About This Blog

I really like theatre, and I like writing and talking about it.

This blog is mostly about my relationship with theatre, the moments that make me fall in love with this art form, and the times when we don't always get along.

I'll be writing about things that I like, that I think are good and interesting and want to share. I will probably also write about things that I don't quite get, or think are wierd. I may also write about things that aren't theatre, strictly speaking, because it's my blog and I can.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Just A Quick Thought

I'm in the middle of reader another blog that I follow, and since it's Valentine's Day, the writer is talking about loving everyone and being happy with what you have, and not constantly comparing your happiness or success to others.

These are all generally things I agree with, but I thought the concept of being nice to people was something that could be stressed more.

Theatre is a very small world. We all know each other. If you are a pain in the ass, we will not work with you again.

If you are awesome and fun, we will definitely work with you again. Which could lead to you having a fatter resume, or more prominent role, or larger budget.

My good friend over at The View From The Booth often sits in the lobby during auditions, and actors are often dismissive, cold, or downright rude to her, because she's just the girl in the lobby. Then they go in to the audition and are all sweet and nice to the artistic director. Well, he comes out and talks to the Booth Girl, and asks her what So-And-So was like outside of the audition. And he listens to her opinion.

You don't just have to be good in our show, we also have to put up with you for three months. Make yourself worth it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversay DVD

I'm so glad I bought this.

Really, I'm such a dork. I had it on pre-order from Amazon.com.

I didn't particularly enjoy the Joel Schumacher film--I thought it was tacky and overblown and lacking in intimacy. For example, "The Point of No Return" is a sexy, sexy song. Just look at the lyrics:

In my mind I have already imagined
Our bodies entwining, defenseless and silent

Hot, right? In the stage version, they are groping the hell out of each other; and even though the Phantom is completely shrouded in a cloak, you can detect his fear and excitement in being touched in a way he never has before.

In the film version, they don't even touch for half the song. They are on complete opposite sides of the stage while very distracting tango dancers twirl around in the background.

So I was thrilled when I heard they were putting out a DVD of a concert version that would feature the original staging (with some slight alterations for being on an unfamiliar stage) and the original scenic and costume design. Maria Bjornson's designs are one of the reasons this show has held up so well. Remember, it originally came out in London in 1986, and it does not look dated at all, in my opinion.

So on to the DVD. I was a little distracted at first because the acting is very big. They have a huge audience, and despite the filmed aspect, the actors are still playing to the back wall. Totally appropriate, it just took a little getting used to.

Any concerns I had about the broadness of the performances were shattered as soon as Ramin Karimloo turned up as the Phantom. He is originally Canadian, but made a name for himself for playing this role in London, and it shows why his interpretation really resonated with audiences. He's got a clear, powerful singing voice, makes bold acting choices, and has really intense emotional commitment.

Here's an excerpt from his performance of "Music of the Night" (they cut away right before the money note!):

Hadley Fraser, while adorable, makes a surprisingly douchey Raoul. During the scenes leading up to "All I Ask of You", he shows little concern for Christine, who is clearly terrified. He's like "I know we just saw a guy die, but stop freaking out about a ghost. It's totally improper. I am super rich and important, and it would not look cool for me to have a crazy girlfriend".

I've enjoying watching Sierra Boggess's career rise for the last couple years (and I want to go shopping with her. I think that would be fun). Her diction sometimes struck me as a bit odd--she's the kind of singer who favors rounder tones over accurate vowel pronunciation. But she has great tone, and her acting was great, especially after about the first quarter of the show, I could tell she was really getting into it. She gave the most passionate performance of "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" I've ever heard.


Amusing story from watching the DVD: I started watching it while my stage manager roommate (and fellow Phantom fan) and our music director houseguest were out at rehearsal. They came in during the last scene, and slowly migrated over to join my in the living room. Before long the three of us were spellbound, and as the show closed, the music director shuddered and exclaimed "Chills!" We have a date to watch the whole thing together tomorrow.

Also, Ramin Karimloo and Hadley Fraser are both alumni of the recent "Les Miserables" concert, playing Enjolras and Grantaire, respectively. Karimloo was sharing the stage most of the time with a huge star as Marius, Nick Jonas, and I thought he blew him out of the water. Fraser also had a "Hey, who's that guy?" performance, which must be why we saw him again here. I like that about Cameron Mackintosh; he recognizes talent, and will continue using it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Question From A Friend

I was inspired to start writing in particular today because I got this email from a friend, and I thought other people might find it interesting:

Theatre question for you.

I went to a play on Friday night that to put it nicely drug like slow molasses in winter. The first act was 2 hours – ohh my goodness. There were sooo many places it could have been cut.
Then, there was a 15 – 20 minute intermission and the 2nd act was another hour, which part of it should have been cut.
If a play is running 2 – 3 weeks, can a director, after the first performance or weekend, cut scenes? Surely the director had to know how long that first act is. It was so draggy it was painful. I know there’d be hurt feelings on part of the performers who were cut but heavens to betsy!

This was my answer to her:
It depends on the play; if it’s a published play that they had to license the performance rights for, then the director probably isn’t allowed to make cuts. If they’re doing an original piece, then it can go a couple of ways:

-if they get feedback that the play is running long, or things aren’t working, they may make changes from one performance to another (I have some friend doing a sketch show, and they made a bunch of changes after opening night based on what the audience did and did not like)

-a lot of directors like to consider the show “locked” after their final dress rehearsal; it takes such an effort to put a show up, they may feel it’s too much strain on the actors to ask them to memorize changes. Instead, they’ll workshop the material based on this run, and apply those changes to a future run of the show

-Or, sometimes people are just too pretentious to believe that EVERYTHING they do isn’t perfect.
True story about my friends' show, by the way. They're doing sketch comedy, and I went with a group of people on opening night. There was some REALLY funny stuff in there, but there were a few sketches that just sort of drifted off without a proper ending, and one that just completely fell flat. Plus, it was running about three sketches long. And kudos to them, instead of getting offended (which SO many artists do), they took the feedback, and made changes that make the show stronger.

In the case of my friend's email, this was actually a big-name musical from the 60's, so the director couldn't have cut it. But perhaps this director wasn't making choices that moved the show along effectively, or it could just be a case of the show aging well. Sometimes those old chestnuts just wear out.

Back From The Dead

Zombie! ARrrrrgh.

No, not really.

What happened was I was working on Julius Caesar, so I had a lot of interesting things to talk about. Then I took a break, and I didn't have ANYTHING interesting to talk about. I felt like I was constantly pressuring myself to write, so I decided to forgive myself instead, and just write if I wanted to, rather than out of obligation.

Then I worked on a REALLY stressful show, so I was too busy to keep up with it, and all of my posts would've been really crabby and negative, anyway. After that I worked on a really fun holiday show, but I'd been out of the habit too long, and again, busy.

And now I'm working on something really exciting and fun, and not feeling completely slammed (my day job circumstances have changed, so I have a little more downtime/flexibility), and I finally feel like I have something to share again.

And if you're reading this, please comment! I want to know what you like to hear about. Do you like advice and useful anecdotes about working in the theater, or wacky backstage hijinks, or do you prefer insight on obscure shows that I find fascinating? Please tell me!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Stage vs. Screen

With most audiences gravitating towards movie theaters, there's been a lot of talk lately about making theater more high-tech, with moving scenery and live 3D projections, in order to compete with film.

I would like to suggest that the best way to compete with your rival is not to try to offer the same product they do, but to offer something you can't get from them.

I was reading the news this morning, and looking at all the reviews of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, which actually opened last night! As in, for reals opened. While much improved, it's still being described as "bombastic", "overblown", and "soulless". Similarly, I wanted to see the Metropolitan Opera's Die Walkure (forgive the lack of umlaut, I can't kind the keyboard shortcut) last month. While many reviews acknowledged the evocative images conjured by the impressive stage machinery, they complained that it was distracting, dwarfing the performers and pulling focus away from the heart of the story.

On the other end of the spectrum, I was reading about PigPen Theatre Company's show "The Mountain Song", who tell their story with practical forms of puppetry such as a dress on a stick, a blanket, and hand puppets (as in, literally just their hands). Shows like this are more often described by critics as "charming", "whimsical", "imaginative" and "intimate".

One of the greatest shows I ever saw (I swear I will sit down and write a comprehensive post about it one of these days) was Shockheaded Peter. I saw an article about it's old-timey, Grand Guignol-style stage effects in the New York Times, and took a last minute bus trip to New York just to see it. Critics (and I) agreed that it was unique, bizarre, and mesmerizing.

I'm working on a couple brainchild project concepts for the near-to-distant-to-possibly-never future, and my foremost concern is not how to give the audiences and experience that rivals the movie theaters, but one so unique they can't possible experience it anywhere else.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Audience Antics

Good news: I'm too busy working on theatrical productions to write about theatre.

Bad news: I'm too busy working on theatrical productions to write about theatre.

So for some brief entertainment, a quick anecdote from Saturday night's performance.

We had a very engaged audience. They seemed to be an intellectual bunch, and I think may have understood the material better than some other audiences we've had. They got more of the jokes (this being a Shakespearean tragedy, I'm not sure everyone realized there were jokes) and would nod and "hm" in appreciation at moments of deep truth and understanding. They gave us a lot of energy and were very involved, and generally a pleasure to perform for.

At the start of the second act, I was standing at the stage left crossover entrance behind the audience with a few other actors waiting for our cues to come on stage, when I heard a prolonged and loud crashing and scuffling from the audience. We looked at each other in confusion, but no one could figure out what was going on. After the show, I got a chance to ask the lead actress, who was on stage at the time and could see everything, what had happened.

To illustrate, here is a diagram I made of the stage in MS Paint:

So, at the start of Act 2 our stage manager made sure the lobby and restrooms were cleared before bringing down the lights and starting the show. At this point, someone apparently made a last-minute dash for the bathroom, which you can see on the right side of the drawing is right next to the backstage area, and in the middle of where the actors go to cross behind the audience for entrances on the left side of the stage.

Having come out of the bathroom and seen that the show was in full swing, instead of going around the front of the seating area, he decided to bust through the curtains blocking the audience off from the actor cross over. This did not work very well, as the curtains are pinned closed to prevent gapping. Also, there were a bunch of people sitting right on the other side of the curtain, and he had to climb over them, creating the aforementioned ruckus.

Major props to our lead actress for keeping her cool through a dramatic monologue while having to watch this ridiculousness right in front of her, since most of the opening scene is addressed directly to the audience.

Monday, May 23, 2011

There's No Dying In Theatre!

Saturday morning when I woke up, I felt pretty okay. I'd had some breakfast, and was sitting at my desk surfing the internet when I realized I felt kind of dizzy. My roommate advised me to drink some water, but I still felt woozy and out of it. After the extremely non-strenuous activity of playing some video games, I realized that I was feeling nauseous as well, and went to lie down for a while.

On any other Saturday, that would be fine. But on this day I had a 7pm call time for a show in which I have a very high-energy, physical role. And it's a small theater, so there's no understudies. Even in bigger theaters, you don't just call in sick if you're not feeling well. You have to be physically incapable of playing your role (and doing so safely). It's a matter of integrity as much as of convenience.

I knew Saturday would be a challenge--as I pride myself on the ferocity of my performance in this particular production, I wasn't about to half-ass it. I open the show flying on in a rage, and it's my personal goal to resemble a freight train in my entrance as much as possible. Besides that I have two fight scenes and a LOT of running. I would just have to grit my teeth and get through it.

Luckily, my head started to clear up once I'd been up and walking around for a while, and my stage makeup helped cover my zombie-like pallor. I had a couple friends at that night's show, and they reported that they couldn't tell at all that I hadn't been feeling well.


In other news, I completely failed at seeing the live broadcast of the Met's Die Walküre. After seeing Das Rheingold in the fall, I was really looking forward to it. However, the live screening was the day after my show opened, and I knew I'd be too tired to make it to the theater at 10am. We discussed catching the re-broadcast, which would have been on a Wednesday evening. At which point my opera companion pointed out that Die Walküre is five hours long.

Hell no. As much as I wanted to see this show, I know my own stamina level, and this just wasn't going to work out. *Sigh*. Opera fail.