Letters to Holly

Friday, May 15

Third Rehearsal

The mom actress wanted to arrive early to practice her entrance, and this is a clear sign she might be my problem child.

It's not a difficult entrance. She walks in chasing an imaginary fly. She smacks the table with her swatter, walks over to the phone table and kills the fly by smacking the table three times. First, she forgets to go to the first table. Then she can't smack the table three times and say the words "die, die, die" at the same time. This happens in similar ways throughout the night. She can't say her lines while she's moving, and I make her do one scene three times to speed her up. When I was in Glass Menagerie seven years ago -- seven?! -- our director had the same trouble with that mom actress and chided her daily with "walk and talk." That phrase flew out of my mouth this night, and I worry I've cast a bad actress. But what could I do? She auditioned.

The other actors have some trouble with their movement but not to her level. At the end of the rehearsal, the actor suggests I put my thumb down on the mom actress more. I tell him I'll give her some leeway during our next rehearsal (almost a week away) but will be demanding the next night. This doesn't placate him. But the conversation is over. I've explained myself, and I've talked about another actor behind her back. I'm not proud of that. Conversation over.

This actor and the actress playing his girlfriend are feeling the burden of working with a weaker actress. They ask me afterward how they should approach their characters, and I again explain that they don't have developed characters. This is a sitcom. There is no soul-bearing monologue. There is no depth. And we are NOT to shoehorn anything into the play. We work the script we have been given. The actor was on the committee that chose this script over the others. He should be further along in his approach. He's adding dialogue, and he's not sticking to the script. He may not realize that my stern Thursday rehearsal next week will include admonishing him too.

He's also pushing for a cake to be taken out of the cake box and clearly visible on the dinner table. He just thinks it should be seen, he says. I tell him he's welcome to find a cake that he wants to carry onstage and choreograph with the other props on the table. If he wants to carry in a real cake along with his script and other props, have at it. It's not my complication. Of course, we'll have to rehearse with it, so he'll need to buy two cakes. One for rehearsal, and one for the performance, as I have no intention of delving into a week-old cake. Go ahead, I say, take charge of the multiple cake props.

I end the night by telling everyone to mark their scripts clearly so they are ready to say their next line. If their lines are split among two pages, write the rest of the line on the bottom of the first page. Tighten up the delivery. Don't say it faster; start your line quicker. Next week, we hit the cadence, and I again I quote my Menagerie director: I'd rather reign in a zealot than raise the dead. Louder and quicker, that's your homework.

And I need a drink.

Thursday, May 14

Prop Shopping

The cast volunteered to bring in some props to flesh out their characters. Our theatre prop department is a pile. We have no idea what's in their. "We," I say. They have no idea what's in there.

This is also true of sound effects. There is no catalog of those either. I was told during one of yesterday's many phone calls that the usual sound guy will find effects online -- I'm assuming in WAV or MP3 form -- for each new production. I did the same. I needed a fly buzzing, two door knocks, and a phone. I found the phone ring, but the fly buzz was much too short. I have a free program called Audacity that allows me to customize sound files, and I looped the fly noise. I also recoded the door knock with the PC mic and my hand upon the workshop table. I burned these files to a CD we'll use Thursday night in rehearsal. If that works, I'll man the boombox during the performance and hit the sound effects on the right cues.

But back to props. I bought a backscratcher and a six-pack of canned beer, and I often wonder what Your Sister's students think when I hit the grocery store where they work and pick up a list like this.

From my liaison, I found out the dimensions of the performance space, and I'll mark that during our next rehearsal. I also learned that auditions for the next show (The Rainmaker) will be held in our rehearsal space early next week right when I had scheduled a rehearsal. As to why they can't instead use the huge legion hall the theatre has leased for ten years, I am not privy. I'll ask my cast if we can move a rehearsal next week.

I was informed of this with a quickly uttered "but you knew about the auditions because you got the postcard." And I responded no, I didn't even knew the theatre sent out postcard notifications. I could her my liaison will himself to not crush the phone in his fist. He's of the mind that I, as a regular collaborator with the theatre, should definitely be on the mailing list. Also, he feared, this is why we get so little turnout for auditions. Who else is left off the mailing list?

I had hoped to read Rainmaker again before auditioning. Maybe I'll browse a bookstore copy during a lunch break.

Picture of the Day
I prefer my crackuccinos this size.

Wednesday, May 13

Second Rehearsal

It appears that someone else is using the rehearsal space as our "set" was moved all around. The full-size play rehearsals are supposed to be at the legion hall, and I don't know who would be using the space besides us.

We had about half our props tonight, and this rehearsal was an exercise in juggling those and scripts and moving as I had directed last week. I'm noticing some issues with my cast.

1) They're approaching this as a "real" play and trying to forgo the scripts. Often they would put the script on the dinner table and walk away to deliver a few lines they kinds sorta knew. That script also has their blocking, and they wouldn't remember them. I reminded them at the end of the night that this is READING THEATRE. I want them to READ the scripts. It's a mobile radio play. I'm tempted to duct tape the scripts to their hands. I said I'd rather they look at their scripts instead of each other. It's not the usual theatre style, but this is the format we were handed. It's not natural movement. It's not typical stage movement. It's stylized.

The script calls for a lot of props, and they are frustrated with the juggling. I empathize, and I told them repeatedly that we can reduce the props to the bare minimum. But those scripts are the lifeline. We have very few rehearsals, and we've no time to memorize. We'll read on our feet, and everything will flow around that.

We've already added a trick with a prop because of the lack of hands. When the mom walks onstage, she's trying to kill a fly with a swatter. The script wants her to do this while using her walker. I also need her to use her script. Three objects and two hands. The matter of script/walker/prop came up before, and I suggested she sometimes leave the walker behind. According to the script, the mom is exploiting her daughter's attention, and she uses a walker only because she recently hurt her foot. What if, I suggested, she only uses the walker when the daughter is watching? And what if there are some moments she forgets she's supposed to be injured, leaves the walker behind, remembers, and goes back for it to milk the pity? That seemed funny, and it didn't require us to add lines to the script. So we'll try that.

2) They're fidgety. Again, the script has a lot of props without a lot of stage directions, and we're working around that. I think our movement, as I designed it, works OK. But in two specific cases, actors are locked in place for a long time. That feels weird when it's you onstage. If someone doesn't move after a page of dialogue, one becomes paranoid. Did the director forget about me? Is he waiting to see how I'll adjust myself? Should I improvise and see if he likes it?

After the rehearsal, I acknowledged this. We've all been there, I said. But it doesn't look weird. It's again not normal theatre movement, but it works for this style of script and theatre format.

3) They're trying to make the dialogue normal. Lots of added "ums" and "uh" to start their lines. They're not lost; they're creating natural interjections. And this is again a stylized script. Sitcoms have those small moments sparingly because it stretches out the delivery. We don't want that. We want snappy banter. We want bing-bang-boom.

Your hero, the director, is brain dead when I get home. This is life-size puppetry, and I'm glad I tried this first with a one-act. The cast have a good attitude, and next week, I'm gonna hammer them on delivery.

Picture of the Day
Pig car!

Tuesday, May 12

Africa, the Sequel.

Will you be able to read the blog while you're in Africa? I assumed you'd be staying with the same family, but Your Sister says this isn't the case. She also says you'll be gone about six weeks. I had no idea. If we wanted to send something to you, what address should we use? Do you have requests for shipments?

I bought a packet of corn seed during the lunch break, and I hope to plant them and some potatoes this weekend as well.

A friend of ours called me up to help her on a book project. Her girlfriend's mom has written a kid's book and wants an artist. She thinks this friend can draw. The friend is now locked into helping, and she wants to know if I can help her. I gave a provisional yes for now, but I warned a busy summer could knock me out of it. It would be of tremendous help if we knew what kind of art she had in mind. Does she have a particular kid's book in mind for us to use as a template?

I'm not enthused about the play rehearsal tonight. It feels like a chore. But we'll have about half our props to use tonight. I went to the bakery section of the local Ingles on Sunday and asked for a cake box. The associate behind the counter -- a counter piled with cakes in transparent plastic shells -- asked "what's a cake box?" and I gave up on that conversation. I'll try a local bakery business instead.

Picture of the Day
I hope Tamiflu doesn't have a short shelf life.

Monday, May 11

I Hoe, I Hoe.

I expected to arrive home Friday and find a tiller rented from a local store. Nope. Nothing. They were closed before I got back into town, and I fumed over this for a while. I called them as soon as they opened Saturday was told the order had been canceled. More fumage. I requested the same type of tiller that day, and it was delivered within an hour. I cut away the short end of the garden fence before leaving for chores. Your Sis was teaching a weekend lab.

I went to Lowe's and picked up some cow manure and pesticide recommended by my barber (yes, this is Mayberry). The manure was in 50-pound bags, and this was just the beginning of my gratitude for running since January. I picked up a bike horn for the play and stopped by the tailgate market. The schoolkids had advertised in the paper that they would be there with greenhouse seedlings for dirt cheap. Again, nope. This was a crucial part of the weekend plans. Oh, the fuming. I drove to the local hardware store and picked up seedlings there instead.

I got home about eleven and raked the topsoil to clear the weeds. I then dug into our compost pile for the very first time in its four-year existence. We had no idea what to expect; Your Sis thought it was in too much shade to disintegrate the food debris. I scraped away the top layer, dug into the chewy center, and found perfect compost soil. It was brown and powdery and inodorous. It was textbook. I chucked shovelfuls into the garden and topped that off with the cow manure. Then it all got tilled.

Your Sis arrived home just as I stopped, and she brought seedlings from the school. Apparently, they only took flowers to the tailgate market. In our carport, we had two bags of young tomato plants, cucumber vines, pepper shoots, and marigolds.

We took the rest of the day off and watched the new Star Trek movie. It's an entertainment engine. We thoroughly enjoyed it and would have gone back Sunday had I not reminded her she had much homework to do.

Sunday morning, I hit the garden early -- very early -- and planted the seedlings. I dusted off the sprinkler and arranged it to soak the soil and hooked up a fertilizer spray to it. Later in the day, I mowed. I think I took six showers this weekend. The red clay was so pervasive that I had to sit in the shower and scrub it away with a washcloth. Your Sis suggested next time that I use a large brush and sit in a horse trough.

So today, I type to you as a sore man. I feel every rake and squat and tiller turn. Also, I may have put on five pounds of muscle, and may be that's why Your Sis keeps staring at me. We spent the night watching Dr. Strangelove as we assemble a hypothetical university syllabus on apocalypse fiction. We've already added On the Beach, Alas Babylon, and The Day After.

Picture of the Day
My veggies shall rule the world.