Letters to Holly

Friday, May 8

First Rehearsal

Yep, I'm taking Your Sis to the prom. At lunchtime yesterday, I rented my first tux for the first time in least five years. I last rented one for Esther's wedding. She had everything waiting for me at the Florida mall; I only had to show up and try it on. I got married in the suit Your Parents bought me ("the birthday suit"). When I took Your Sister to previous proms, I wore my tux, a hand-me-down from a kind mister possibly ten years back. This will be the first chance I'll have to wear the typewriter-key cufflinks Your Sister got me not long after we married.

Men don't have as much need to get measured for clothing. Most dress clothes are labeled for neck and sleeve sizes, and there's no chest measurement. I was measured by the clerk lady, and I sneaked a peak at her listing to see if all this running has paid off. It has. I might get a size smaller jacket just to show off a bit. I mean, I'm arm candy for Your Sister. I need to style and profile.

Within two days, I rented a tiller and a tuxedo. I'm living a country song.

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I was eager all day to start rehearsal. I love this short schedule. Rehearsal is usually fearsome; rarely does it feel like enough time to memorize lines and blocking. After last night, we have perhaps five more rehearsals. Six if I think we need it. Because I blocked beforehand, I don't have to worry about crafting that on site. I can steer as they read their lines. I'm writing less in my script than I do when I act. This feels like doing half a play. Technically, I suppose it is. I would do a radio show in a heartbeat.

I set up our set before the actors arrive. Please ignore the casting couch. We're not using it in our performance.

The table and chairs are for our dinner set. The wooden platform on the left is our cabinet for the phone and knickknacks. On either side of the table are two offstage chairs where the actors will be when they're not in the scene. I don't have the actual performance dimensions yet, but I'd rather practice on a larger scale and perform on a smaller stage than the reverse.Adjusting to a larger set will extend the play's time and kill the delivery of lines.

As soon as they arrived, I handed out the new script binders. The actors had trouble flipping the pages during the rehearsal, and they dogeared the pages to make that easier. I wanted to block the entire play tonight, and I knew that was potentially a tall order. I got us started as soon as they arrived. I told them where to initially move, watched them stand, and then moved them to the next spot after they said that movement line.

Because they had all done shows before, they had the right instincts for movement. I corrected them only when I needed them to go somewhere else. But they knew when to sit and stand for line emphasis, on the whole. I hadn't done this in an officially official capacity before; the high-school play shouldn't count, really.

It is exasperating. I felt that stereotypical director frustration as I told them movement and was answered with a "how about this" or "what if I that." No no no, my children. Listen to me. Go there. Say your line. Go over there. Say your line. This will work trust me. And generally that was OK.

But the actors repeatedly questioned the prop philosophy. Why couldn't we hang up a real banner, they asked. I told them:
1) It would be too heavy for the actor to bring onstage with everything else the script wants her to carry and her script;
2) I don't think we'll have a wall to hang the banner on at the performance space;
3) I don't want it.

Another actor wanted to have stiletto heels in hand when she enters. Her character comments on these shoes. She said the audience would be distracted if she didn't actually wear them. I noted that we're pantomiming props and ignoring virtually all the other costuming notes. She suggested she carry in a pair of shoes. Fine, I answered. If you want to carry them, and your script. That's how I handled some questions about props: You can if you want to, but remember, you'll have a script in hand.

Another question concerned a birthday cake. Why do we not remove it from the box and set it on the table? First, since it's never sliced or eaten or even seen in the script, why bother with one? Second, the party moves straight to presents because the mother doesn't care about the cake. Third, what we have in the cake box may only be a styrofoam prop. The cake makes for a visual gag in the last line, but no one sees the cake.

What I'd love to do is end the play, give the cast their curtain bow, and have one actor slice off a piece of the heretofore unseen cake and take it to the playwright. For that, yes, we'd need a real cake. And I volunteered to make one. One actress immediately said "marry me."

Ultimately, I explained that we'll start off these rehearsals with no props and build up our props as we (I) decide they need to be seen. We know here are certain props we'll have in hand: a walker, a bike horn, paperware, a cake box. But if the prop isn't necessary to hold and carry, we'll pretend. This is simplified theatre. This is selective depiction.

When we finished the blocking -- to my happy surprise -- we all volunteered to bring in certain props for the next rehearsal. I sent them home at 8:30 as I promised. It was mentally tough for all of us, and I thanked them repeatedly and congratulated them for plowing through 40 pages in 90 minutes. That's not shabby. I suspect this will be our hardest rehearsal. I told them, finally, that if we don't have a prop in our final rehearsal, we won't use it in the play. I will not saddle them with last-minute adjustment.

This weekend, I'll do some prop shopping.

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Because the US and Russia cut back on nuclear production after the end of the Cold War, NASA is almost out of fuel for deep-space probes.

The National Academy report says it would cost the Energy Department at least $150 million to resume making it for the 11 pounds a year that NASA needs for its space probes.

If it was simply a matter of propulsion, they could navigate the solar system to make planetary slingshots. The trip will take a long time -- a very, very, "holy-crap-that's-a" long time -- but it would be cheap. But the plutonium makes the transmitter, receivers, cameras, and scanners function.

Also, a new notion says we might find plant life on Europa.

Thursday, May 7

Fixing the Books

With an electronic version of the script in hand, I imported it into InDesign and cut the letter-page dimensions in half. I was able to find binders to hold those pages during lunch. I adjusted the document's tabs and breaks and printed the script. Your Sis had an adjustable hole punch (of course, she did), and I spent my first hour at home cutting and punching and binding three scripts. It was the craftiest I've felt since lettering the noir comic. The small binders are sturdier than the original scripts because I shan't abide floppy binders. Shan't, I tell you.

Tonight, we start blocking. I don't think we'll get through the whole thing, even with this short script. Blocking usually takes much longer than anyone plans for. I do have movement sketched in for the entire play.

I called the local rental shop to nab a tiller for the weekend. The school is selling seedlings, and we might have a garden planted by Monday. Also picked up a Mother's Day card and mailed it this morning. We're approaching the one-year mark for Dad, and I don't know what to expect.

Picture of the Day

Wednesday, May 6

Developmental Work

I ran yesterday for an approximate 5k distance. On the way home, I drove the second half of the route and measured the mileage. It was warmer and sunnier, and it hurt a bit. I've developed a crouching run where I don't bounce on the feet. If I had eaten decently before the run, I would have made a better time. As it was, I finished under 30 minutes.

I've started doing weight work after I drag my weary form back in the house. I'm telling myself I'm getting into gardening shape, and the rake will thus slice the ground like a Hatori Hanso sword.

Your Sis was teaching an AP lab, and I started the pizza dinner. She loves spinach and mushrooms, a combination best used to punish children. And yet I still share a bed with her. It must be love.

I contacted the playwright, and she sent me an electronic copy of the script. I can now flow that the script for pages in small binders for the cast. One actor wants to make his own script copy, and I'm confident this will lead to one script with a different page count than everyone else's. But that's handicap. He wanted to do it himself.

Picture of the Day
And then we fed him mushroom-and-spinach pizza.

Tuesday, May 5


I arrived about 20 minutes early to set up the reading table. I found a chair with the number 13 taped to it and took that as a good omen. I nabbed it as my chair. The cast arrived en masse right at seven. We chatted a bit before getting down to business.

I repeated the sitcom approach and the philosophies on sets, props, and accents. I sketched out a set design and pointed out my stolen idea of having offstage actors sit on the sides of our performance space. Everyone will be visible for the entire performance, and the cued actor will simply stand up and walk onto the set periphery. They did ask for smaller script binders, and I promised to contact the author for an electronic copy to reprint at a smaller format. The text will be the same size but we'll probably double the page count to make for smaller dimensions.

I forgot to do roundtable introductions, and the most important introduction was me, the new guy. They all pretty much knew each other. The Mother actress asked if I had suggestions for the character, and I defined her as spoiled instead of senile or crabby. That went over well. We started reading and I timed us.

The reading went very well, and we ended in less than 30 minutes. We agreed that moving around might add some time, but also quicker delivery in some moments will balance that out. I reiterated that we'd start off with no props and then add them as we found them necessary. For instance, Mom uses a bike horn to protest her daughters' notions. We'll use a bike horn. But we'll only pantomime the raised banner for the birthday party.

We talked about language; the first word of the play is "god-damned," we all agreed that wouldn't fly in the church fellowship hall. The suggestion was made that we warn away children from the play because of other language we'll probably leave in, but I wouldn't mind scarring a homeschooler or two.

I gave them my phone number and email, collected theirs, and reminded them that we'd meet Thursday for our first rehearsal. A possible schedule conflict later in the month gave me the chance to dangle the carrot of cutting a rehearsal in the last week. I think every cast wants to have that chance even for a show with less then ten practices.

So, I'm a director now.

Picture of the Day
The first official image from the second Iron Man movie. In the comics, Stark kept a gallery of his various armor suits and could control them all at one time with his super science skills.

Monday, May 4

The Weekend Before

Friday night saw us hosting Kathy and Travis for a lamb dish. Hobnobbing ensued. Your Sis and I talked kids again afterward, and I again think we'd have to radically adjust our jobs to do it right. Also, I have a soul-withering fear of passing along my inbred genes to a kid. And again we spoke of adopting an older child.

We caught Wolverine the next day. It's a hot mess but not a bad way to spend two hours. It doesn't stick to your ribs and doesn't bother with pesky logic. If you're going to see it, try to watch the second X-Men film again to brush up on character history. We of course went to Krispy Kreme after the show.

My theater liaison and I played phone tag as I tried to find a new actor for the play. He called me back just as I crammed a chocolate glazed doughnut into my face. He passed along three names to me, and I called them when I got home. No, more precise, I only called two. The first guy was unable to do it as he's directing a play at one of the local gated communities. He was Scrooge in the Christmas show, and I wanted to see what he could do with script in hand. Also, I cast his wife.

The second guy agreed to read the script, and I learned he was actually re-reading it. He was on the committee to choose the winning play. He called me Sunday to do the show, and he had some concerns about accents (we'll skip 'em), setting (minimal), and how to portray the mother. The committee, being made of retirees, didn't take kindly to what they saw as a stereotypical senile caricature. I disagreed with him and said that the sitcom format allows for the characters to bend reality a smidge AND that I didn't see her as senile. She's spoiled. She has two daughters who dote on her, and she has it made. She's regressed somewhat. But I affirmed we wouldn't turn any character into an Urkel.

He also heard I wanted to talk to the author about altering harsh language. He thought I was eagerly censoring. This is why I wanted to co-direct or direct a small show first. These people don't know me. I'm against censoring scripts. But, we're performing in a church fellowship hall, and we need to be considerate of our hosts. I plan to ask the author if she wants to suggest replacement words before I do it. He seemed alright with my answer, but it underscores the work before me. I'm new in town and half their ages. I could be a radical avant-gardist or a fundamentalist prude. I have to show where I'm coming from and what I expect from my fellow actors. Our first readthrough is tonight.

I weeded the garden Sunday afternoon between rainstorms. I'm now itching to work the land. Because of the weeds, I''m now itching after working the land. We'll get a tiller for the weekend and maybe plant stuff before the middle of next week.

We have joined Netflix and got our first movie this weekend: Memento. Your Sis and I strolled through Blockbuster and wrote down what movies we wanted to through Netflix. So far, so very quick. We also watched the Kentucky Derby as we do every year. The 50-1 horse won.

Sketch of the Day
The latest copy from the workroom photo wall. I now plan to replace each photo with the drawing I do of it. The drawing is not exaggerated; her arms really that long. That's the Phoenix costume by the way, the outfit Jean Grey wears in the X-Men comics. In the third film, she wears a dark red coat outfit.