Letters to Holly

Friday, February 8

Days 3 and 4: Blocking Act Two

I got into a groove with memorization, and I now have the first 12 pages committed to memory. I think that's pretty good for five days' work. I can have Act One done by the end of this week.

I dodged a bullet of sorts in the casting. The girl who played the widow in the previous play is, as you might recall, a student of Your Sister. She emailed me to say, had time allowed, she would have auditioned for this play's mistress role. If she were cast, we would have smooched onstage. I'm 18 years older than her. That would rile up Mayberry. I think she's mature enough to handle Stage Kissing. The blue hairs watching? Not so much. Even her mom (whom I've met) might sit up a little straighter over that.

On Friday night, we sit around the table and write down the initial blocking for Act Two's first scene. The mistress is sick as is the director and his wife. We walk through the act afterward. We also bump up the age of the wife by ten years. There are also more changes to language and locations. Instead of Salisbury and London, we're talking Syracuse and New York. We leave about an hour early.

Sunday's rehearsal is much the same as we finish Act two with the murderer. He wonders how to play his character -- is he gay or is it all mind games? I think it's more kin to vampirism than sex, and there's no suggestion of anything physical happening between the two male characters. The play includes a line explaining the murderer as carrying hate for his step-dad and projecting it on my character, but it's fleeting compared to the cross-dressing and references to traveling as a married couple.

The director is concerned about our emotional flow throughout the play and singles me out as playing the role at too even a keel. I do not point out that this is only our fourth rehearsal, and we're walking with script binders and writing down blocking notes while we're crossing out anachronistic language. But I'm tempted. I'm leaning toward Jack Lemmon as a performer template, especially his work in Glengarry Glen Ross. I picture this play as a noir, and I'm playing the guy who makes his own torturous bed. The murderer here could very easily have been a femme fatale. It's noted that this will be the most risque show this theatre has tried, even when he dilute the hard language and play the murderer as straight.

The director also mentions that in order for the murderer to credibly knit onstage, the actor will need to learn simple stitches. We'll perform very close to our audience, and the majority female attendees will get distracted if he's not doing it right. I had to learn a piano chord for an earlier show for the same reason. The wife, mistress, and murderer have to wear identical wigs, and the mistress has to wear two at one time at the play's end. That actress works at a costume shop, though, and can get us wigs easily.

Despite the director's assurances, we run over our time, and it's 5:20 before I can pick up Your Sister to catch the live wrestling show in the next state. We were supposed to see Julius Caesar Friday night, but my rehearsals bumped me from the show, and she took the art teacher instead. For that, the acting note, and the long Sunday rehearsal, I'm grumpy as I run out the door.

Picture of the Day
We sat this close to the ring.

Thursday, February 7

Day 2: Blocking Act One

I should mention we're back to the warehouse and the taped floors. But we do have a lot of furniture and props. The director also has very specific movements and cues, and tonight's three-hour block is used up by navigating through Act One's 25 pages. The blocking provides insights to the characters he wants from us. My guy is all reaction -- very passive, easily manipulated, defensive, pouty.

We spend the first segment of the rehearsal replacing the English idioms and softening the cursing. This isn't unusual for community theatre. Often, the audience is made up of the reserved, older types, and they spook easily. Out go the "bastards" and a few "hells." Technically, this is against the rules of the contract with the script provider, but it's almost universal. When we performed Barefoot in the Park about ten years back, we changed the core line of the play -- the one with the play's title -- because it has a "goddamned." If you drive away the blue hairs, you lose business. Also, like with Barefoot, I've also warned the wife of the impending stage kisses.

Speaking of the script, I have to admit how scared I became last night when looking at the schedule. We rehearse Act One twice in the next two weeks, and we're to be off book by that second night. That gives me two weeks to memorize Act One, but that's almost all away from the practice space and the other actors. This will be rote memorization (the hardest kind for dialogue), and the volume of it requires I learn about one scene every two days. This is professional-grade scheduling, and I am, in every sense, an amateur.

My script is already scribbled with stage directions, and I'm starting to underline which words I'll emphasize.

Lookee here. When you click on the below images, they open to proportional size. Here's what the last play looked like. I'm Flint:

This is the current play. I'm Brian:

I'm going to wake up earlier to give me more time to tackle the scenes. Act Two is a little bigger than the first act, and I'm making with the yak-yak in both acts. This could be the toughest play I've ever tried, and I'll need a long break when this is over.

Tuesday, February 5

Starting Up the Play

Your Sister was more disheartened than I to learn I was out of the contest. She was oddly quiet for a while. Me, I'm planning to make a minicomic out of the proposals; it could be listed as a business expense on next year's taxes.

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Six of us met for the read-through last night: the four actors, the director, and his wife. This was the first chance for me to read the script, and my first thought upon opening it is that this will be the toughest script I've had to memorize. It's dense, even at a seemingly short 68 pages. The dialogue is single spaced and packed tight. It's twice the text of the last script, and my part then was considered too long to memorize. I have 2 weeks to learn Act One's 25 pages, and that breaks down to about 2 pages a day. Starting right now. This is daunting. The two actors indeed carry the show.

The play itself is simple enough: con guy kills the wife of a schlub and then blackmails him in a psychosexual melodrama. One set, two acts, four people (con guy, husband, wife, mistress). I met the latter tonight, and everyone seems to have the same idea of the type of play. That helps, especially with this tight rehearsal schedule. We open in five weeks.

The director set down his rules in a friendly manner and explained he won't allow the kind of ugly backstage drama they had on the last few shows. He then gave short character notes to get our heads right and asked us to determine if we wanted to try the play with the original British accents. By the end of the read, I asked out of that. It's going to be tough enough learning this in an American dialect. If we had another three weeks, maybe. He seemed OK with that. Everybody did. And that's a relief. He's planned out this play for months if not years. He has the set design and blocking in mind already, and he gave us a full rehearsal script on the first day. He's ready to roll.

It's going to be a fun part to play. My guy's a washed-up sportsman mooching off the missus and trapped by the con guy because he's easily manipulated and weak. And then he cracks by the play's end. I didn't really have a character in the last play -- just a stack of questions to recite -- and I'm looking forward to this role. I'm already thinking of actors to emulate (William H. Macy, Paul Giamatti, etc.).

I started my usual theatre diet (soup and bread) last night because I had so little time between work and rehearsal. When this is over, I should be in good shape to start running again. If I have any brains left.

Picture of the Day
Quick! To the Bat-bat!

In the News(papers)
My old weekly newspaper has again gone under. It closed about three months after I moved in 2004 and came back about than a year later under a new name and owned by James, the writer with whom I butted heads. As of Friday, the print version is again no more, and a posting on their website says he's walking away and leaving the online presence in other hands. James cites "a level of support hard to obtain without excessive pandering in a free publication funded solely by advertising dollars." I don't know what he expected after working for the same free paper for years.

I think "pandering" refers to his perception of a stubborn audience he couldn't win over; the paper was distinct in the area for its progressive voice, and, unfortunately, that voice tended to get shrill. He might also complain about the weekly tabloid launched by the town daily, but that paper is a hollow ad vehicle lacking any substance. There were enough willing, small businesses in the area to support our weekly before the decision was made to slough them and target high-end clients already dedicated to the daily. The paper had a bad business model, and this is what happens to bad business models.

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I'm dying to know what Tuesday was like for you. Spill it.

Monday, February 4

Super Bowl Weekend

I auditioned for another play with the local group. This is a four-person murder drama with a different director, and he approached me a few months back to audition. Three people showed up Saturday for the first audition, and I was one of them. The others were there for the young con guy and the older man's wife. We read long scenes (instead of the usual two-page readings), and we were close to blocking and directing the scenes. If we three people are cast, that would leave a younger woman's role, and she would be the mistress of the character I read for. I hope that doesn't go to one of Your Sister's students. Tad awkward. I should find out today if I got the role.

We watched Omega Man, the second film adaptation of I Am Legend, and the last before the Will Smith movie.

The order goes like this:
I Am Legend story
The Last Man on Earth film
The Omega Man film
I Am Legend film

I can definitively say now that the Smith movie adapted Omega Man, and the filmmakers may never have even glanced at the cover of the original story. Given that, they did a nice job. Omega man is a vehicle for Charlton Heston, and I tried to prepare Your Sister for his fiery machismo. He did spend a third of the movie shirtless before discovering and conquering the supercool, leather-clad, black mama. Your Sis now also has the story in print. I haven't read it in ten years or so, but I remember it as a good precursor to Stephen King.

Dad looks OK. The growth under his arm is mostly internal, and it's mostly an inconvenience. The doctor's report says he has enlarged nodes throughout his torso, some possibly causing his heart to race but that could be from the caffeine. He's eating well and seemed in good spirits. We did have a long sit-down about domestic budgeting and insurance planning. He also wants to buy us stuff, and I'm trying to politely decline.

I didn't make the cut for the superheroine contest, and I won't know what the winning proposals look like for another month. They better be good. They better win me over.

Hey, any luck seeing Hillary today?

Picture of the Day
Is Indy looking for the Ark?