Letters to Holly

Friday, May 22

Game Face

Two things happened last weekend that affected this week's rehearsals:

1) Rainmaker fell apart (and may have been scuttled by a director given a "dream role" in another theater).

2) The play debuting after ours is falling apart. I found out last night that the playwright is changing lines during rehearsals. These people are memorizing a changing script, a young actor was just yanked by his mom, and the lead has two weeks to learn a three-act show. They open next Friday and run six nights. This could be 2009's version of the Scrooge disaster, and they haven't even chosen the next season's shows yet.

The theatre needs something good right now. RIGHT NOW. And if I have to make this one-act a one-man show and do it myself, I will. That's competition and positioning solely for my benefit. If I can make this thing work when two veteran directors literally couldn't get their acts together, maybe the theatre will listen to my notions for future season philosophies. And if they can't, well, my planned hiatus from this company might force them to reconsider their own philosophies.

I, and a lot of people like me in this town, are what the theatre desperately needs, but they can't win us over. They don't have us in their mailing database, they let dumb-fuck directors shoo us out of auditions for skin color (a black actor in community theatre is a singularity) , and they don't even try to market a show for younger audiences. That leaves a core unit of cranky retirees jostling for territory and approaching stage work as a lark to get out of the house. We have young actors and volunteers who want to play baseball, and this group only offers Duck Duck Goose.

Last night started with my announcement that Rainmaker was off. This means there will be no other group using our rehearsal space as we feared. The cast agreed to two rehearsals next week and a dry run at our performance space just before it opens to the public. This lack of access makes our group feel like a roving band of actors, and I like that.

The cast is focusing on costumes, and I don't want to worry about them. But I'm not so averse to them that I'm banning them outright. I'll let them doll up as they want to. It's not a battle worth fighting, and it'll save my declarations for final touches next week.

The actor wants to have long socks with sandals as the script calls for, but he wants them specifically so he can draw attention to them (and get a cheap laugh) by hitching up the socks during his entrance. I wouldn't go for that laugh. I'd throw it back. But with the gang we'll probably seat and feed next week, it might go over. I tell him to at least wear black socks so the people at the back tables can see them.

We run the show twice, and while we're not yet running interrupted, we're still hovering just over 30 minutes. Without my interjections for delivery and movement, we'll pull a half-hour easy, and a quick running time was my first goal. I was asked about potentially running longer if the audience laughs too much, and I said that was a hardship I'd gladly bear.

I think I'm giving them directions well. When I need to interrupt them, I slowly make the "time out" hand signal so they know to stop within a line or two. I'll bark out "volume" if they get too quiet. They've done enough theatre to be used to this, and they keep going, albeit louder. I'll cue them for a line if there's too much time passing. Simple stuff, and it should be at this point in the rehearsals. I'm also piling on accolades for the group when we finish. It's a collaboration, and they're trusting me, and I want them to know I genuinely appreciate it.

Because I open the floor for comments and questions before we start, they present ideas for character moments and details, and we'll adopt them to some degree. Rarely have I outright said no, and I usually say "I wouldn't worry about it." Last night, we all arrived at the notion of using music that relates to the script to cue the start and end of the play. We'll start with "It's My Party" and end with "Michelle" by the Beatles (the mom character customizes it to "Rochelle" after one of her daughters).

I called the person setting up the luncheon space to reserve our table and chairs for the play, and we've covered 99% of our props. We're still missing a squirt ring, and we can always pantomime it.

We're at a good pace, and I'm optimistic that we'll be the best thing about next weekend's double debut. I want to win this competition that exists only in my head.

+ + +

This weekend will mark one year since Dad died, and I don't know how Mom's going to handle it. I don't know how I'll handle it. I've worn Dad's work shoes for most of this past year, and I told myself I'd retire them when a year was up. That may be harder than I expect.

Picture of the Day
This is the epitome of "mixed messages." Two of the three cover stories are about people renowned only for giving birth.

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