Monday, September 27, 2010

PRODUCTION SPELLED CORRECTLY

videoTwo O’clock on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Woodford County. Downtown is buzzing, merchants outside, lunch, and a Roots and Heritage Festival. Who would want to go inside a theatre for a musical comedy about six young people in the throes of puberty, overseen by grown-ups who barely managed to escape childhood themselves, learn that winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser on a day like today. Me. And I’m glad I did.

Woodford Theatre’s community production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a unexpected light musical comedy that allows us into the gymnasium of this annual event and the cast is going to make sure they take us along into the highs and hells of the Bee. A focused ensemble cast brought together by Kirchner, Stohlmann and Fitzpatrick (director, music director and choreographer) are at play. Looking, listening, reacting and acting with each other in this environment delivers the goods to make this production worth seeing and participating in. Improv with this kind of material could be dangerous. But this cast and crew found a good balance with the music, dialogue and stage/dance movement.  Mostly on stage for an hour and a half, this troupe was involved and engaged with the script and audience. You pulled me in an took me along. Thank you.

I love the element of the guest spellers from the audience. I heard something while in the lobby before of a kid being asked to come up on stage. It was a creative script choice and the cast kept things under control and took care of their guests. I’m easily fooled.

My compliments to the production staff of the Woodford Theatre. I’ve enjoyed your productions I’ve experienced their and should attend more often. You offer and provide a cohesive program and production and take great care of your community assets you have for both local artists and community.

Thank you for bringing me inside from the sunshine and activities outside and giving me another reason to enjoy local theatre. Take another bow cast and crew.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

PLEASE, CHEW ME SOME SCENERY


As a director, designer or an actor I want to know my home. My space.  How and why is it laid out? Time of day? Forecast? Temperature? What do I eat and drink? What’s in that can on the shelf? Do I have enough change in my pocket for the bus ride home? What’s that smell when I open the door? These and many, many other questions helps the actor build their character. For the director it helps to build the layers needed to tell the story of those characters.

For the actors, this is your home. Your couch, chair, floor, wall, door….your externals. A little more personal, what internal props do you have or need? How does my costume affect my character? For the director these are the tools you have to help the actor develop and explore. Even in design you are directing and putting things in place for the actor. For the character. For the story.

“The Jungle Fun Room” at Studio Players was “A Room” where five actors gathered to take us on an adventure to no where. Aspiring actors working birthday parties at the New York City Zoo has promising possibilities. We got a glimpse of a few of those moments but the characters were not fully flushed out past the page unto the stage. Where, what, when?

Comedy for the stage is not easy. Characters need layers and probably a road map.  Relying on the obvious only takes you to a certain point.  This is a good script but it still needs some tweaking to help the audience relate to these characters and for us to want to take this ride. Each character has their own singular quirks that need to be larger than life. They are actors and for the most part this group was the most tamed group of actors I have ever met. The egos, the competition, the need for recognition the wacky way they dress and present themselves again are the layers they need more of for us as an audience to care about them and their adventure.

My approach is more of an organic discovery for the actors and the designers. The trick is to meld all those thoughts and emotions with the physical world onto the stage to a complete process that tells the story.  Where, what, when and how.

Technical note to self:  The revolving wall for Shelly’s short monologues was not needed.  The time effort put into this effect could have been simplified with her center stage with lighting and a spotlight and the sound effects to create the same effect. The extra time put into these scene changes was unnecessary. And what about letting the audience be the children?  Singing Happy Birthday and responding to our Captain Mammal tour guide?  Get us involved early from the start.  Moving one of her monologues to the beginning would be a better setup and maybe would have pulled us into this party earlier.

New scripts and works are exciting and challenging.  So too with this production.  I always root for the underdog.  Keep working and exploring those layers. The big, the small, the quite and the intimate, the loud and the all out there, "HEY, I AM AN ACTOR!"  But I coordinate birthday parties at a zoo.


Goodbye Summer.  Hello Fall.
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Friday, September 10, 2010

An Early Steve Martin Classic

The Smokers



written by Steve Martin


(This is not a monologue, per se, as there is no one speaking. But it is nevertheless hilarious and (to a small degree) a condemnation of this habit. This is from Steve Martin's first published book, Cruel Shoes, entitled "The Smokers." It appears written on his first album, "Let's Get Small" (1971) accompanied by three images of a very young, dark-haired Steve Martin with several cigarettes in his mouth at once, looking comically suave)
 

He lit the cigarette and smoked it down to the filter in one breath. He silently thanked the cigarette company for being thoughtful enough about his health to include a filter to protect him. So he lit up another. This time he didn't exhale the squeaky-clean filtered smoke, but just let it nestle in his lungs, filing his body with that good menthol flavor. Some more smokers knocked on his door and they came in and all started smoking along with him.  "How wonderful it is that we're all smoking,"
 he thought.

 


Everyone smoked and smoked and after they smoked they all talked about smoking and how nice it was that they were all smokers and then they smoked some more.




Smoke, smoke, smoke. They all sang "Smoke That Cigarette" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Then the smokers smoked one more cigarette and left him alone in his easy chair, about to relax and enjoy a nice quiet smoke.
And then his lips fell off.


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Thanks to Neil for providing additional text that appears in the book ("Cruel Shoes" by Steve Martin) but not on the album cover (not enough room?).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

No Rules. Fly Your Kite.

ATL's production of "The Kite Runner" is an compelling piece of theatre that begins to teach us about the struggles of the Afghanistan people juxtaposed between their customs and rules. Reminiscent  of "Our Town", this play could become standard reading in theatre classrooms worldwide.

Through the early childhoods of Amir and Hassan we get to learn that the two boys are culturally apart but socially together as friends. One tries to teach the other to read and the other  the art of flying a kite. Act I is full of information about their situation formed in the mid to late 70's. The lessons of  the caste system, of family and traditions, of winning and standing up against the bully and thugs and the loyalty and friendship of two people.  The use of the narrator telling the story allows us to experience Amir's tribulations as a young boy and as a man setting up Act II. Act II's time line of 1981-2002 is a lot of information to deal with in an one hour constraint but Matthew Spangler's adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's novel seems to hit the highlight of the novel.

Upon entering the theatre and seeing the Persian influence within the proscenium and sliding panels was a nice touch but the pattern seemed simple and Americanized.  This pattern was repeated in the lighting on the stage. The stage is sparse only to bring in pieces as needed to denote space and place, aka "Our Town". The "stone wall" centerpiece is used for various situations from a vantage point for the kite running to a run down bus. This might be to simple and probably not needed.  Maybe that is what director Masterson was trying to establish.  But, I see a better  use of the cyclorama and multimedia.  And why don't they bring some of the action and scenery more downstage? Sight lines? Another technical let down were the kites during the kite competition and the final moment in the play.  Kites floating on the wind back to earth can be inspirational but falling from the sky like a stone is a disappointment.

Overall the acting and casting should be commended. A few of the minor roles might have been cast to young. But Jos Viramontes brought enjoyment and wonder to the role as the older Amir and narrator. He relived his youth with the joy and pain involved and faced the consequences of his adulthood with honesty and truth. It's an ensemble piece and a great ensemble told a great story and brought forth a great production. Special mention to Salar Nader the onstage Tabla player. His composition, arrangement and commanding performance sets the tone throughout the play and makes him the silent yet musical actor on the stage.

This play has a lot to accomplish in order for us to understand and learn about the Afghan lifestyle and culture. But as this production reminds us about the common elements of loyalty, forgiveness, redemption and sacrifice hopefully we start to learn about our self and others far from the comfort of home. This play needs to be seen. To be discussed. To fly. To run. To chase and catch that kite.  ô¿ô