Letters to Holly

Saturday, March 22

Day 26: Second Show

But, first, here's the official "review" of the show. It's written by a theatre worker so it has to be taken with a grain of salt. A grain as large as your head. But I agree that the director has spun gold from potential poo. I, of course, read my paragraph with too critical an eye; I think he's saying I'm one-note and stiff.

It's a looser atmosphere tonight; we're all relaxed and casual about taking the stage. It is a smaller, younger audience. The make-up lady told me last night that my arms are so white they glow in the dark. She's talks the director into "bronzing" my arms with brush-on make-up. This has never come up before. And I spend more time outside now than I did during previous shows. I get an extra five minutes in the make-up chair for this. My face is cranky over the powder and creams I wear every night. She's putting on a lot more of it now than she did for the previous show. Even using Noxema after, my skin hurts. I wasn't made to be dolled up.

There is also one other thing I know, and it's this: When the play starts, it helps if the curtain is open. As the first sound effect cranks up, we wait til it finishes, take a beat and start our lines offstage. Then we walk on and gab for 70 pages. I'm standing right behind the front door of this house set. There's a peephole bored through the door, and I can watch the audience there. As I look out, all I see is curtain. We're supposed to talk now. I hold back the other actor, and finally the curtain drifts open. I wait to see if we're getting the sound effect again, but I can clearly see the director sitting at the tech table gesturing as to say "what's the hold up," and I throw out my line to get going. And we're off.

It goes OK. The audience is quieter but responsive, and now we know which lines will get the laughs if we sell them right. I drop a line in Act Two, and the mistress fixes it without any problem. It's her smoothest action of the production so far. I'm proud of her. The show ends without another noticeable hitch. I don't think anyone besides the two actors realized the gun misfired during the climax. We didn't have to resort to the improvised fireplace-poker fight. The gun went off on a third trigger pull. We greet the crowd following the show and are complimented by all. One lady said she'd tell everyone to see the show, and I appreciate that.

Day 25: The First Show

I arrived at the clubhouse almost 90 minutes before the show after a relaxed meal with Your Sis and Parents. They brought us more goodies from the cruise, and I can't tell you what they are until you get your stuff too. But it's pretty good stuff. And they brought Bass Ale. These are good in-laws (much better than my last ones, he whispers).

The director has indeed given up on the light gang and taken over the board himself. He made a new cue sheet and reviews it with us two actors. Now, we hardly touch the light switches at all and instead swipe our hands over them to pretend we're working them. This includes some changes from the previous night but nothing big. He does run backstage during the show to give me one last change, and it delays me from going onstage for a second. I take it in stride. We're all used to it. I was relaxed enough before the show that I was humming Tom Petty's "Change the Locks" instead of running lines.

The 20+ people coming to see the younger actor is in fact a group of retirees who know his mom. They have four rows taped off for them. The TV monitor downstairs are working tonight; I've never been able to watch a show on TV as it happens, even in the larger theatres. This is swank. Our pre-show pep talk is almost sad. Now we're in the last days of the show. We will perform this seven more times including tonight. That's it.

Tonight's crowd made the show. We were good, yes, and we had our A-game on, but this crowd -- this crowd of 70+ with a similar average age -- were into it. Unfortunately, they were so into it that they talked about the show the entire time. Out loud, I mean. Normal-voiced commentary, especially on the front row. We wondered if someone were narrating for a blind person. The comments ran the gamut from "I think that actor has a cold" to "oh, he's reading a map." There was no map; that was a Dear John letter written to the husband. We don't know where they got a map notion, although the creaky stage still sounds lime a pirate ship. The audience was responsive to the threats and tension and respected the cross-dressing murderer instead of laughing at this 6-foot student in a wig and mink.

I had a small mental blank in Act Two, but my script subroutine kicked in, and I was working on auto for half a page. Didn't drop a line, and got them all right. The script is in my head for sure. Normally, I call up the next line as the other actor is talking, but I got tangled up in similar lines just as the mistress is interrogating me about the murderer's lies. I don't think she ever noticed.
Oh, and I also tackled the desk lamp in Act One. I'm supposed to just jostle it in surprise, but this time the lampshade popped off. It had never done this before, and I had to reverse engineer the coupling between my lines to repair it. But I did. And that gave me more confidence as the act ended.

The show ends with two gunshots, and, even though they were warned 2 hours before and they were waiting for it, they exploded. We couldn't have gotten a bigger reaction if I had shot Bambi's mother. They gave good applause during our curtain call (for which I enter last, just so you know), and an usher presented roses to the two actresses. The curtains closed, the show was over, and we filed out to greet the audience. We got plenty of compliments and failed theories about what was going to happen.

But there was one guy -- an older man with a face that bespeaks his apparent disgust with everything -- and he walked right up to me and said "This is the dumbest thing I've ever seen. It was meaningless." I apologized to him, and his wife walked up. I thought she might poo-poo this curmudgeon, but she agreed with him. And then they just stood there, content to fume and sigh while people waited behind them to talk to the actors. I caught the wife's eye and said "well, you can't win them all" and apologized some more. They were content with that and left. Now, I know that, to quote Lex Luthor's dad, people are no damn good, but Christ a'mighty, why would anyone think it's OK to say this to someone who just spent three hours working his ass off. And thank God he said it to me, who will happily dance on his grave, and not one of the actresses. But, to quote Lex Luthor's mom, fuck them in their stupid fucking face.

I cleared out of the locker room and joined the reception in the lounge. Your Sis made the rounds with the crew and cast and finally got to meet my "other wife and mistress." We sat with the director and crew, including the makeup lady who says she has to darken my arms because they "glow in the dark", and we closed down the place about half an hour later. She wants to volunteer with the group when her workload allows it (read: never), and she might attend our Wednesday rehearsal to see how the sausage is made.

I felt good about it. I'm proud of getting past a brain hiccup and a prop disassembly, and I'm eager to work the stage confidently.

Friday, March 21

Day 24: An Audience

The first big change for the night was the use of the downstairs locker rooms. This is a golf clubhouse, and we four actors have plenty of space to hang our clothes and prepare for the show. There are two closed-circuit TVs that will supposedly show us the stage, but they never work. That means we have to change clothes quickly and linger backstage so we don't miss a cue. To get downstairs, we have to exit an exterior door and walk down to the locker area. The stage room is set at a blazing 72 degrees; that doesn't take into account the lights, costumes, make-up, and desperate movement. We are roasting. And then we walk outside, into sparkling cold air, and back into a toasty locker room.

I'm complaining a bit. Just a bit. I wish we had practiced a few times using these rooms; I don't like introducing new stuff so soon to the first show. As it is, we're given new directions on using the lights within a minute of taking the stage. The light crew is not working out well, and the director is going to kill kill kill, if this show tumbles into farce because of independently activating lamps and chandeliers. I don't know what the problem is there; they're on the opposite side of the room, and we don't chat. During the show, lights will suddenly dim or fade brighter as the crew become confused about switches or timing or, oh, I don't know. The director has worked with them for almost a week now, and I think he'll wind up running the lights himself.

We huddle onstage before we open the curtain for a surprisingly serious pep talk. The cast tries to keep the atmosphere light, but the director's not having it. He's got too much to juggle here, so we follow his lead and get to work. It goes OK. Some lines are missed and jumbled but nothing major. The props are all where we need them. The coffee table is strangely close to the couch, and I nudge it out gradually through the first act.

I realized just last night that the reason I have the excess energy is because I'm drinking so much tea and Coke onstage; I'm caffeinated. It kept me from sleeping Wednesday night, and I thought I had a fever. Also, the show is a workout. I'm sweating something awful up there; I brought my shirts home to wash before Friday's first audience.

The crowd tonight is small and polite. They snicker a bit at the murderer in a wig, but that's to be expected. He has 20 people coming for the first night, and they might easily turn this into a comedy. If they're watching him as the actor and not the character, he'll seem ridiculous. As it is, I can't tell you how good a show we've got here. It feels like a cumbersome whale; I'm actually relieved when we accidentally drop a half-page of dialogue tonight. All that information is mentioned again later on anyway. Two older women admit they don't understand the imaginary murder scene, despite the use of a dreamy light and sound effect, adding the line "use your imagination, and bookending the scene with no time lost in the original scene. Fuck 'em. We spell it out to a grade-school level.

Because of the the script, I look at my correctly set wristwatch during the first Act and realize "Lost" is about to come on and then I'm mentally yelling at myself to stop thinking about "Lost." I still have 15 pages to go before intermission. When I get home and watch the show on TiFaux, the local affiliate has lost its sound, and I read the blessed captioning before crashing in bed near 1 a.m. We open tomorrow, and we actors, at least, are ready.

Thursday, March 20

Day 23: Finding a Groove

So I was strangely nervous all day about the rehearsal. I reread the script and found quite a few week-old paraphrases, substitutions not mentioned by the director or script supervisor. At this point, it would do more harm to fix them than to stay consistent. The call time was moved up, leaving me half an hour to eat, clean, up, and drive to the clubhouse. This did nothing to help my nerves.

When I arrived, I made sure to spy the new wine glasses and set my bar items. While Prop Lady provides a cooler full of iced Coke, the cooler sits on the floor and I have to disappear entirely from view to bend down and fetch them. I prefer to set a Coke on top of the cooler before the show. After a director and cast huddle, the rehearsal begins, and we treat it like a performance. There's a bit too much energy at first, and I'm not connected with the material. I'm thinking ahead to my next lines and out of synch with my delivery. It takes about seven pages to calm down, and there are no problems after that.

We do have a tech timeout near the end of the first act, and the three actors who have appeared so far chat about community theatre audiences and the script changes made to placate them. Will they object to the word "bastard" more than the onstage murder of a lady close to their age? Will the patrons fret about a play with shacking-up lovers, blackmail and pseudosexual mindgames? How much will they titter anxiously? The tech crew and director request a change in light management and later the director changes a line; this may be still within our bubble for change, but it IS the last minute. The murderer asks me to help him with props as he moves on and offstage during the depicted murders, and that I don't mind at all. Maybe I've developed the classic allegiance with the other actors against those offstage:Us vs. them. The lights are still a problem throughout the play: When someone touches a light switch, the lights have to adjust quickly.

While we rehearse, the clubhouse kitchen staff cleans up their station and listen to their radio. Again, it's good discipline. On offstage cell phone chirps away while the actress is delivering her lines. The director hops onstage to adjust a prop glaring in the lights. The crew chat into their new headphone mics. I don't anything less than an earthquake will distract the actors now. And we have a great rehearsal. We got our lines, and we adjust during the rare stumbles. My lines are there when they're suppose to be. It helps that we practice backstage at breakneck pace, and our subconscious scripts prove they're fully formed and ready even if our forebrains are muddled by blocking and costume chaffing.

I do have to call "time out" before the second act starts as I can't find the suitcase to carry onstage. There isn't an official codeword that I know of, and maybe I could patent one. We need a theatre m'aidez. The play seems to fly by once we get to that act, despite its much longer length. I even managed to preset my last costume for a faster change. We all feel mostly good about what we've done, and we seem to be ready for our first informal audience.

Picture of the Day
Beware. Beaker got backup.

Wednesday, March 19


I am inexplicably nervous about the rehearsal tonight. It's the last before we welcome an audience (although, Thursday is titled an "open dress rehearsal"), and I have plenty of time today to scan my script. But I have the nerves, the jangles, the willies. I don't get it. I should have a calm confidence. I don't think this is giddy eagerness. I think this is anxiety.

We watched American Idol last night as the remaining 11 again sang Beatles songs. There were maybe three good performances; the rest wallowed in predictability. Your Sis is hypnotized. And I would never have thought this possible.

Picture of the Day
This is Mercury. The shiny crater at the bottom measures 40 miles wide.

Tuesday, March 18

Day 22: Costumes

We had tried out some outfits before, but today was the first time I had complete and distinct costumes AND changed into them between scenes. The director used theatre funds to buy us some shirts, and I think we've settled on what we're going to wear. The trick is that I have very little time to change before the last scene of the play. I end the second scene onstage, cross to the opposite backstage area, change everything except my underwear, wristwatch, and glasses, and start the next scene onstage. I can't think of any shortcuts; I can't even keep the same pair of socks because I move from bright summer colors to black and gray.

We start the rehearsal with news that the mistress's father died. She has spent most of the day juggling phones and making arrangements. He's three time zones away; she can't see him or the ceremonies during the show. She's gone through utter shit since this play started, and she's soldiering on like a pro. Our murderer is still sick, but he has better luck with his lines. Well, except for dropping an entire page in Act Two, but we make the leap seamless. I don't think the director even notices; the actor himself wasn't aware of it until I mentioned it after the practice. Luckily, the script is so redundant, that lost information is covered later. We all have to improvise tonight. We don't call for lines and muddle through the tripped tongues and skewed cue lines. We do a good job.

The tech problems continue, however, and I've never seen this director as upset. He was livid. I can't say where the trouble lies: Is the light person too old? Is the machine too complicated? Is the script not clear enough? Maybe we should have introduced them earlier, but our schedule suggests he didn't expect this trouble.

We have tonight off, and I'll read my script to catch any lines that may have faded as I concentrated on Act Two stuff. I might get the missus to run lines with me. I've started work on this show's magnet, and I may have it fully drawn by the end of the week. The director was very complimentary to me as the rehearsal ended, which inspires me to bring it all the more when the curtain opens.

Picture of the Day
A sentence I never thought I'd say: I want this kite.

Monday, March 17

Days 20 & 21: Techs

The tradition in theatre is for a production to use the final Sunday rehearsal to tweak the lights and sound. It's also, usually, a long haul. You set up the cues during a slow and halting run of the show, take a break to eat, and run the whole show again. It's a marathon. The director decided to split the tech into Saturday, and we arrived that day to see him adjusting the stage light gels (the plastic color filters).

I run lines with the two younger actors, and we learn the mistress actress's dad has been placed on life-support. She now faces the choice of disconnecting him based on his progress over the next few days. It was sudden. She's shattered and exhausted. It's been a bad production, medically, for us: the murderer actor lost a close friend and another is virtually on his deathbed (this is after his dad's THREE heart attacks last September), and My Dad was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma. All since the beginning of the year. The mistress spends the entire practice awaiting a phone call from the hospital, and it comes late into Act Two.

A thunderstorm makes for some dramatic sound effects during the show, and we all lament that we hadn't planned on them for the production. We need some sort of low lighting backstage to see. The mistress had planned to dye her hair blonde for the show, but the hairdresser price quote put the kibosh on that. Now she'll wear a blonde wig. On Sunday, we finally tackle my costumes. I now have four costumes, a different one for each scene, and I have to quick-change between the latter ones. The director wants my clothes to become darker as I fall into despair, and it shows the level of production detail he's considering. Also makes me like him more. He has earned our loyalty and trust on this show, and we're more concerned about letting him down than the paying public.

There is one decision I'm unconvinced about. We're going to hit the audience over the head with the "imaginary" murder sequence. The murderer sits the husband down to explain how the killing will happen. We see it onstage. We then go back to the conversation as the husband considers the plan. Then the murder actually occurs. Because the director is nervous about confusing the audience, we've added a line ("Brian, I want to use your imagination."), we're performing the murder plan in all-purple lights, and now we're adding a wind chime sound effect, like the wavy-screen sitcom transitions to memory. It's a bit cheesy. But then he won me back over in what I call The Wine Debacle.

The Wine Debacle
Prop Lady has begin scouring the script with any eye for plot holes, and she's now veering into direction choices. The new bug is a seeming paradox in the beginning of Act Two. When my character arrives back home, he can't find any red wine. The mistress says she used it all for the beef stroganoff. He then offers her sherry. Later in the play, I open a bottle of wine to go with the dinner. The play doesn't say which kind of wine I open later.

Prop Lady: You have to change the line.
Me: Why?
PL: Because you have to open wine after you say there isn't any.
Me: Why can't I open a bottle of white wine?
PL: You don't serve white wine with beef stroganoff.
Me: What's your suggestion?
PL: Say early on "I can't find any red wine open." You have to let red wine breath for 15 minutes before you open it. You wouldn't open up a bottle and immediately serve it to her.
Me: But we immediately drink the wine I serve later on.
PL: (walks off)

When we run the scene, and I pour the white wine, she yells "wrong bottle, wrong bottle." I ignore it. On Sunday, when this pops up again, I take it to the director. He agrees on the correct wine/meal formula, but he doesn't want to change any lines at this point; we get an audience in four days. He says to just open the white wine with the dinner, and we'll suffer through any audience complaints. Much later, offstage, she again says I open the wrong bottle, and I pull the Director Card, the friend of the actor. She affirms he has the last say. But after the rehearsal, he pulls me over and says she pushed for it again. We laugh over her insistence, and he again affirms we'll go with white whine, er, wine.

The Sunday tech is weak. The murderer is getting the Klingon death flu, the mistress didn't sleep, and the effects crew are slow on the uptake. Now, in their defense, the end of Act One requires strict attention because of the two murder scenes involving the same two actors within five pages. But when they have to douse the lights, they don't seem to understand that light switches don't fade out. And we try the various light cues many times. The actors stay loose during the tech time-out, but the murderer is fading on us, and by Act Two (two hours later), he's dragging and losing his lines. The mistress is a zombie. I'm trying to keep moving myself, but we're losing concentration as we stop to work on tech stuff. I stroll over to the clubhouse windows and watch the driving range action.

When we get to the end of the play, five hours later, we call it a day. I'm surprised. I mean, I've had techs that lasted 10+ hours. The murderer says he was in a tech that went 13. I'm a bit nervous. We need rehearsals, but I don't want to torture the other actors. We can come back Monday and knock it out of the park. I hope.

Picture of the Day
We're running out of time!