Letters to Holly

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.