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A subject speaks…

On Thursday you have the opportunity to not only see the opening night of a play, but an opening night of a company as Poor Shadows of Elysium open their doors to the tune of a coin-flip Richard II at the Curtain (good seats still available!).

This process has been a joy. I am reunited with several of my compatriots from last summer’s 7 Tower’s production of Tis Pity She’s a Whore and I’ve been allowed to play John of Gaunt and the Bishop of Carlisle. If you haven’t read Richard II let me say simply that I get to deliver two of the greatest speeches ever put to paper. I get to do it on an Elizabethan style stage under the stars and I get to do it with a cast digging for every ounce of gold in this rich mine.

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And that’s sort of not the good part.

It’s the coin flip.

Chance decides who plays King Richard II and who plays his fair cousin Henry Bolingbroke. We really do open the show with seven couplets, two orphan lines, and a coin flip (expertly executed!) and on stage our Richard-of-the-now has all of 15 seconds to do his preshow prep and open the show.

And we have to adjust
and therein lies the fun.

From the beginning (as noted here) we’ve essentially been rehearsing two shows. None of the choices Aaron and Kevin have tried have been constrained in any way. Indeed the only times they even know what choices the other has made are in shared scenes. They’re pretty different. Aaron and Kevin are very different performers with very different styles and approaches.

In the standard rehearsal process choices and reactions tend to happen early, calcify early and remain until the space, costumes, lights and audience modify them …then that set of choices and reactions live for the run –Thespian bed death.

When you are playing more than one person opposite more than one person the geometric possibilities are impressive.  I play Bolingbroke’s father and one of Richard’s final supporters. The choices the two men make about their relationship with me drive my reaction back at them and that evolves as they own more and more of show and try new tactics.

You can’t stop listening. The only workable tactic is know your lines and intention and play it at stakes. Or y’know – acting.

It’s awesome. There’s no acting-cheating allowed. It’s not as simple as playing the note the same way every time. The notes change – the instruments change. It’s sort of enforcing the best acting practices in not allowing us to lean on our crutches. It’s lovely.


Last week (a week from opening) health issues forced our Northumberland to resign from the show (get well soon Casey!) and David Boss stepped from the roles he was playing into Northumberland. This led to shuffling as our director chose to not go outside the family at this late date. It lead to the untimely demise of Ross and Scroop and Wes Riddle picked up the Gardener’s man in 3.4.

The now-cut Scroop delivers the news of Bolingbroke’s victories in England and York’s defection to the King in 3.2. It’s a huge driver toward the “Let Us Sit on Ground” speech. The speeches are now transferred to a letter delivered by Salisbury and read by the Bishop of Carlisle.

Honestly it’s a better scene. It colors the relationship between King Richard and Carlisle further (culminating in the “I Speak to Subjects” speech in 4.1) but more importantly it doesn’t ‘dilute the room’. Where dealing with the politics of status the fewer people in a room the more likely you are to get something truly personal (or at least less rhetorically obfuscated) out of the high status folks.

As much as it was a bit of a Balrog when we were already weary, the whole switcheroo has highlighted the flexibility of the process though. Rather than the panic of newly busted scenes and rhythms is was simply a new face where the other was expected which is something we’ve been training for all the while.

I can’t wait to share all this with you.

All About a Video

Word is in and we are chagrinned to announce that All About a Boy will not be reprised for Frontera’s Best of Fest.

You missed it.

We’re not bitter though.
This show was a blast to experience live as the energy was off the charts and the embarrassment was palpable.
(On the internet no one can hear you cringe…)

To show there’s no hard feelings?

Enjoy it as best you can from where you are:

 

Thanks to Elena, Mallory and Aaron for having the courage to take this on, to Mariah MacCarthy for always being up for a challenge (and then acing it), and to Will and Amanda for covering my ass when my ambitions didn’t check with my calendar. Y’all made a really fun thing.

Is there a Doctor in the house?

Last week I closed a four week run of Doug Wright’s Quills with Austin’s Different Stages and I wanted to jot down a few things I learned that will be helpful to me going forward. Please bear with me if this makes no damn sense or is insufferably precious about acting.

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Doctor Royer-Collard is the sort of apoplectic asshole I’ve been playing since I was 16. He’s Horace Vandergelder with a bad childhood. He wants happiness and love… he just sucks at them and so clings to the rigidity of the framework The Rules supplies to force others into the same misery. The Doctor is what the free range nerd would call Lawful Evil.

I had a surprising amount of trouble with the Doctor for a character I’ve been playing for 20 years. Partly because of the setting the Doctor found himself in (sort of Grand Guinol farce), my own stubbornness in terms of what I wanted versus what the director wanted, and because, well, I’m in a very different acting shape than the last time I tried this sort of character on. I am a much more focused actor than I was 5 years ago – than I was 1 year ago. Regular work means that the acting muscles are a lot leaner and stronger than they were. It means that the sort of broad choices this character would have engendered of old didn’t fit any more. I sort of rattled around in them.

Eventually I settled out to an acceptable answer or two but it took much longer than it should have.

  • I forgot that I change.
    I’ve been playing this character (of a kind) since I was 16 and 70 pounds lighter. I was adding ‘age’ characteristics out of habit when they were necessary to the character or my portrayal at all. I was doing it because that’s what I do with these characters. Question all of your choices.
  • Quiet isn’t always best
    I’m a big believer in ‘make your choices and show them’ rather than talking them all to death. I will talk a show into the ground and it stops being about doing. However… I would advocate actually saying your choices out loud. It doesn’t need to be in rehearsal… I described the Doctor to my wife in a post-rehearsal frustration fugue and simply hearing myself describe him allowed me to fix the problematic choices. There were things that I hadn’t realized I had accidentally chosen…
  • Mind your words
    Look, this is awfully actor froofy, but mind how you describe a character. This is how I got into (and eventually out of trouble). All of the adjectives I was using for the Doctor were ultra-passive. “Waiting” “Cautious” “Plotting” “Scheming” they are so passive as to leave him flaccid. (It was Quills bear with me). Swapping out those words to something more active and playable makes a huge difference. “Coiled” “Prowling” – they create a very different tension in a scene and honestly it made the Doctor a LOT less frenetic.. which was to the better.
  • Overcome obstacles
    I failed at this… I didn’t realize I was doing it until closing weekend. My shows were a little tight, and the deck at the City Theatre is bouncy and uneven. It made me take very small steps.

    Get up and take 10 steps with your stride foot landing inches in front of your plant foot.
    Now just STRIDE the 8 feet.
    That difference in control is huge, the difference in power is huge and the difference in perceived power is huge. I blew it.

Mostly Quills was a win. I stripped away the unnecessary age, mostly won the never ending battle against Britification in period speech, I fixed the rampant passivity and by the end of the run was actively pushing the Abbe towards his well-earned end rather than waiting for him to get there. Baby steps.