Letters to Holly

Saturday, February 23

Day 10: Pictures and Lines

I barely looked at the script on Thursday, and I didn't review lines. I took a break. I have just under two weeks to learn Act Two, but it's very feasible. Unlike in the first act, I'm offstage for a number of pages. We also have clearly delineated scenes, and I can work on blocks of script at a time. My brain still dreads the necessary heavy-lifting, but I'm not freaked out by the deadline.

An early Friday email told us we're to take our fist batch of publicity pictures before that night's rehearsal. Unfortunately, it comes a day before my haircut AND I have to hurry home to clean up, shave, and dress in a suit after gobbling a quick dinner so I can arrive early at the warehouse. The suit I thought I might wear is too big in the pants, and the blazer I considered has apparently been donated. I had to wear my suit from the courtroom show. The only one who would have recognized it would be the photographer who also mans the theatre website. He's also the unprofessional backseat director from the last show. I girded my loins beforehand for him to say something -- anything -- about this show, but he instead snaps our pictures without the expected frenetic attitude and leaves. I do wish that the pictures were taken with a better realized set or after we had talked to the costumer. We're using cardboard boxes to represent record-players, blue-foam insulation for walls, and patio furniture for a dining set. The show doesn't run for a month; why take production pictures now? They in no way represent what the show will look like.

The wife is wearing a potential wig, but the director isn't keen on it, and the other actress joins in the debate for wig styles. The murderer and I exchange stories of high school (he's still attending). If you're in theatre at that age, you are, of course, gay as a chandelier. But we both know that drama students get to see each other change clothes, and we've seen more of the girls than their boyfriends. When I told a football player this way back when, he stopped giving me shit. Out of curiosity, I Googled his girlfriend today and found her immediately. She works as a media trainer for military folks, helping them handle press interviews. She looks very much the same.

It takes a while to gets started, and this will be the first run-through of the whole show. I eschew the script for Act One, and do OKish. Not as good as Wednesday, but I recall more of the blocking. I'm aware that I'm paraphrasing the lines, and I know I'll hear about it after. We do. We all do. The post-rehearsal notes from the director are encouraging and complimentary, but he warns we have to knuckle down and work. And we will. As the mistress points out, we're all good and experienced and committed to the show. The murderer and wife choreograph the killing; she's worried about her shoulder strain as he drags her out of the house, and the director says he'll noodle it through in the downtime. We don't go back until Monday night, and I hope to have most of the first scene of Act Two memorized before that.

Picture of the Day
Here we are: wife, murderer, director, mistress, me. Note the walls and table. That's supposed to be the interior of stately Greg Manor.

Wednesday, February 20

Day 9: Act One from Memory

The director called me earlier in the day to ask about stage managers. The folks he originally asked can't work the show, and he wanted to know about the couple from the previous show, which apparently has entered lore as That Show. I told him I stayed out of the backstage, onstage, and online ugliness until the stage managers were impugned. I had to speak up to defend them. I told him I'd work with them again in a heartbeat.

I ran my lines as I drove to work, took a lunch break, and drove back home. This was the rehearsal I'd dreaded since the first night: 25 pages, no script. I got to the warehouse a little early and met with the other actor; we didn't run lines, we just shot the shit, escaping the anxiety for a minute. The actress playing the wife had been in Florida for a week and learned her lines driving there and back. Everyone caught up in chat for a bit (including some gossip about potential new buildings for the company), and we two actors sat on the couch, eager to get to work. Finally, the director called us to order, and we started. His wife observed our lines while he checked our stage movement.

It went really well. The lines were there, mostly. I'd say I recalled 80% of them and even recalled the preceding cue lines. I made sure to not recite those when the other actor had trouble; that might be overbearing. But I could have, and I'm competitive enough to be proud of that. It was a fun atmosphere. We'd cracked up at mistakes, affirmed our lines with the reader, and ad-libbed lines when we obviously went off the rails. We all knew the gist if not the specific words, and the director instructed us to nail down the exact wording. Even when I was offstage, I kept my script closed. The blocking was sporadic. I couldn't remember where I was supposed to stand until a few lines later, and I remembered from where I was supposed to walk away. But the director was patient with us, and we'd often hear our directions and redo the page to cement the movement.

I'm happy with last night. It was a big relief, and just working without the books made the play lift off. We got to focus a little more on props including the glasses from the bar. They make for great props, and they let you adjust posture, gestures, and breathing when you pantomime drinking. But now that I tackled en entire act in two weeks, I know I can learn the second act in the same amount of time. The pressure's off.

The director held the two male actors a little later to walk us through our initial conversation. But what he really wanted was for us to inject some natural manner into it. He told us to forget the lines, and just talk. Improvise the conversation. Be our characters and go with the plot. And we did, and it was easily the most illuminating rehearsal moment I've ever enjoyed. The other guy (still in high school) was up for it, and I was simply writing out loud, something I do with my comic stuff anyway. We went for about ten minutes, coming up with pretty good lines and jokes, and then we introduced the topics of the divorce and the will and the murder, and the other actor starts to lean in to sell the hit, and I joke with him to distance my character from the situation.

And right then, the director jumps up, stops us, runs up to us, and says "that's exactly what I want." The instinctive movement and attitude. Two guys talking. A clear distinction of background and experiences. Just that easy. Our mistake was trying too hard to "act," and the director showed us how , to use the cliche, to be in the moment. It was a moment of clarity so crystalline that I couldn't stop smiling. And if we can repeat that onstage, the audience will be in our hands the whole way through. We left the rehearsal practically hovering, and there to greet us was a red half moon.

I got home before Your Sister did, and she walked in the door asking if I wanted to find a meadow to watch the eclipse. And we did. We even saw two shooting stars. It was as good a night as I could ask for. And I get tonight off from teh play to eat wings and watch Lost.

Picture of the Day
I'm pretty sure this guy was already gone when the moon snuck into our penumbra.

Tuesday, February 19

Day 8: Act Two Again

Other stuff from this past weekend:

1) We did our taxes and got a nice federal refund, despite a lull in our charity giving. I think Your Sis really wants a new HD TV.

2) One of our favorite local restaurants temporarily lost my ATM card. I paid the bill, and the card fell out on the way back to our table. I freaked. Your Sis freaked. The waitress, upon handing us the card, was nonchalant. She offered no apology for it nor did she sympathize. Your Sis almost decked her. This oddly happened right after we talked about closing out my first credit card account, the last burden of my first marriage.

I've walked around every rehearsal with the script binder in my hands and a pencil behind my ear. Tonight, the mistress wanted to add props (wigs, glasses, bottles, letters), and it screwed me up. I was juggling while trying to emote and get the lines right, and I gave up after half an hour. She also wanted to negotiate our kisses, now that we're both past our colds. I decided my guy would be a cheek kisser; he's too square and dispassionate to be a full-on smoocher. So that's what we did. This is the third play where I'm kissing someone onstage, and it's a nice little perk if you get along with the actress. I already warned Your Sis about it, and she was OK.

She and the murderer try on the blonde wigs, and I think they settle on a bob hairstyle. I'm a bit jealous as I don't get to wear a wig, but then again: kisses. We also have walls for the set, complete with two doors and a window. It makes the set looks much smaller. We're told right off that the set will need to squeeze back a bit as the stage is smaller than our arranged rehearsal space. It won't be so bad an adjustment this early. The walls shake when the doors close, but I'm sure they'll fix that later on.

The first scene of Act Two is the most normal. The widower and mistress play house, and the murderer shows up to lower the boom on the widower. It's a lot of slow exposition, and my guy shifts from happy-go-lucky to whining guilt in 12 pages. It's the duldrums of the play, and there's not much we can do to spice it up except move around a lot. And we do. My default stage direction is to head back to the bar. I will drink something onstage throughout the play. Probably apple juice. The murderer has to chug Coke the whole show. We may need pisspots backstage.

I haven't had this substantial a role in this small a cast in a decade, and I'm exhausted. I drag going home, I drag going back to the warehouse, and it's harder to retain the new lines. It will be much better when we aren't holding scripts, and Wednesday night will be our first off-book rehearsal. The murderer (a high-school student) is of course cramming at the last second. But with his youth and homework-honed brain, he might be OK. I'm running my lines during my commute. And tomorrow I start memorizing Act Two, which conveniently is broken up into real scenes. Act One is just an entire scene.

Picture of the Day
Colbert the Crusader

Days 6 & 7: Act Two Details

Dad started chemo yesterday and called last night to say he felt alright. They doped him up before and after to fight nausea. Five more treatments will be administered every 3 weeks, spanning into June. This puts him on temporary disability, just a few years before was was going to retire. He sounds fine, if tired, and he says he's eating fast food to slam on the calories. Because the chemo will hit his immune system, he's somewhat homebound. I want to keep my visits short so I won't wear him out, and we hope to stop by this weekend.

I gave blood Sunday and received the hard sell to donate twice through apheresis. So I relented. Your Sis sat in the car and read while I leaked for an hour in the bloodmobile. What they don't tell you is that the IV solution that brings your plasma back in the veins gives you a sugar rush, and I spent the next few hours babbling and giggling. And then Your Sis bought me half a pint of Bass, and I went loopy. As the French say, "loo-pay." As they say in Germany ... something German. I believe very much in giving blood, and I was glad to do it. But when the room-temperature plasma went back into my 20-degree-warmer arm, I turned into Keanu from The Matrix. The scene after he takes the pill and the silver slides up his arm? Yeah, that was me.

We sat down to watch a DVD Saturday night, and I let her choose the film. She put in Lagaan, and it ran for 20 minutes before she accused me of being bored (untrue), and we switched to Blade Runner instead. It's going to be one of those weeks where we won't see much of each other as she does school and I do theatre. Speaking of which ...

Friday night saw us run through the first two scenes of Act Two. I was achy and tired and it may have helped me play older. The director wants us to learn the lines verbatim and stop drifting into paraphrase. It's a tricky script to learn, and we're constantly editing out the awkward British dialogue. Really, who says "daren't?" Who squishes together four prepositions within ten words? We have to adjust it. I was doubled over with laughter at one point because my line ("And what the hell is what she does to do with you, may I ask?") simply wouldn't come out.

We might be able to get our stage a week early, giving us two weeks of on-site rehearsals before we open. That'd be great. We also learn our first Sunday matinée will be on Easter, and one wonders if people that day will flock to a psychosexual murder thriller. There is word that 20 tickets are already purchased for our first Saturday because a local group wanted to see a mystery. However, this isn't a mystery. The murder takes place on page 24. There's no doubt who did it. The tension is in how far my character can be bossed into subjugation. (Answer: Quite far. And then he cries.)

We spent rehearsals Friday and Monday night testing out our initial blocking directions. We stopped often to rework moments, and we ran the scenes an awful lot. We need to, sure, but the third scene is my character's most wracking. Displaying a nervous breakdown for three hours is exhausting. I wore my contacts Sunday night to see if the director preferred that. He didn't say anything, but everyone said I looked tired. Again, maybe this will help me sell "older." Our current gun is inconsistent with the caps, leaving me to yell my lines and improv the gun sound. "Maybe we will be together ... in hell. BUT YOU'LL GET THERE FIRST!!! ... Oh, um, bang. Peyow. I'm, like, shooting you and stuff."

Trivia: Our fake mink coat is made by "Lykafur." Because it's like a fur.

Picture of the Day
We played a little Guitar Hero. I officially loathe Carry On, My Wayward Son.

In the News
You asked about pundit links to the comments I mentioned. I couldn't find them, unfortunately. But the next time you hear about a mass shooting, switch on right-wing radio. Give it an hour. And you'll hear the accusations and sophistry.

I did hear our local hillbilly preacher use his radio show to ascribe school shootings to hippy parents who taught their children nihilism. Logic says this was exactly opposite of what hippyism was all about, but this man wouldn't recognize logic if he came home and found it fucking his wife. I'm tempted to contact the man and suggest he use his daily Prayer Time slot for, well, prayer, but he's playing to his elderly frightened audience convinced we live in the end times. And I'm sure his accusations will lead to requests for money.