Letters to Holly

Friday, May 29

All We Did Was Kick Ass.

At this, practically the last moment, I decided to change the language. I just couldn't let "bastard" fly twice in the church. I still remain an amoral wretch, but it felt like a political risk for the theatre. I told the actress to say "monster" instead, and I took full responsibility for the cast and theatre if the playwright were to object.

I got a call before rehearsal for an actress asking to bring her husband. He couldn't make the performance on Friday afternoon. I had no problem with it. This is the actress, by the way, who calls me "Andrew." I almost always get "Jeffrey." This one is a new wrong name.

This was the first rehearsal with the joke ring. The script calls for the boyfriend to give his gal a toy engagement ring that squirts water. He found one, and it arrived the day before we perform. It works great, and he and the actress figured out how best to activate it during his proposal. Then we ran the show.

And it stunk. The actors were tumbling off their script and ad-libbing. The mom actress rigged her script differently, and she couldn't flip the pages well. The cast were jumbled and out of sorts. Props fell to the floor. Chairs fell over. It was the epitome of a rough rehearsal. Now theatre tradition says bad last rehearsal portends a strong performance, and that was my only consolation. I dressed them down (kindly, lovingly), and told them for the billionth time to READ THE DAMN SCRIPTS. These are actors so accustomed to getting off-script that they wanted to avoid reading onstage, and I reminded them that there are no style points. But they will hurt the show by forgetting their allegedly memorized lines. I told them to relax, and look at the script if an awkward silence develops. If no one is saying a line, it may be you who's supposed to talk.

The visiting husband found it "better than he expected," but he was watching our worst runthrough. We set up again and did the play one more time. The mom actress asked me to explain a line, and I helped her get the joke. Off we went, and they were fine. Just dandy. Even with the bad rehearsal, we were still running at a half-hour. This time, we again came in under 30 minutes, and that's what I want from my comedy: speed. When the second rehearsal was over -- the last at our warehouse -- I gave them only good feedback. Each actor got a pat on the head, and they all got copious gratitude for their work. I told them we were officially in great shape for Friday, and I bid them good night as I packed all the props into my car.

I emptied the beer cans for the birthday toast by piercing the bottoms and pouring the beer into the compost pail. This would allow the actors to pop the can tops onstage without any beer to spew. It took some time to do this, and I was wearing more old, heat-ruined beer than I normally prefer. This stuff has sat in my backseat for two weeks while I've been at work.

Flash forward to Friday. I got up early for my haircut and grabbed croissants at the local bakery. The morning dragged by; I was itching to get going and get it over with. I arrived at the church at ten, and we found our requested table and chairs waiting for us. Half the cast began nervously fidgeting with the lights for our performance space and worrying about the glass door behind the "set" backlighting the play. We were assured that that light would be no problem by the time we performed. I was concerned with setting the set and presetting props. I eventually called the actors in place, and we ran. They were concerned about moving the chairs on carpet, something we don't have in the rehearsal space, but I did warn them beforehand that this require adjustment.

The rehearsal was fine. I walked around the fellowship hall to gauge their volume, and I gave them only minor tips for the performance. We changed the beer can preset and practiced that again to everyone satisfaction. The event staff set up the luncheon tables and food while we rehearsed, and I could hear them stifle their laughter to be polite. I told the cast and again advised them to prepare for pauses to allow laughter. I gave them their magnets (which they loved) and thanked them for their collaboration and efforts. We had two hours before we were scheduled to go on.

The theatre administrators arrived soon after, and we all commiserated. Some luncheon folks trickled in, and last-minute synchronization ensued. I asked for ample warning before the speeches were to start so the actors to change into costume. I was invited to sit with the theatre president and my theatre liaison, and I assured the cast they would get a tap on the shoulder to make their changes. The liaison asked me about directing, and I gave him some specifics. I enjoyed it, I said. They were a great group to work with. Next time, I'll assert the style earlier and more forcefully. I also traded notes with our videographer about the length of the show.

The playwright arrived, and she was as eager to see this I was. She was flattered to have a debut luncheon, and the theatre folks greeted her warmly. She loved the magnet. So did her daughter and friend. I gave one to the president, and he mentioned a renewed effort for publicity involving shirts and posters and would I like to be the art guy on this. Finally. I've waited three years for that invitation. I've made four magnets to earn that invitation. Now let's see what kind of follow-through I'll get.

Lunch was nibbled (I was anxious), and I passed on the wine. Seeing the bottles made me feel much better about having beer in the play. I chit-chatted and caught up with folks I hadn't seen in some months before getting the nod to start. I warned the cast, and they left to change. The speeches began, and the playwright was given a plaque. The author of the full play debuting that night hadn't yet arrived, and there was worry about his perception of the play debut. And he has reason to be worried. That play is in trouble.

I assembled the cast and gave them fleeting affirmations. We got the introduction, and we took the stage. I introduced the play and the format and thanked everyone I ever met, and off we went. I sat just out of sight of the set to work the CD of effects. And we started the show.

It went over like a motherfucking laughter bomb. The audience was rolling, and the cast were surprised by how funny they found it. It wasn't a perfect show. The mom actress has never been able to keep a consistent volume, and her script trouble from Thursday popped up again. The boyfriend actor forgot his glasses and had to squint to read his script. I only learned of this after, and I told him honestly I never noticed. Jokes we knew would work did. Lines we never considered as funny got laughs.

The cast took their bows to a standing ovation, and they called me up for a bow, and I called up the author to join us. The audience flowed around us to congratulate us, and I deferred the accolades for the cast. They did the heavy lifting from curtain to curtain (let's imagine we had a curtain). I strolled over to the wine bottles and had my victorious slurps. Much hobnobbing developed. The audience filtered out, and the cast traded notes. I learned that the theatre is considering this show for both a theatre-outreach effort to community centers and as a play for the annual July 4 fundraiser. I gathered all the props together (including my Burger King crown) for the theatre to use if this show sees the light of day again. The very last thing I was told before leaving -- from the actor I squabbled with, of all people -- is that my name will be forever attached to the show however it again emerges with their theatre. The author and the director are listed for debut show titles on all materials involving the show. I had no clue.

I packed up the car, drove to props to the warehouse and labeled a box with the contents. I tucked the box away, closed up the warehouse, untucked my dress shirt, and drove home.

Oh, and I stopped by Burger King to get a new crown.

And that's that.

Thursday, May 28


Here's the magnet/imaginary promotional poster I designed for the show.

When I make these magnets, I slap them together on my PC and email them to the office store close to my office. There they use their spooky magicks-with-a-k to print, cut, and laminate the cards. First time I tried this, I sent the magnet cards to another store, and half the lamination peeled off the cards before I got them home. I don't go there no more.

I was saved by an online buddy who told me of this office chain (where he works), and they fixed me up right nice. I've sent four cards to them in the past three years, and I never had a problem.

Today I had a problem. I emailed my card in with my order request. Four hours later, I dropped by during my lunch break. The employee at the desk said she hadn't checked the email and didn't see my order. Then she said it would take too much time to cut and laminate the cards during my hour. She said it would take 20 minutes just to hand cut my 10 cards. I can do it under 20 minutes with scissors. This is my smallest order so far, by the way.

She then said she promised another customer she would make business cards for her, and she had to do this before she left for the day within 30 minutes. Could I come back when I got off work? No, I said, and I canceled the order. She was surprised. She asked if I wanted the cards she had cut (maybe three, none were laminated). I explained I needed all my cards, finished and in hand before I go back to work. This is why I emailed the order four hours ago. And I left.

It's Your Sister's birthday, and I don't want to make the drive -- again -- and get home late. That other customer approached the print station after I did. She had a baby girl, and the two women had bonded since her arrival over maternal stories. The customer was making business cards from scratch at that store. My order was bumped for the mom. That's what pissed me off. It's a small miracle I left without turning into the American Tourister gorilla.

I contacted another of this chain's stores in the area and emailed the cards to them. I asked if they can be done by the time I drive by on my commute, and I was assured they would. I arrived on my way home and was handed my cards, cut and laminated all at the wrong size. They reduced them to business card size for reasons only known to them. Later I rationalized this by saying a one-act play should have a smaller magnet than a full show. Ha-ha, hee-hee, the whispered swearing of blood vengeance.

This will be my first chance to hand a play magnet to the playwright. I will not be derailed by baby-cooers and incompetents.

The last rehearsals are tonight, and my concerns turn inward. Have I prepared them enough? Should I have hammered them on specific delivery? But no, I answer. I can't make them recite lines in my style. I can only wind them up and let them perform. We will have a stronger show than last year's one-act, and I'm content with that standard. If I direct again, I'll know what to do better and quicker.

I still need to write my pre-show speech, but I'll mostly ad-lib and explain the format to the audience. As I type, I don't know if we're playing to 72 people (the maximum) or ten.

+ + +

I failed to mention in yesterday's post that I learned of the death of an actor from the community theatre. I've mentioned him here before. In my first show with the group, he and the director went head-to-head over paltry stuff. Much ass was shown. I learned this was not the first time he had done this, and the activity was dominating his reputation. We knew he was ill around Christmas; it was why he couldn't do the Scrooge play. He did try to direct the following play, but his health deteriorated sharply, and he couldn't see it through.

He spent a long time in theatre and acting, and I knew he cared deeply about the arts. The theatre has lost a staunch advocate and volunteer, and his passing shadows over this weekend's debuts. He was awarded a lifetime achievement award in the fall soon after his sickness was divulged. He got to hear the gratitude and congratulations of his fellow actors.

+ + +

Your Sis worked late on her birthday, and no one is surprised. She's eager to buy a motorcycle, and I offered a month ago to buy her riding jacket. That still stands. In lieu of another grand present, I declared this week to be a parade of decadent dinners which she labeled a Debacle-nalia. So let it be written, so mote it be.

Wednesday, May 27

Home Stretch

Tuesday begins the home stretch for the one-act. We rehearsed twice tonight and plan to rehearse twice Thursday and one Friday before we perform. I say "we" becuase I'm doing the sound effects. I'll play the CD of music and noises during the show. Currently we start the show with "Birthday" by The Beatles, but it feels a bit too rock for this show and probably audience. I'd like something softer, something closer to the traditional sitcom theme for this demographic.

Again, I cite Golden Girls and its great theme song. Not an original song, by the way. It's a cover of a '70s AM radio song. The other best option is "It's My Party" by Brenda Lee, but that's a bit ... that era of music is forever colored by Dirty Dancing, and it sounds wrong for the show. We're definitely closing with "Michelle" by The Beatles. I have four days to be inspired for an opening theme, and, if it doesn't happen, I'm not too worried.

The rehearsal went well. The cast is moving at a good clip, and my direction is limited to small ticky-tack comments. I'm giving more accolades than criticisms as is proper at this stage in the production, and the cast appear to be enjoying themselves. I'm still making the sales pitch for the play format to some actors, and the concern now seems to be not about their comfort but the audience's understanding. I agreed to give a pre-performance speech, and I'll explain the play format then.

There some small adjustments. One actor is giving her punchlines too slow a delivery. It's a new development, and I got her back on course. I nudged another actor on movement to end the show. Nothing big.

It's funny. The majority of the actors comment on how easy going I am when they ask about small movements and delivery ideas. So many of their ideas are about establishing their characters, but they don't involve reworking the script.

It's almost a shame we're only performing this one time. Almost.

+ + +

In the News
Obama's pick for the Supreme Court, Sonya Sotomayor, has garnered the usual reaction from across the aisle. She's liberal (duh), she's an activist (cliche), and she's a token (shock). A video of a judicial summit within the past ten years sees her saying the appeals courts are where policy is made, and she quickly apologizes for saying what the other jurists are loathe to acknowledge. The opposition has seized upon this, and again wave the flag of "legislating from the bench." It's odd that hardcore conservatives are reticent to see the courtroom as a competitive arena. The best combination of argument and cited precedent wins. If the right-wing wants to espouse competition in the free market, why not in the courts?

Sotomayor received Senate approval twice already during her ascension through the court hierarchy. She has ruled equally for business and labor and has more experience as a judge than all the current Supremes before their nominations. She's a solid first-time pick by the new president, and the GOP is quietly acknowledging that the Democrat majority will most likely see her through to the high court.

+ + +

The California Supreme Court's ruling on the gay-marriage amendment is fated to move to higher appeal courts. They ruled on the ability of the citizenry to amend their Constitution, and that ruling allowed the marriage ban to stand. The decision to let 18,000 gay marriages remain legal guarantees further judicial review, but the ban will remain unless there's another referendum. And that's practically a given. California is referendum-crazy.

+ + +

You might (but probably don't) remember my rant about the reboot of Spider-Man in the comics. After an initial spike in sales by speculators (and a one-time gigantic spike when Obama appeared on the cover), the Spidey titles are back to where they were this time last year. The great clean-up has done squadoo for sales.

The reboot -- Spidey and Mary Jane were no longer married and Spidey was back to relying on friends and Aunt May for a place to sleep -- even extended to the syndicated newspaper strip. People who never read a comic, but followed the daily paper strip were given the new direction as well. Just like with the comics readers, those readers were displeased. They complained. But unlike the comics readers, this reaction was heeded. The strip has apparently decided to go back to the marriage, and MJ has not returned to his life but come back as Mrs. Spidey.

Maybe it says something about the newspaper industry. Perhaps its need to appease the dwindling reader base. But I approve of the apparent response to reader complaints. The comic-book folks should follow suit.

Tuesday, May 26

Long Weekend

I got a call from my theatre liaison Friday, and he is calling a special session of the script committee this weekend. The theatre is going to perhaps juggle the show schedules, and it sounds like he already knows Bell, Book, and Candle (which he was tapped to direct) will be bumped, perhaps removed from the slate altogether.

Now we have to settle a script we originally didn't like, find a script that one of us can now perceive as buried treasure, or find a brand new script that we can cast and produce on short notice.

I think B will be the reality, and I already have a show in mind we can do. I loved it last year, and it's tailored for four young actors and a cheap set.

6 Rms, Riv Vu
Play Grade: A
Theater capability: A plus-plus-plus.

A man and a woman are looking at a tiny apartment. They get locked in when the super removes the doorknob, and as they yell for help, they become acquainted and banter and flirt. Even for such a dated comedy (the references are beyond me sometimes), this is still a funny and charming play.

In the second act, the couple return to the apartment with their oblivious spouses and try to avoid each other. They debate an affair and decide to stick in their marriages. They're adults; they don't want to start over. And they really love their significant others. The play isn't about finding love too late. It's about being reminding about the sparks of love and taking them back home.

What aces this play for us is the set: it's an unfurnished apartment. We can make the set for about $13. Small cast, breezy show with unexpected heft at the end. I like my comedies like this.

There is no other answer. What better show to start focusing on younger actors to build for the next season?

I started calling Mom daily starting Friday, and she seemed OK. Friday wasn't a good day, and we talked for a long while. It's been a long year.

The street festival here was welcomed with rain. We didn't want to see it anyhow as Your Sis begins the long, slow slouch toward the end of the semester, and I stayed near the phone in case Mom called. I'm spending Sunday and Monday with Sunday's NY Times. I'm also dangling the crossword in front of Your Sister to give her a break from research papers. I planted corn, and all this rain may be the best thing for it. The compost bin is practically empty as I chucked coffee grounds, dark soil, a few pounds of worms and egg shells from the bin to the corn patch.

We saw Terminator Salvation Saturday night, and I give it four out of five Death Stars. It has many, many callbacks to the earlier films, which I dug. It's neither as eye-popping as the second film (and it's groundbreaking effects) nor as goofy. There are nice surprises. We, of course, topped it off with doughnuts.

I ran Monday after assuring myself I wouldn't fall over dead. It's been a while. I did 2 miles in just under 19 minutes, and I will forever wonder what times I'd have on flat ground. I came in, wrung myself out like a washrag, and cleaned out my closet. Either I didn't know how to buy dress shirts or I've lost significant weight. I'll need to buy a new suit before the Chicago trip. I avoided dry cleaning my current suit in the superstitious hope that would prevent another funeral. So far, it's worked.

Later in the day, I helped Your Sis and other teachers record scores from the senior project presentations. It's a burgeoning tradition to do this at the local Mexican restaurant while downing beers. Alcohol is my mathematical lubricator; I should have nipped scotch during Algebra II. Your Sis ordered the giant mega-beer for me, and I shocked everyone by drinking the whole thing. And then she drove my staggering corpse home.

Picture of the Day
So there.