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The hip bone’s connected to the…

Rose Rage opens this very night and it’s been a slog personally.

Coming on the heels of Tis Pity She’s a Whore I came to this process tired and sort of emotionally roiled. We had a great Tis Pity run and I was proud of my work but the end was cut short by rain and there was quite literally no break. I left Rose Rage rehearsal to stand in the rain and not get to perform the final Tis Pity show and then the next night back into Rose Rage. It’s been a long time since I’ve done concurrent shows. I’ve been several people since then and there a few calcifications that needed to be broken away to switch modes.

One of them is the personal fight I’ve had to be more selfish in my performance choices. Democracy is a political system not a proper methods of art creation and I have been too democratic and team oriented in my personal artistic meandering. In my desire to be a team builder and consensus forger I too often have forgotten to raise my own voice and toss my ideas into the ring to be part of that creation. I was much better about that in Tis Pity and the show was stronger for it.

My role in Rose Rage requires a different tension. There are a fistful of players in Rose Rage that function as body movers, fighters, rogues, ruffians, peasants, Messengers (No. 4?) and assassins (SPOILER!). The tension is that these roles are small and almost textless but require the same sort of focus, intent and energy that York, or Cade or Margaret do. Why? Because the fringe roles are the world of the play and when Cade or Edward or Margaret turns to an attendant or a soldier they need to be met with… something.

Here’s where choices and instincts matter.
The first choice is whether or not you need to be invisible. When carrying off {SPOILER} at the end of scene 23 I need to be engaged in the scene so when the testing audience member checks I’m involved or not (and they do) I am but other than that I don’t “appear” until Edward needs something (someone) cleaned. I equate this with Upstairs Downstairs sort of invisible servants making sure coasters appear under glasses like magic.

The non-invisible choices come when those one-off ruffians and messengers provide the tension for the Named or deliver outside world exposition. In the Jack Cade scenes the rebels provide the push and pull that keep the scene active until Outside Forces meddle, we are effectively the negative space that defines Cade. We need to give him that push and pull or he’s simply delivering text. How do you push, how do you pull? When do you let him have eye contact? When do you dodge?

Messengers have the chance to ping a scene and change the energy directly. Enter with low energy and bad news and it can be a trap door for a scene, dropping the Named into despair and making them fight out again. Enter with high energy and good news and hypercharge the rest of the scene. Miss an entrance? Shoot the show in the face.

Laurence Pears as Jack Cade photo by Kristen Wrzesniewski

The other thing you need to be in these sorts of roles is production invisible. There is no benefit to casting you over casting a turnip in the (multiple) role(s) if you are requiring as much time from the production team as your leads.

I love the stretch of making my loud 250 pound self into a ninja. I love the challenge of feeling the rhythm of the scene and playing the one note I have in perfect time with it. And I get a sword!

Exhausted as I am it’s been a ton of fun so far and we haven’t even added the audience in yet.

I hope to see you soon.
(Good seats still available!)

Time is a blockhead

There are shows you survive through like 8th period Western Civ class… watching the clock and hoping that the teacher forgets you’re there. And then there are shows that you miss like summer camp.

You can be in good shows, you can do good work in shows, or you can do shows with good people. It’s rare that all three happen in the same production and when it does it’s awful hard to let those shows go. But here in the #SummerofVerse the next opening awaits and while a rained out finale is no way to go, go we must – time is a blockhead.

What did we learn from Tis Pity?

My goal going in was to focus on physical specificity.

  1. I can in fact build a character outside in.
    I made stance/gait/vocal choices for two of the three characters and filled the “heart” of them in once I was sure those choices made sense. The Friar never got the same treatment and so remained the least specific and most sort of actor neutral of the three.  He remained more an idea rather than a person and so never made it to likeable.
  2. Commit to the bit (not just the laughs).
    While rehearsing in small places I choose to have Bergetto enter and exit at full speed. I chose casinoin it on both a micro (it would be funny) and macro (and inject energy into the show) level. I had never visited the Cathedral of Junk and discovered in tech that our entrances and exits (due to sightlines) were VERY long. But committing to the same energy even though it didn’t pay off in laughs ever, did pay off in energy both for the show and for me. It would have been easier to beg off and make a different choice, but it would have made for a weaker show.
  3. Be careful not to overlook storytelling.
    Bergetto went over pretty well. Big laughs – big sympathy… but along the way the second Bergetto scene (1.4 : ttp://goo.gl/lFrnb) stopped being funny. Over the first weekend I realized how much the shtick of Bergetto was running over facts the audience didn’t know yet and the relationship building with Donado. Slowing down enough to make sure that the story got told was spiking the laughs, but paid off later in the repetition of themes in the letter scene and in the increased investment in Bergetto just in time for his death. Trust the story. Tell the story.
  4. Stock characters are never stock.
    The basis of all three of the characters I played in Tis Pity are stock. The Vigilant Moralist, The Innocent Fool, and the Hypocritical Churchman.  Like any stew you begin with stock and then keep adding. Bergetto’s innocence in the actual discovery of each moment and the utter guileless joy in…. everything (especially the wench sale in Parma). The Friar’s non-hypocritical religion and honest desire to save everyone -  body and soul, and the Cardinal’s pure disdain for the backwater he is nuncio to all bring specificity to the stock exoskeletons they are framed from. 
  5. Never Underestimate the Power of Liking Your Team.
    When you are happy at work you work reflects it.

    Every time.

    I knew half of these folks before being cast but had only worked with one of them. Once I discovered I could trust these strangers to not embarrass me, crawling under the hood with them and making this bizarre blood opera work was a joy.

    When our final night was washed out I was heartbroken. Not just because I didn’t get to say goodbye to these characters but because being in the moment with actors committed to the scene, the story, and the show rather than unspooling their Oscar reel or even just getting through it is rarer than it should be. When you’re contending with less competent or committed coworkers you have to spend some of your time, energy, and focus in rehearsal and during performance helping them make good. You will never be giving everything you have simply to your work. The luxury of focusing on my work and knowing that they would handle theirs without being precious about it was remarkable. I’m going to miss the hell out of this cast and team.

We shall have time
to talk at large of all, but never yet
have incest and murder have so strangely met.
Of one so young, so rich in nature’s store,
who could not say Tis Pity She’s a Whore?

The Voice

Nothing is more certain in those pursuing any field with serious intent than that a nagging voice that lives in the back of their heads telling them over and over again what a failure they are.

I asked on Twitter:

and got the requisite sort of support that social media often offers.

I have a pretty healthy self-image. For a lot of people the idea that I can even hear the failure voice is laughable. While I hesitate to speak for the entire artistic universe, I feel pretty secure speaking for me and you know when I hear that voice most often?

When I’m the most successful.

This comes up because I try to answer honestly when people ask “How Are You?” and at Rose Rage rehearsal the other day when Liz Fisher asked I had no answer but: really great. I am in the midst of what is the longest sustained run of success in my life, personally and theatrically. I am doing work I’m proud of in productions worth inviting people to, I’m working with people I’ve really looked forward to working with, Messenger No. 4 had a great debut for a project that I think will have legs for quite a while, and for the first time in maybe ever I can say I’m a better actor today than I was a year ago.

The cost of that is of course that I am worn to a nub. I am tired physically, mentally, and emotionally. What happens when you’re no longer taking peak care of yourself? The brain chemicals get real dicey. You start hanging out in shadier and shadier mental neighborhoods and you start listening to shaggier and more harmful voices.

How do you get back (get back – get back) to where you once belonged?

I got a raft of great replies on Twitter:

They break down like this:
1. Food. Especially comfort food.
2. Friends.
3. Alcohol.
4. Other art.
5. The next project.

The wisdom of crowds says: take a break to recharge with food you like and friends to give you context.

What is YOUR solution?

Once More Into the Breach

I am up to my neck in revenge tragedy, fully immersed in the schlagobers und blud of Tis Pity She’s a Whore for 7 Towers Theatre Company at the Cathedral of Junk. [Good seats still available!] The show is roughly three metric tons of Pixy Stix worth of fun to do, the wind sprint of playing the Friar and Bergetto in our Act 1 being some of the most fun I’ve been allowed to have on stage. The entrances at a full gallop and the lightning costume and character changes are the sort of challenges you beg for.

I have been performing regularly enough in the last 18 months or so to recognize some things about my needs as a performer and to have begun cobbling together a preshow process for myself. I firmly believe in the repeatability of a performance. The discoveries and moments need to be fresh every night, but an audience buying a ticket on Friday shouldn’t be seeing a radically different production than they get on Saturday night. For me this means getting myself into a similar place for takeoff every night. It’s not just superstition – promise.

1. Context – Place
I need to get myself into the space. Remove variables. The more I know about the space the less I have to think about it during the show. The variables change depending on which space I’m in. The Cathedral of Junk is an outdoor venue so it means walking all of my entrances and making sure the pathways they are on haven’t changed, or haven’t become slippery… make sure there are no loose rocks on the SR corner where I do the 3 Stooges clown stop or that that the corner of the up-center platform isn’t any slicker than last night.

“That’s the stage manager’s job”.

The SM has a general safety mandate. The corner of the platform being slicker than last night isn’t necessarily about safety it’s about movement. You are responsible for knowing how the space is playing today just like a golfer is.

2. Context – People

I check in with everyone. Every single person who’s a moving part of the show, cast and crew. Talk with them about their day, about last night’s show, about how they’re feeling. and this sounds a little creepy, but make physical contact. Touch on arm, fist bump, hug, toss ‘em over your shoulders like a sack of potatoes and use them for a physical warm-up… whatever.

If the top of the show is a fixed point, you’re all coming at that point from a slightly different angle every night. Be aware.

3. Context – Self

I am not a fan of group warm-ups but I need something for me in terms of body, voice, and focus/show review. For something as vocal strenuous as Titus I do a full vocal warm-up for resonators, pitch and diction, for something as vocally light as Tis Pity I focus on warming up for diction (I have lousy consonants).

I check in physically. I have feet straight out of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream so I have to be aware if they are hurting at all and if that’s going to alter my movement. If there anything else that’s going o effect blocking? Is my core energy normal? Is it spiking? Am I hydrated enough to get through the first act without dry mouth?

Where’s my focus? Am I mentally in the space? Is the day weighing on me? or something personal? I usually run my monologues to get into the text and let those things go. For Tis Pity I also have the luxury of running the lines of first scene of the show before go just to get the motor idling.

It seem like a lot of fiddly work but all in all it’s about 15 minutes of work that helps triangulate me for the show and lets me worry about acting and not the rest of the mechanics.

How do you prep for a show?
What warm-ups do you do?
How do you get yourself anchored in the space?