored their stage movements. Doc is locked in a short pattern of crouching and staring away from the witnesses to scrape the dialogue from his brain. Scrooge tries so hard to croak his lines in a Scrooge-like fashion that he doesn't remember where he is. He smothers every punchline that should be powering this show.

5. Mrs. Cratchit decides not to join the other witnesses onstage. As I sit in the gallery, I plan some rewrites to work around her absence. On her cue, however, she appears and does her lines.
6. Cratchit gets some laughs.

8. Act Two begins with both actors standing up to introduce two different witnesses. That's not in the script. The judge salvages the scene.

9. Future Christmas steals the show, but Scrooge leaps offtrack midway through our scene. So does Doc. Within one minute, Brick and I repeat a line three times because Doc has asked us the same question three times. Then it gets bad. Scrooge mangles the grand unveiling of Marley as the fake Scrooge body. He forgets the indignant accusation scene. The judge, despite holding the script in his hands, loses his words for his verdict. The two attorneys utterly and completely botch the ending in such a way that they have removed the exit lines. The characters -- all of us -- now have no way to get offstage. The climactic conversation is shredded and reassembled in a panic, and we lose both the momentous declaration of Christmas, our departures, and the twist revelation. It feels like forever. In short, they fuck up huge in this, our grand opening of the stage and optimistic fundraiser. Now, really, what excuse do we have for not casting younger folk, again? Could they do any worse than these veterans?

The cast finally take our bows to polite applause and walk into the audience to meet and greet. There's some polite congratulations, but the Future ghost and his translator are clearly the stars. We shouldn't be, but we know our lines. We get the humor, and we can surf the script for the most laughs. Also, we have slapstick, and that's hard to compete with. But if the leads had their stuff together, they'd mop the floor with us.

I change, grab some reception food, and drive home cursing at the windshield. If they had sabotaged the show on purpose, this wouldn't hurt any more. I avoided this theatre out of fear of this kind of shambled productions, and now I feel suckered. I showed up, I learned my lines, I gave my other actors consistency with which to hang their cues, and they blow us up. Going back to Asheville's theatre sounds really good right now.

Oh, and the theatre president and the spring director are both vying for my commitment. The president wants me on the board, and the director wants me to starts what I assume is a new company. It's not the best time to woo me when I want to clobber the leads. Death hate bile.

Thursday, December 11

Open Dress Rehearsal

I was nervous all day Thursday, and the giant hot cocoa from Books-A-Million probably didn't help. But as I shopped for Christmas gifts through the book aisles, I mumbled my lines to calm my nerves. It's much easier this show compared to the last shows'. Those took an hour. These lines take about five minutes. Here's my goofy image for you: A peacoated Bob Cratchit mumbling about Tiny Tim while thumbing through Dracula.

It's the usual pre-audience jitters mixed with a giddiness that this week is nearing the end. Opening week is always a slog. It's eight performances in as many days. Except this theatre likes to take a day off before a show opens, a tradition that's lovely if your cast knows its play. Needless to say, that didn't happen this time.

We show up at the warehouse early for our makeup. Marley takes an appropriately long time to get ready. We have yellow stage lights, making heavy makeup for the rest of us unnecessary. White lights wash actors out, which is why they need strong make-up to retain color. We get to the stage and fine the dressing room has no light. We put a lamp there a few days back, but the power is no not working. This doesn't go over well. Some folks scramble to the audience bathroom to dress before our guests arrive. I stay in the dressing room. There's enough ambient light for my carrot-powered eyes. Marley complains these are no accommodations for actors becuase he must complain. Marley trivia: He's a licensed clown. I just found that out. We do get the good news later that the actors have their own bathroom downstairs. Our play is so short that I never had to go during rehearsals, but I have one of two spry bladders in this cast.

We have about 15 people there, including Your Sis. She warned me beforehand that she'd only catch the first act our of exhaustion. The director gives a curtain speech to prepare the audience for potential power outages, the actors huddle on the stage-right wing, and then we take we start the show.

It starts strong and stays strong for about the first 20 pages. The Cratcihit scene goes well, and the nephew scene goes well. Then we move to the fundraiser, and Scrooge goes off the rails. The judge had prepared a full script and made arrangements for the two attorneys. if they're in trouble they are to request a sidebar and hear the judge whisper their lines. Scorrge does this. But it happens again so often that the judge starts whispering the lines as the actors stand near his bench. His Issac Newton wig and real mustache hide the cheating well enough, and this subterfuge saves the play all night long. But this works as long as the actors face the judge. When they turn out to the audience and lose their place, they are sunk. And that happens a lot.

They also skip around the script, regain their balance, and repeat lines to get back on track. That happens a lot. Again, I'm sitting onstage for the entire first act, and it feels much longer than the 60 minutes the act stretches. It probably should run at 45 minutes, but the pauses and line-juggling inflate the running time. We lose the humor almost entirely. There's no timing or sparkling delivery. We have turned a banter script into a melodrama, and you can feel the audience yearn for more. Our tech operator decides to cut the stage lights before the act is over.

We regroup during intermission, and Scrooge, -- the tech chief -- spends the entirety of it working on wiring the camera. Oh, did I mention this is being taped. We didn't know that until we showed up and saw the camera. The camera guy says he needs a wired mic for the second act, and we wonder what if anything he could hear from the first act.

We start the second act. Almost immediately, it goes wrong. The attorneys call for witnesses in teh wrong order, and the judge has to impovise. He makes a sterling decree about following the witness docket (and this is nowhere in the script), and he saves the collective bacon. The leads corkscrew their way through the act and receive lines from the judge. When everyone is onstage for the play's twist revelation, Scrooge loses the lines completely. And this is the situation I feared most: He's trying to cue me without feeding me the proper line. As the Future Ghost, I can mumble an interjection and hope that my translator can follow my gestures and feed Scrooge a line he can follow. I do that, and he does that, but Scrooge doesn't reset. He's still lost. He fumbles for a bit, and eventually, wisely, skips ahead, and we kind of regain balance.

But then the climactic attorney negotiations is utterly shuffled. The bailiff loses his cue, and he is supposed to start the stage exodus. That doesn't happen. The attorneys vamp to try the cue again and eventually get him to say his line. The cast dribbles offstage. Our momentum is gone, and now we're just trying to stop the pain. The show ends with dead silence, and the audience only realizes the show is over when we come out for the bows.

My nerves are utterly gone. I've done my lines in front of a crowd, and my brain finally accepts that I have a smaller role and can feed me less adrenaline to gear up for the show. It's a big relief. My nerves were so amped that I was starving by intermission. The judge and attorneys are allegedly meeting Friday afternoon to run lines. I breeze through mine during my commute.

I talk to Your Sister at home, and her questions about the play are all answered with "he screwed up." Supposedly, a bad final rehearsal portends a strong show. But this was our best rehearsal so far. What is that an omen of? At least we didn't lose power during the practice.

Picture of the Day
Save us, punk Supergirl!

Wednesday, December 10

Countdown: Two Nights

As I've mentioned before, I spend the vast majority of Act One sitting silently. I'm lazy enough to enjoy this and let someone else do the heavy lifting this time. But becuase I have to use an accent, this onstage downtime works against me. Normally, I'd practice backstage before going on. If I had a proper entrance, I would pace backstage, tighten my accent, wait for my cue, walk onstage, and make with the British blabber. In this play, I don't have that immediate prep time, and our speakers aren't using true accents. I can't vicariously keep my accent muscles ready by listening to them. I start talking cold.

I've concentrated on my accent over the last few days. I can hear BBC Radio over the internet. I have a British author audiobook for the commute. I've even played with mixing dialects, moving from Michael Caine to Ricky Gervaise and Hugh Grant and Patrick Stewart. Cratchit can't be refined. He's low class compared to Scrooge, but Scrooge is only successful middle class. He's not aristocracy, which may be the most subtle trick of the original story. Scrooge is marginally higher in station than Cratchit, but he's hoarded his money. The middle class, then, can be comfortable and successful without being born into money. Scrooge has earned it but with such focus that he became a miser. He has no servants or coachmen. Scrooge represents the potential of wrong in all strata of society. A Christmas Carol is not class warfare. It's the "prodigal son" story if the dad went bad.

One more note about British accents. Almost all us amateur actors make the same mistake when they slap one on: They get airy. They push the voice high and powdery, and they lose projection. The cultural association is that British speakers have no vocal bass. It's wrong, but there it is. I had to bring my voice down when I really tried Cratchit the first time. It remains the first trick for me to keep in mind. Then I work on selective enunciation -- "and" becomes "n" and "men" becomes "m'n." But certain syllables are drawn out for that dry texture. And then of course there's the "r" pronunciations. Yes, it's a lot to work with, and this is why I wanted the accents dropped when we did the spring play, and it's probably why the major characters don't have them for this play.

But let's get back to the rehearsals.

Here's when you know you're in real trouble: The director makes Xerox copies of the script for the lead actors who have not had one clean rehearsal. The script is enlarged to a loose-leaf format to be easily read at a glance. They can be kept onstage and used throughout the show. No more awkward pauses and obvious requests for lines. She holds them out to the actors. They refuse them. Now -- right now -- you're in trouble. The actors claim their notes are sufficient. These are the same notes that have failed them all these weeks. These are the same notes that befuddle them as they run scenes. These are ineffective notes, and the actors clearly state they prefer them to the full script which they can refer to any time during the show.

I was in the same position -- the exact same position -- last year. I had a shitload of lines in a courtroom play. I had notes. I had a near-disastrous open rehearsal where I confused my cues at the exhibit table and blanked hard for what seemed like eight years. But that was my lone boo-boo, and I expanded my onstage notes. If someone had offered me a full script, I would have refused. And I think I did. But I tightened my notes, and I didn't have that hiccup with an audience, and that error happened just once. Once.

The judge is told to arm himself onstage with the script to cue the actors when trouble arises. he explains it will confuse him. He's already reading half his lines from his bench, so I don't know what the problem might be.

Anyway, we have our first audience Thursday night, and we there isn't one scene without line trouble. Doc says he did the math and realizes we'd be fine if we had Wednesday rehearsals. I agree. Tonight's practice is not bad for a show that opens in a week, but it's scary for a show that opens this weekend. Whole pages are skipped. The four-page climactic argument is rearranged. The defense attorney only halfway stands up during objections because he's not sure if he should object or on what grounds. Mrs. Cratchit reads her great comic interjection as a weepy monologue. The costume chief wants us to reblock the last scene because she doesn't like the sight of the empty witness gallery. The tech board operator petitions to add music we hadn't planned for. The circuit breaker cuts off our lights randomly through the show.

The director asks if we can add a rehearsal Thursday afternoon, and I say I can't make it. I have to work. Other voices echo mine. The stage manager says the judge and attorneys should meet up and run lines, something I thought of about two weeks back.

Here's what I can do: Prepare my lines (only takes five minutes to run them), and treat this show as an exercise in improv. Stay on my toes. Worry only about my stuff. Nail my scenes and stay light.

As I type this, there are ten hours before we take the stage for invited guests. Then we have three nights of performances until Monday's wings and beer. Wings and beer are my tunnel light. Wings and beer are my Christmas spirits. A chance and a hope.

A chance and a hope, Ebenezer.

Picture of the Day

Countdown: Three Nights

I forget that I've shaved until I pass a mirror and -- WHAMMO -- I'm Victorian. It's very much a bad look for me. I hope the director lets me scale back the chops to slacker-cool sideburns. Once this show is done, I'll shave everything and start from scratch.

I went to the local costume shop and found a mesh mask. The only ones that had were all framed by a colorful fringe, but I at least found one the matches the purple trim of the ghost robe. I hope we can cut it off. And by "we," I mean the costume chief.

Three words for tonight's practice: Gee. Zus. Christ.

Twice I had to ad-lib to save Doc, the defense attorney. Both times I was on the witness stand. It's really difficult to leapfrog chunks of dialogue when all of your lines are dependent on the other actor. It's even trickier when you are a wordless character who can only hope your translator can pick up on your pantomiming and feed that attorney a cue.

Oh. Oh God.

The attorney is working with notes in two locations: his table and the judge's bench. He has index cards with shorthand cues. When he blanks, he can turn away from the audience and reset himself. Unless, of course, he forgets what that shorthand is supposed to mean. Or he can't read the writing. We struggle through this throughout the rehearsal.

We started off on the right foot. Even though we dress for Act One, we start with the last third of Act Two. We sit and run lines. Then we take our places and run those same lines. Then we start the play properly. When we reach the play's end, then, it makes the third time that night we've run that scene. And it still requires copious cues from the stage manager.

The director finally asks the cast what more can be done to help.

"Cheat sheets," says the costume chief.

"Give them them the scripts," I say.

And we mean it. The attorneys and judge can have the entire script on their tables. It will looks like appropriate props. This was our option for the last courtroom play, and Doc had virtually his entire script then on note cards. Legible, clear note cards. Why not do it again? The director calls our state "appalling," and it's true. Friday is both our first official night, and the ribbon-cutting ceremony for our new stage space. It would be very bad to suck that day.

I finally get to take a photo of Scrooge for the magnet design, but I still need a photo of me as the ghost. I bought a mesh mask Tuesday, and that night's rehearsal was the first pass at using it. It worked OK, I think. By adding another layer between me and the audience, it goosed me to make my gestures bigger, which I like.

It also means I have on seven layers when I take the stand in that scene -- t-shirt, dress shirt, vest, black shirt, robe, hood, mask. I am dying under there. The stage lights and heaters only make it harder to concentrate. Thankfully, there's no way we we'll be onstage so long when we have an audience. Of course, by then they may have burned down the stage in protest.

Picture of the Day
Measure for measure.

Tuesday, December 9

Countdown: Four Nights

We get our first audience Thursday night -- invited folks who otherwise wouldn't pay to attend. Monday's rehearsal means we have three more nights to clean up our act.

A number of us are sick with various degrees of crud. I'm doing much better. Brick and Doc are bad off. Mrs. Cracthit and Past Christmas are sniffling. 'Tis the season.

I put on the Cratchit jacket, gloves, and scarf because I want to mark the time needed to take those off and put on my ghost costume. I find I have plenty of time even when I figure in the time for the mesh mask I have to buy Tuesday. Because I'm feeling better, I take my place in the onstage witness gallery for the entirety of Act One. I speak for about eight pages and spend 40 just sitting behind the defense attorney.

It's nerve-wracking to watch actors struggle with lines, and I remind myself that, just a year ago, I was in their shoes. I was roaming a stage for the entire play, desperate to recall the dialogue, while the majority of the cast sat and watched and waited for their short bits of stage time. I can tell you honestly that I prefer being in this position now. This is the comfort of a bit part. Also, I make myself relax. I'm have sympathy pains for them but this isn't my cross to bear. Not this time.

If we don't tighten up the lines in three nights, we will open our brand-new digs with a parade of incompetence. We have major, major problems, and the best thing we can do is run scenes multiple times to hammer them into shape. Scrooge assures us he'll be ready, and I hope he is. I don't want any of the actors to fall on their face. And I want the theatre to have a grand opening to their new season. And I don't want to be so worried about them that I make a stupid mistake.

It's entirely possible that the Future Ghost will steal the show. Not me. The ghost. I just have to do the role justice. But I discovered last night that it's impossible to overdo the part.

As I write this, I have shaved myself an anti-goatee. I have muttonchops, and there's a very good reason they went out of style.

Picture of the Day
A fashion photo reminiscent of the horserace scene in My Fair Lady.

Monday, December 8

Rehearsal Sixteen: Tech

Normally a tech runs like so: The crew get the script, and the actors walk through any moments that require sound or light changes. The director sees the effects and makes adjustments based on technical options or artistic wallop. With all the cues set, the entire play is rehearsed to lock down the tech stuff. In a full-sized three-act show, this can take literally all day. This show, however, is practically black box. Aside from the opening and close of tech show, the only effects are for the ghost entrances. This tech runs differently.

Our Scrooge is the effects guru, and he spends the entire rehearsal adjusting lights and teaching the new person running the effects board. She was the director of the courtroom show last fall. She doesn't seem to adjust well to the board controls. Maybe it's a stodgy set-up. I dunno. Anyway, instead of nailing down the cues, the director has us run the rehearsal as normal with the effects popping in on those rare moments that call for them. Meanwhile, the crew move among the actors to move lights. At one point, Marley is in the witness box reciting lines as a light guy wobbles on a ladder right behind him.

We go to the warehouse before the rehearsal to grab our costumes. The new theatre green room is in shambles. The exiting partitions are gone, wiring hangs from the ceiling, the floor is filthy, and there's no heat. One could argue this is method preparation for Victorian characters. We have a small space heater running, and a few free-standing screens to use for changing clothes. But it's freezing in there, and we'll be here mostly when the sun goes down. Thankfully, most of the actors are onstage the entire play. If they stayed in the room for the play, they'd get sick. Like me, with the Klingon death flu.

The director asks if I should go back home, and I argue that I get shaky just thinking of missing a rehearsal this close to the show opening. I sip some home-brewed tea and pop my cough drops. The director reads for Scrooge, and I read for him when it's her character's turn to take the stand.

My Cratchit costume is just right. I hate the five-button fly though, and I can see now why the Victorians earned their reputation as prudes: It would take too long to get out of the clothes to have any fun. The ghost costume doesn't reach the floor, and the hood shows too much of my face. I'll go to the costume store and buy a mesh mask. But I enjoy wearing the get-up, and the gloves allow me to make broad muppet-like gestures. I'm just this side of waving my arms over my head like Kermit. Brick looks downright jaunty in his costume, but he's unsure about his fake sideburns. I have to ask when we're to shave down to the muttonchops.

We end about three hours after we start, unheard of for techs. I'm not complaining. I'm headsick, and the director tells me outright to stay home if I'm not any better Monday night. Frankly, I'd have to be bedridden to stay away. We need to tighten our lines. We get an audience in four nights.

Friday, December 5

Rehearsal Fifteen: Sick Sick Sick

I tried my best to stay healthy. After we spent the day around Brooke and her cough, I would run to the hotel and wash my hands. I used very hot water. Hot enough to melt the skin and reveal the titanium alloy of my 21st-century cyborg knuckles with which I can track down Sarah Connor and Thumbkin.

But I am sick, and it is bad. I’m in the sick bed, and my skull is a wet loaf of bread. I can only sleep with the help of my beloved NyQuil. I would love to try that nasal douche y’all talked about in Birmingham. I have cut back on my cough drops because the sugar hurts my teeth already sore from the cold. But I couldn’t stay away from the rehearsal.

We knew that the new stage area – the local legion hall – would need a floor waxing, and that would keep us from working there. We also knew the hall would house a craft fair for the weekend Christmas festival. What we didn’t know is the fair would be left in place overnight. We walk into a bazaar, and some booths have sprawled onto the stage. There is a fair watchman sitting in the back of the room, making sure we don’t mess stuff up. I think he’s connected to the theatre too, but he’s there on behalf of the fair. He stays in the back, watching TV. There’s some tense discussion about moving the sound table nearer to the stage for the time being, and our courtroom director is here to man the sound and light table.

I am sick as a dog and armed with soup, a hankie, DayQuil, and cough drops. I ask the director if I can stay out of the witness gallery so I won’t ensickify the other actors. I don’t think I can do the ghost voice tonight. A number of us are already coughing and sniffling. At least this is hitting me now and not next week when we open. Oh, yes, we open next week.

It’s decided that the green room is useless, and we’ll do make-up and costumes at the warehouse. I don’t know if this means I’ll carry around my ghost costume between shows. The rehearsal is fairly smooth until we again hit the 30-page threshold. The lines fall apart. My accent gets a bit better because of the cold, oddly enough. Marley behaves himself better, but the constant correction of lines by the stage manager knocks us all out of a groove. Mrs. Cratchit nails her lines tonight, and I yell out “that’s my baby.” We try some simple sound and light cues for the ghost entrances.

It takes a few years to get through Act One, and Act Two is a constant call for lines and awkward silences as folks struggle to remember. I even forget a ghost mumble – the easiest thing to do in the history of ever – and it cracks up the crew. Then, my ghost translator forgets his line, and I offer “hey, I clearly said ‘mumblemumblemumble.’ ” The cast is a little goofy tonight; we might all be drunk on cold medicine. I am the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Breathe.

The director announces we will not meet again until Sunday’s tech, but she commands us to run lines at home. And I shall, from the comfort of my undersized intensive-care cot as I slowly drain my brainswamp. Counting Sunday, we have four rehearsals before we have our first, invited audience. Scrooge, the judge, and the attorney really need to sit down in a coffee shop and run lines.

Picture of the Day
David vs. Goliath

Tuesday, December 2

Rehearsal Fourteen: Bad Move

It's Tuesday afternoon.

1:15 I get a call from the director, saying we won't have a line-through. We will have the stage for a full-on rehearsal. Great! We can carry along whatever momentum we developed last night.

3:40 Another call. Nope, crossed wires. We're doing the line-through after all. #!%@.

The local paper ran our press release, including a photo. Look at this.

It doesn't suggest anything Scroogey, and we're not wearing any time-appropriate costumes. Doc and I are doing nothing. Why would anyone comes to see this show based on this photo? Also, I have luggage under my eyes.

The line-through starts with some notes. The costume chief wants us to dress up before Thursday's rehearsal, but the duds are at the warehouse. Do we meet there, dress up, and drive to the new stage area? It's never made clear. It appears this will, however, be the procedure for preparing our make-up as there is no functioning green room at the stage. We did this for last year's courtroom play. We sat at the warehouse for make-up and drove to the play location while praying we weren't pulled over for any reason.

The rehearsal starts fairly smoothly, and we get a groove going for the first 20+ pages. Then it crumbles. I have to work on my accent consistency. The rehearsal goes as before until we reach the second act. Some cast members peel off into the night as their work is done. But among them is Marley. He gathers up his daughter and walks out the door. The director, apparently unaware of any early deadline, calls after him, reminding him he still has lines. He doesn't respond. He's out the door and gone.

It's possible, and I want to give the benefit of the doubt, that he arranged an early departure with the director, and she forgot. It's possible he got an emergency call, and he left in a hurry. But without more evidence, it's also possible that he pulled off a dick move.

He likes to grumble. He makes comments throughout the play constantly. He doesn't like the pace, doesn't like the line problems, doesn't like this and that. I obviously have my concerns too, but I don't mumble them as the actors are struggling. I don't flop my hands about in a gratuitous display of misery. I don't throw around a trump card about years of experience.

Best case scenario for the matter: He had no choice.
Worst case: He's a dick.

The director reads his lines when we get to his Act Two material. We really and truly have to work on Act Two. It requires so much more energy than the first act, and it throws a lot of plot at the audience. The director ends the rehearsal by saying she's not concerned now with exact recitation of the script so long as we get the point across. But, she explains, we can't look for an exact cue from our fellow actors. Unfortunately, a lot of these cues are questions we are to answer. Hopefully we won't have to rework the original dialogue into our response to fit the inaccurate question we were asked. If we change our lines, then that scrambles the cue someone else needs. We make a chain of increased confusion.

Script: "How long have your worked for Misters Scrooge and Marley?"
Attorney: "Um, Bob, ... what is your opinion of Mister Scrooge?"
Me: "If I understand you right, sir, you want to know how long I worked for Scrooge and Marley, and the answer is ten years."
Attorney: "Ah, yes. yes."

It seemed to go somewhat better tonight, but it's an incremental improvement. There's small discussion about uncovering the Future Ghost's face to show my expressions. But the director poo-poos that. And I'm glad. I hope Thursday to rehearse that scene in my ghost costume.

Rehearsal Thirteen: Stagecraft

It's our first night at the theatre's new stage location: a leased American legion hall. It's old and needs massive renovation, but for this small show it will do fine. The set pieces are already in place, and the stage looks small. It's maybe 15 feet deep, but it's 30ish feet wide. Seen from the audiences, it looks huge. Onstage feels crowded. But we do have a large judge bench taking up a quarter of the stage.

We're told immediately that we won't be able to have our usual Tuesday rehearsal here because the crew will wax the floors. A vote is taken to keep the Tuesday date, but outside schedules force us to make it another line-through. Whatever progress we make tonight with props and stage movement will be lost tomorrow as we again stare at each other and yank lines from our brains. The consensus says we need as much rehearsal time as possible. Maybe we'll meet Friday as well. Schedule debates leads to frustration and grousing among the cast members who showed up. We have no bailiff or Marley tonight.

The stage is a catalyst. You will either grow meek or expand to fill the space. Cratchit's demeanor changes a bit, and I project the lines for the back row. Now it feels like we're acting, like we're in a real show. It's fun again. I think of Judi Dench's accent when I speak my lines. I like her lilt. Mrs. Cratchit can't get her lines out on two tries. Her THREE lines. Because we don't have the bailiff or Marley, I offer to read them aloud, and I discover another line hiccup: There's a huge amount of paraphrasing. That might rattle folks relying on specific cues.

So I go up to read Marley, the best character in the play, the best character in the original story. I love Marley. He has the most memorable lines ("Business?! Mankind was my business!"), and there is no chance of overdoing the part. You have carte blanche, and I went for it. I shouted the lines and gave it bass and went from anger to exhaustion and misery to regret in five pages. And above all, he gets to be scary. He is harbinger, the spooky-ass Obi Wan, the damned version of Hamlet's dad. Even in a comedy, he is not there to delight. He does not visit Scrooge. He haunts him.

Just look at this. Here's the definitive screen Marley from the George C. Scott version of Christmas Carol. I'm a Dickens. I can make such pronouncements. This is THE Marley:

You can find this DVD dirt cheap, and it's a sterling adaptation. Great cast. I watch it every year since I was in high school.

Anyway, I'm halfway through the scene when I hear people whispering on the wings that I'm doing a good job. We have people who don't whisper subtly, so you hear everything they try to say in confidence. I finish and walk to the other sitting actors. The director pulls me aside and says she wishes I could do that part too. I got to do it once. I'm happy with that.

As the first act ends, I stroll the audience space to check the acoustics, and they are right nice. The dialogue is clear even along the back wall. The stage movement does help with line cues. It at least seems like a smoother rehearsal, but we still have major line problems. MAJOR line problems. The judge asks for a copy of the script during the play, and he can have one. No one can see his desktop, and he could cue folks who have line trouble. We tried this in the last courtroom play, and I have no problem with this. Heck, I might blank onstage.

At the end of the play, the question of publicity posters comes up. As in, we don't have any. There's concern that we won't get the word out about the play in time for people to make room in their holiday plans. If I'm one of the actors with mucho lines, I want to ensure the largest number of possible folks see my effort.

Monday, December 1

Rehearsal Twelve: Toil

We got back home Saturday night around 7. Your Sis picked up Brooke's cold, and she took it easy. School was snowed out this morning, and she needed an extra day to get back into the groove. We watched The Incredibles Saturday night with junk food, and I rehearsed Sunday.

Because so few of us are off-script, the director called for a special weekend session to run lines. We won't move around. We will sit and recite lines. This is usually a measure done only between performances. A theater will open the show, hold four shows, take a few days off, have a line-through, and then reopen the show.

In my previous three plays, this practice happened thusly:
Cat: 29 rehearsals and three performances
January 16th: 29 rehearsals and three performances
Murder Game: 24 rehearsals and three performances

We are trying this instead two weeks before we open and less than a week since we officially were to be off book. Also, we've scattered to the four winds for Thanksgiving. Who would run lines during the holiday? It just can't go well.

A note on rehearsals, we have 19 scheduled rehearsals. Total. That's all. And we're supposed to be off script after 10 2-hour rehearsals. That's impossible. I can't begrudge my fellow actors anymore. This is bad planning.

Most of us assemble on time. Some of us arrive late and confused as they didn't get the email announcing the Sunday practice and its location. We meet at the director's retirement community activity center, and we sit in a circle facing each other. This is standard line-through procedure. I did one such practice where we rolled a ball to the next person to speak.

We can't start with a full cast. Our Scrooge arrives half an hour late, our judge about 20 minutes later, Mrs. Cratchit/Belle has been gone for more than a week. Who does this help? Are the actors to be shamed into learning lines? Then why do we skip the opening arguments today?

Again making things difficult is our stage manager and director failing to properly follow along when we need line cues. They say we've said the wrong dialogue only to apologize when we back up and try it as they just suggested. Now we're learning lines incorrectly. Christmas past makes no pretense of reading her lines for the second rehearsal, even as the director seated to her right tells her to close the book. This would be diva behavior in other plays. But, with these older actors, I think they don't register the rules. They're oblivious. Also in opposition to learning lines, we skip the end of Act One.

In some scenes, the actors are asking for complete versions of every line. They don't have the words in their heads. They're struggling and frustrated and confused, and I feel for them. They're asked to do too much too soon. They each go through the five stages of grief:

Denial -- I know this. I know this.
Anger -- Don't give me the lines until I ask for it!
Bargaining -- OK, give me the first part, and I can get it.
Depression -- Oh God, I'll never get this right.
Acceptance -- Alright, I've got to work on these before tomorrow.

All in about, 30 seconds.

We depart angry and bruised. Monday night, we rehearse on the stage, and we're told all subsequent rehearsals will last until we do the finish the whole show each night. So now we'll be frustrated and tired. Great.

Picture of the Day
The aquarium in a new Dubai Mall.

Tuesday, November 25

Rehearsal Eleven: The Absolute Nadir

I've been in theatre productions since high school. One could reach back to elementary-school stuff, but let's not. Let's leave that be. Since 1989, I've done 16 plays. I've directed a short play when I was 17. I stage managed a musical when I was 30. Let's combine all those plays into one big pot of rehearsals like the communal pile of french fries when friends order McDonald's meals. That's a lot of practices in the past 20 years. So believe me when I say, unequivocally, sincerely, and unhappily, that last night was the worst rehearsal I've been a part of since I wore a Members Only jacket and a stunning glop of hair mousse.

When we get to the warehouse, we find a set. A judge's bench and a witness stand are screwed to the same flat riser. This is based on British court design, and the witness area has a railing on the front. It's always fun to see a set piece for the first time, and we marveled and walked around it and on it. Then the complaints hit. The bench is too tall of our judge. The witness stand can't be seen from the left-seated audience. These complaints have easy answers. One, the judge can stand or sit on a high stool. Two, the witnesses will stand for their testimony; they can clearly be seen. This did not placate the complainers. Not even when one uses the "I've only been doing this for 36 years" card.

Then we see the wheels attached to what was to be Scrooge's bed, which will carry Marley onstage in Act Two. Now, remember, we have a new Marley. He's bigger than our first. He fits on the bed OK, but also remember that our youthful-lad bailiff is being played by a bent-over senior who walks with a cane. He's supposed to bring the bed onstage. Our actor can't move it. The wheels are taken from office chairs; not the standard theatre casters normally used. You can't drive it in a straight line. It wobbles and fishtails.

I suggest again the Fred Flintstone trick: Cut leg holes in the bed and have Marley walk the bed into place. Make leg shapes under his blanket, and audiences will never know. This idea doesn't fly. The director says we'll get a gurney from the local hospital. Someone suggests the funeral home. Can our bailiff move a loaded gurney? The rehearsal space is now incredibly crowded, and we never measured the new stage to recreate the dimensions. We quickly walk all over each other. We're told the next rehearsal will be on the stage, and that will be the Monday after Thanksgiving. That will give us less than two weeks and only five rehearsals until we have our first audience. The judge tries on his English court wig, and it looks good. The nephew and translator actor tries fake muttonshops, and they look OK.

Those complaining about the stage quickly petition for more rehearsals. Let's have one Tuesday night, they say. I'm not for it. The missus and I have made plans. Half my brain says we should have more rehearsals, but I agree with the director that we should wait until we're on that stage. Using this altered rehearsal space will do more harm than good. A read-through does nothing to help people learn lines, and a sit-down recital removes the physical cues that spark memory. We were told at the beginning of rehearsals that we were to be offbook last Thursday. Then we were told tonight. We had extra time to learn our lines. And tonight, we will not have scripts. The stage manager and director will cue us if we ask for it. And so we start.

The first scene is between the judge and bailiff. It's about two pages, and then the defense attorney and Scrooge take their tables. I carpool with the judge actor, and he said he ran the lines with his wife this afternoon. He takes the stage, and he is lost immediately. It takes a very long time to get through those two pages. The two men have some business with a coal bin and the oven. Offstage mumbling declares we need tongs instead of a shovel, as if that will solve anything with lines. The trial starts with a long opening statement from the attorney, and this is played by Doc, my opponent in last year's courtroom drama. Back then, he used index cards for his lines. Tonight, he has no cards, and he does pretty well for the first time off-script.

I'm the first witness, and I have my lines down. Cold and solid. Doc has trouble once I take the stand, but it's not entirely his fault. The judge and Scrooge interject often -- at least, they're supposed to -- and when they stumble and juggle their lines, it throws off Doc. We backtrack and repeat swatches of dialogue. At one point, the director tells me I messed up a line, and only after we do the scene again does she realize she was reading the wrong part of the page. When Doc calls for lines, there is often no response as the director and stage manager aren't really following along. Once I and Brick are done, the rehearsal goes down the drain. I kept track. No more then three sentences are said by anyone without a call for lines. It's a trainwreck. It's as if we got our scripts last week. The clock is speeding around to our 9 p.m. deadline, and we're clearly not getting to the second act tonight.

The Marley actor doesn't realize what he's supposed to do as a ghost. You say the lines with a spectral affectation. "Bound and double ironed" becomes "BooOOUUnnd AAAAaaand dooOOOUUBBBBBbble iiiIIIIRRRrronnnNNed."He doesn't get this. He's speaking his lines (which he's reading; he is a last-second replacement, after all) in a normal voice and then adding a vocal sound like Elmer Fudd impersonating a goat. We hear "bound and double ironed ... uhuhuhuhuhuhuh." I'd be charitable if he hadn't tossed around the 36 years' experience as a trump card earlier. But you play that card, and you better be sterling. He's playing a ghost. We all know what stage ghosts sound like. Kids can make ghost voices. Yet, this 36-year-veteran can't. And have I mentioned I'm one of only four people actually trying a British accent?

The Ghost of Christmas Past carries an elongated cap onstage, and we quickly see that the actress has her script tucked down into it. She's cheating. She has only seven pages in the first act. The director rewrote two pages of that scene but this ghost doesn't have those new pages. The actors don't have their scripts in hand. Neither the director nor the stage manager have those new pages. The actors stumble through awkwardly. The costume manager is so anxious about the rehearsal that she calls out lines from the script before they are asked for. Scrooge has to shush her. Marley makes one-liners about the other actors' progress. The actress playing the act's last character isn't even here tonight, and someone reads her part onstage.

It's ten til 9, and the director says "you know, I think we should rehearse on Sunday," and we all settle on a timeframe. We'll allegedly move to the actual stage.

The stage manager talks to me about the rolling bed. She wants someone to help the bailiff wheel the bed out in Act two, and she's clearly looking for me to volunteer. She doesn't know that my character is on the witness stand at the time. My character doesn't even want to bed onstage. The only ones not onstage at the time are her and the director. She suggests she could wheel in the bed. OK, I ask, and which character will you be? She gets mad. She thinks I'm trying to stymie her. What I'm trying to say is that we can't have an unidentified person appear onstage. If you have someone appear onstage, they have to be identified. They can't just walk on and walk off. It distracts the audience.

I pass her off to someone else and walk out with the judge back to my car. I feel like I escaped a hanging. This was the Hindenburg hitting the Titanic. We are in total disarray, and we didn't touch Act Two. I frankly ain't sweating anything beyond my lines and scenes. Other people are in charge of decisions and choices, and I'm not going to be a backstage director.

We clearly should have started rehearsals earlier in October or added more nights to our schedule or rehearsed longer each night. We are two weeks before we open, and we are screwed. No, we're passed that. We are so far from Screwed, it would take the light from Screwed billions of years to reach us. I know we picked a good play. I know we have actors who can do this. But they gotta learn those lines. And they have to learn them now-ish.

Picture of the Day
Heart shoes! Who doesn't want heart shoes?

Saturday, November 22

I'm Sort Of A Winner

The annual theatre awards banquet is new for me. It's been held, I understand, each of the company's 58 years, and the last occurred before the courtroom drama opened. It was held this year at a local church assembly hall. A dinner was offered, but I preferred to skip that and give myself an easier transition from work commute to the banquet.

I arrived as the dinner wound down and sat with the spring director, his wife, another member of the script committee (that made four of us seated there), her spouse, and two actors I worked with in the courtroom play. We made chitchat before the award section began. A program listed a number of categories and nominations. I was up for best actor in a lead role along with Doc, who played the opposing attorney in the courtroom play. The directors of each of the previous season's plays were to speak, but only half were in attendance. Those who were there included our original Marley, who directed a farce, my spring director, and another script committee member who directed the summer kids show.

The director of the annual playwriting contest production spoke at length about the new facility and what he wants to do with next year's contest winner and then he segued into a tirade about the lack of new blood in the theatre. He bemoaned the company's ability to lure youngsters on- and backstage, and he went on for a while. Eventually, a voice from the back called out to remind him he was supposed to talk about the previous show. He finished up and sat down. The wife of the summer musical director continued his comments and pointed out that none of the awards were for crew. That, she said, might have something to do with the inability to attract new people. The room tensed up after this, and the spring director assured her she wasn't alone in her notion, and the matter would be corrected next year.

They undercut my planned comments as I was hoping to acknowledge the crews during my acceptance speech. It's a good thing they spoke out because I never got a chance to accept anything. I didn't win. I'm OK with that. I don't do this for awards, and I clearly recognize that I'm a rookie for these folks, and they don't know me enough to toss me a trinket. Those who did win deserved the attention.

The theatre higher-ups choose a best play, and public ballots allow audiences to pick their favorite. Now, it's a given that the last show of the year -- and a musical, to boot -- will win the people's choice award. And it did. That show can't be dismissed; it did so well, it was held over for an extra performance. That's incredibly rare in community theatre. But we were told that a computation mishap resulted in an initially incorrect winner, and a second award was given. That went to our spring murder play. My director and I were the only ones present, and we had our pictures taken with the award which he rightfully will place on his mantle.

A special award was given to our original Marley. He's undergoing chemo for leukemia, and the award and ovation felt like a eulogy. The theatre properly offered gratitude for his work, but also said implicitly is the fear he's not going to be around this time next year. He choked up, and my heart breaks for him. I still don't see how he can direct the next play.

Your Sis emailed me to mention a pajama/book donation drive created by a high-school senior. The local fishwrapper didn't run the press release, and she feared a low turnout. I skipped over to KMart and bought an armful of PJ sets for boys and girls. I made sure to buy something Your Sis would be willingly to give a young girl, so no cutsey-wootsey animals or princess themes. When I got to the bookstore, I ran into some teacher buddies. I also bought two kids books by Adam Rex. I discovered his books earlier this year, and had eight-year-old me found them, he would have thought them the bestest thing in the history of ever. I also offered to read from them at the local elementary school. (Stop the press: I just read on his blog that he received the North Carolina Book Award for his latest book earlier this month.)

I dropped by the new theatre space to see the new paint and chat with some backstage folks. We won't get a new stage curtain for our Christmas show, but I commented that we have such a simple set, that we may not need a dramatic unveiling. But I have no say in the matter.

I worked a bit on the origin page of a comic project and mulched the leaves. I stacked them in the compost pile which is now towering and swaying in the wind. I fed Your Stuffed-up Sister and tucked her into bed early. She slept most of Sunday, and I tackled grociers and laundry. Didn't look at the script once, and I plan to review it before Monday's rehearsal.

Picture of the Day
The theatre ballot chief (left) hands the second-best people's choice award to me and the director (right).

Friday, November 21

Rehearsal Ten: What the Hell?

The evening started with the question of Saturday show scheduling -- matinees vs. evening. I was the only one present with a handy phone number to call someone who would make that decision, and I contacted the spring director. He said the president had made the same argument I did: evening shows will allow patrons to enjoy dinner and a show. So, evenings it is. They are. Whatever. I got off the phone and announced this to the cast as if I had anything to do with it. We still await to learn when we can get to the stage and rehearse; we're waiting for the lighting system to be installed.

I didn't even pick up my script on Wednesday, but I wrote down my lines earlier in the day, and this is becoming my favorite way to cement lines in my head. If I know them well enough to dictate them to myself, I'm solid. And I am during the rehearsal. Any anxious vibrations are gone. I'm almost arrogantly calm. The printed schedule said we're to be off-book tonight, but the director said we were to aim for next Monday. Most of us are trying to forgo the scripts, and it makes for halting work. The older gents have a difficult time. Our oldest guy often won't say his line even when the rehearsal is stopped to remind him it's his turn AND he's told repeatedly what the line is. I'm sure he'll be just fine when we have an audience. Just fucking fine. Oh, and our Scrooge unexpectedly departs at 8 p.m. No reason, no warning. Off he goes. Three different people read his role for the rest of the practice, and it doesn't help the other actors who are used to the the Scrooge actor gives. When Brick reads the lines, I give him kudos. "Good Scrooging ... way to Scrooge."

The director keeps the rehearsal moving as she's determined we won't stay after 9 again. I am dying to shave this brillo beard I've been assigned. I use the skeleton gloves for teh first time as I determine which way to move my hands. The gloves only have bones on the back of the hands, and I don't want the flat black palm side to show as I gesture. I'll spend 30 minutes of stage time making Mr. Magoo noises and hand dancing. And this stupid fun is what gets me through each practice.

Picture of the Day
OooooOOooooo. Ghost hands.

Thursday, November 20

Hey, Get This: I'm Old.

With Your Sis off to Ra-Ra for the workshop, I busied myself with bachelor junk.

But first I called Duke Power to ask about the street light on our property. When we moved to the house, we learned the light was on the account of a house down the road. Our house's previous owners didn't control the light, and we gave the other house a check for $25 every August. The light has sporadic service: it hasn't run every night for months. And now it's out. I discovered that the house we gave the checks to is now empty; the family moved some months back. I thought the dark light meant the light was deactivated. Duke Power told me instead that it's controlled by the new owner of that house, and the light is supposed to be on. It might have burned out.

My secondary question was about us taking over the light account. It's on our property. I have to mow around it. It breaks up an otherwise nice stretch of flat land along the street. Why isn't the house on our account? I can only guess that the house's original owners wouldn't pony up the dough. When I rented a house back home, I took over that property's street light, and the payment was broken up throughout the year's bills. It couldn't have been more than an additional $10 a month, if that. I was told the light can't be transfered without the permission of the current account holder. But they won't say who that is. The other house stands empty. I don't know how to contact the landlord. I can only wait until the house has new occupants and ask them if we can take over the light.

The thrills of homeownership. This wouldn't be so worrisome if we didn't live far enough from the city to have utter darkness when the sun sets.

With that done, I cooked the first of the Little Caesar home-backed pizzas. It was a disappointment. It smelled just like a fanchise-made pie and tasted like one from a school cafeteria. I drowned my sorrows in videogames before watching a Country Music Television concert matching the current Britney with Def Leppard. There's no way to avoid the presentation of my favorite rock band: They were a nostalgia act. The new girl was raving about them, saying her mom loved them and listened to them when the kid was an even younger kid. She's younger than their biggest CD, Hysteria, by a few years. They sang her songs, she sang their songs, and I felt like a geezer. But I sang along to the TV and probably terrified the neighbors who thought drunken, tone-deaf hobos had settled down on our night-shrouded road.

I sketched out a comic page to hang in the hallway while talking to Your Sis. I could hear her fall asleep. I ran my lines in the shower and during my commute. I've turned that corner where I have my lines and the anxiety decreases by 80 percent. I'm actually looking forward to the rehearsal tonight.

Picture of the Day
The show comes back January 21. Just two months away.

Wednesday, November 19

Rehearsal Nine: Cold Comfort

The director called the cast after Monday's rehearsal to ask if we could change the Saturday shows into matinees. We learn later that this was traditional for Christmas shows because they so often featured a large kid contingent, and bedtimes trumped showtimes. I have no problem doing an afternoon Christmas show, but it seems counter to our greatest rationale for nabbing the new performance space: Patrons could access easy parking at night, grab dinner, and stroll to the show. I suppose they could just reverse that and eat after.

We start with Act Two tonight. The director is still unsure about character rationale, and I figure out why I'm so dismayed about this show so far. I advocated it in committee. I'm emotionally invested it in beyond my norm.

It's a better night. Many of us are trying to avoid our handheld scripts, and we all stumble a bit. I run my Act Two ghost lines without the script of the first time, to my relief. To prepare for my costume limitations, I kept my head bowed for those scenes. The costume is opaque, and my head will be hidden. I can't make eye contact to cue myself or others. I will have to rely on sound. The cold warehouse space helps me make ghost noises. I decide to cut back on Cratchit's timidity to speed up those lines. I can suggest his meek nature, but I do want him more confident when he speaks of Tiny Tim's ailment.

We run the whole play in reverse order and stretch past our planned rehearsal time. I don't mind at all. During my extensive Act One downtime (I spend 40 pages just sitting onstage) I sketch out ideas for this show's magnet.

Your Sis leaves today for Raleigh, and it's the bachelor life for me. I watched UNC roll past Kentucky last night after the rehearsal, and it was a late night for both of us.

Picture of the Day
A new image from Where the Wild Things Are, a film that might never see the light of day. The studio thinks it's too dark.

Tuesday, November 18

Rehearsal Eight: A Bad Night

We knew we would have headshots made tonight, but it wasn't common knowledge that we'd do publicity photos too. My spring director was there for the former, and the original Marley was there for the latter. We menfolk are in sloppy shape as our muttonchops-to-be are right scraggly. Still, we smiled for the birdie.

The publicity photos for this company are commonly sad. We stand in front of a blank wall with a prop or two in various degrees of costumes. For instance, I was posed in my everyday clothes while wearing a Victorian jacket. I am a slacker waiter, your skater-d for the evening. All the photos are taken from the same distance with the same stiff poses. We never look natural or caught in an organic moment. We are taxidermed. I'm glad this guy feels healthy enough to come out and take our pictures, but we need a new photo philosophy. Maybe creative lighting or selective focus.

The cast tries on different jackets and dresses and hats. The director says she'd like to use props on Thursday, and I hope that means I'll wear the ghost costume. We were told last week to be offbook for this Thursday, but, just as we take the staging area, she announces Monday is the new deadline. I'm glad to get four more days to nail down my lines, but I busted my tush this weekend to learn my lines. For a time it looks like we'll have our first full-cast rehearsal. But halfway through Act One, the director reads a part. Did we lose an actress? Is she reading for someone otherwise occupied this evening? I never learn.

Various conversations offstage prove distracting for those of us trying to remember the script, and well begrudgingly check our scripts and look around the room at the peripheral babble. I screw up in my Act One paragraph, but otherwise get through it OK. We're supposed to to the whole play, but a late start makes Act Two impractical tonight. Instead, we run through the busiest part of Act Two. Unfortunately, because we haven't yet measured our stage space, we're crammed together, and walking space is rare. It's awkward staging, and I don't know what benefit it can have. We're learning the wrong dimensions and movement.

We end at 9 p.m., and Act One has taken over an hour. It's still early in the rehearsal time, but we're dragging through the play, and I don't know if the comedy can survive. We need to pick up the pace and stop overworking the lines. This is a long skit, not a true acting piece.

Maybe it's the obligatory low point of any production in progress, but the night is sloppy, and we make no headway. I'm deflated. The atmosphere is too casual, too rudderless, and I'd appreciate some disciplined organization. It makes me cranky.

Picture of the Day
Only the hot hotness of retro disco toys can assuage my grumpiness.

Monday, November 17

A Bonding Weekend.

I drove back to the old stomping grounds for Jared's wake. The gang used to go to a local bar for trivia nights and beer. It was bliss. That bar became an Irish tavern some years back, and the wake was appropriately held there. The organizers had reserved a back room, and I entered to find more people than I expected. His wife, Chris, and mom were there, as were relatives and the comic gang. Some couldn't make it, and they didn't think I could either. I was a surprise for everyone.

Between the wide and mom was a chair angled against the table, saved for the missing guest of honor. We passed around pictures of Jared and his family, ordered drinks, and then the announcement was made: This is a wake. There is no crying at wake's. Let's start trading Jared stories. And we did. Lasted about an hour and a half. I made sure Chris had my numbers and reminded her I'd be in town once a month to visit Mom as well. If she needed anything or just wanted a distraction, she should call. And then I went to Mom's house to sleep.

We had a long Waffle House breakfast with two of her friends from the hospital. We all get along famously. One of the waitresses passed around fundraising Christmas cards that resembled Thomas Kincade works, and I remarked how much I despise his stuff. Mom was surprised, and I asked if she had seen the Kincade store in the next county's mall. She hadn't. A road trip ensued. We mall-shopped for a while before returning home for my small list of repairs. It didn't take long. I also showed Mom some more of the internet, explaining Facebook and eBay to her, before I went back home.

I assured Your Sis we would watch the new Bond film on opening weekend and encouraged her to see it first with a gal pal while I was tending to widows. They both enjoyed the shirtless parts of the first film, and they hadn't seen each other in forever. We watched Casino Royale again Saturday night to refresh our memories (and it's a good thing, this new film relies heavily on Royale). She did schoolwork Sunday while I had another hourlong mentor meeting, and we saw the new film that night. She's fighting a bug and staying in the sick bed. She has another state workshop to attend later this week, and she's trying to clean off her to-do pile before Thanksgiving.

I read my script throughout the weekend to brand the ghost dialogue into my brain, and it seems to have worked. I have the rough outline of those scenes in memory, and I still have four days before we're to bee off-book. Watching two Bond films helped my British accent, I think. The annual theatre award supper is this Friday, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't expect to get something.

Quick Review: The plot that continued from Royale is great; the new story with the obligatory corporate villain is thin. It's two-thirds of a great movie.

Picture of the Day
A New York protester against the Mormon Church and its efforts against gay marriage.