Monday, November 28, 2011

WAR HORSE at the Lincoln Center Theater

It has been several weeks since I attended War Horse at the Lincoln Center and probably a few weeks out until the movie version of the book hits theaters. Plus, I have started to read the book while writing this and I am still mesmerized and captured by my experience at the Lincoln Center. I hate when I have been affected by a production that I can’t find bigger words than wow, brilliant, and amazing. But War Horse is an emotionally engaging, sensory loaded production. What Disney did with The Lion King on Broadway, War Horse brings a new level to the stage and dramatic play experience. Vision, determination, innovation all outside the norm of any live stage that I have ever experienced.

Entering the theatre the stage is dark, bleak and seems foreboding. You see the beginnings of the misty smoke floating beneath the house lights. A ragged page ripped from a sketch book is used as a narrow cyclorama that is suspended above and around the stage. Best use of this device that I have ever seen and one that will be integrated in many future productions. Their cyc/paper floating sketch share projections, color and computer animations throughout the play to help tell the story. I love the use of new technology in live theatre. The thought process and innovation from the page to the stage in this production is mind blowing.
Joey In Storage Between Shows

I did not want to be disappointed. Rave reviews from the industry and friends, a set of Tony awards, the intrigue of following a production unfold for a couple of years thinking I’ll probably never get to see the original production in London or New York. But then the best Birthday present ever happened. Within the opening moments of War Horse I was captured, and yes teary eyed, when Young Joey trotted on stage, struggled to stand and eat and then he looked right at me. His eyes, the twitch of an ear and the swish of the tail, the mist from the countryside and the background music that layered our journey into the story. They had me from the beginning. I was captured.

How could one witness this production and not be in awe of the puppeteers? Puppeteers that are actors, dancers and athletes. An 80lb horse puppet made of bamboo and mesh with hand gears operated by 3 performers. The “handler” for Joey should have been Tony nominated. His work and grace with the puppet is emotional but never obtrusive since he is working outside of and with the puppet. A true and rare performance.

Young Joey Resting Backstage
Beyond the technical spectacle there are love stories on different levels involving friends, families and enemies all centered around the relationship of Joey and his master Albert. Their first meeting and the 7 days of training set the tone as we realize they are committed to each other. The exploration of unrecognized love between man and beast.

What connects all these elements to bring War Horse to life on stage? Breath. From the opening music, to the town’s entrance on stage in the dark, to Young Joey’s entrance you hear and see the use of breath in this production. And when the actors, puppeteers and technicians breathe all together the stage breathes. You breathe and the magic of theatre happens.

Go see the stage production if possible in London, New York or Toronto. The touring production should be just as effective though some staging will have to be cut or reduced to fit the various touring venues. This production raises the bar for all involved in theatre and the performing arts. And it looks like the movie will tell more of Joey's adventures much like the book captures.


Backstage at War Horse

Friday, September 23, 2011

I HATE THEATRE - Opening Nights!

I always think of Bugs and Company when I hear that a theatre is preparing for Opening Night.

If only it was this easy....

Last minute details on stage. Refocus a few lights. Paint. Fix the problems with sound cues 27-32. Place glow-tape strategically so Bruce doesn't fall off the stage. Costumes fixed and replaced with shoes added. Clean the house and lobby and pickup all the crap left by cast and crew during tech week. Pickup finished props, program inserts, backstage beverages and snacks, concessions for the expected audience, dry cleaning and find someone to run the spotlight. Hopefully the box office phone is ringing off the hook. Nobody is more useless on opening night performance than the director. The director's job is over. Now the director is lost and feeling alone. The best the director can do is to wish people well, sit down, watch the performance, know every flaw during that performance, and sweat it out.
Opening night is bittersweet for most directors. The cord is being cut, the baby delivered with a good slap on the butt. I relate to that feeling of letting go, releasing, unconditionally and freely. You love the rehearsal. The process. The bonding, the laughs and the tears. Shaping thoughts and moments. Sharing. Playing. You want everything to work. Once the curtain goes up you can't stop the train once it has left the station.
But I did.

It was screwed from the beginning and no one had caught the mistake before it happened at performance time. Act II's cues were loaded for Act I. This was a heavy sound effect, music and dance, lights and slide show production. Hundreds of cues onstage, offstage, and in the production booth. The first few minutes seemed like hours. The actors and tech team were confused. Most importantly the audience was confused. I stopped the performance, apologized and explained, and restarted the production 5 minutes later. It started on spot and was probably one of the best performances.  I don't think Joe Gatton has ever forgiven me. 
Actors say they love opening nights but I think they secretly dread it. All those flowers, cards and well wishes they are just too distracting. I've seen performers cry and become envious because of another actor's opening night booty. One production I was delivering flowers to an actress and she started crying as she read the card. She told me she had called the florist and had them sent to her at the theatre because all the other actors got flowers on opening night. I sat and cried with her for a moment. Then we laughed. Then she performed. One of her best. The next show she did I broke down and sent her flowers on opening night with the card she had sent to herself just months ago.

Ideally, actors should have no contact with the outside world 12 hours before curtain on opening night.
Best advice to directors for opening night:
Always go to the local hardware store to browse and shop.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I HATE THEATRE - The Matinée

Matinée. I think Matuta meant for our matutinas to be just that. Morning prayers. A time for reflection. To prepare. Not to stomp around, shout, slam doors, sing and dance, throw props, curse, make out or whatever one does at a matinee. We do those things at 8pm.
Who invented the Matinee? Ziegfeld? Who thought here is an activity that I do every day at X o’clock. Now let’s do it 6 hours earlier. At what price? At least movie matinees are usually cheaper.

Churches have a mid week matinee with their Wednesday services. I am sure statistically attendance has increased over the years for the matinee. But why? Cast and crew bring their hangover performance. The audience has slept in and then has eaten a big brunch/lunch before. Then they sit for hours fighting a want for a nap. Then like moles they exit outside to daylight and thirst. There is a big chunk of the day remaining. Hell, you could go see another show at 8pm.

I learned early on that the matinee performance meant actors and crew were hungover and deprived of sleep. First things first. Coffee, smokes and donuts! They hugged, cuddled and sculpted their aches and pains as a group into a 2pm matinée performance. They don’t do that much these days. Then there is the stage manager, who hasn’t slept, that grossly reminds the cast, "Brush your teeth!" And there is always one prop mysteriously missing during matinee performances.

Then matinee times started changing. 2:30pm. 3:00pm. 3:30pm. 5:00pm. Big cities have the stamina and the money to promote, maybe even profit, from matinees. Locally, I don’t think they can afford it, promote it or profit from the matinee. The quality of service has been degraded by all parties. Knock a couple dollars off the matinee price and maybe a round of mimosas for the cast, crew, staff and audience.
Let's get through this together.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I HATE THEATRE - Auditions

"An audition is a sample performance by an actor, singer, musician, dancer or other performer. It typically involves the performer displaying their talent through a previously memorized and rehearsed solo piece or by performing a work or piece given to the performer at the audition or shortly before."
A local theatre company is holding open auditions for an upcoming production. Roles for 2 men and 2 women all in their 40’s. Auditions will consist of a monologue of the actor’s choice, no more than 90 seconds in length and cold readings from the script. Come dressed to move.......Uh oh.

The drama begins. What play? It’s a new play that nobody has ever read. It’s an old play but the director has a new interpretation of the classic. Scripts are available for a $20 deposit, refundable upon return. If cast, you get $10 back.
All in their 40’s? Do you have to look like 40? What is that? Do you have to be able to play 40? What is that? Personal age is irrelevant most times on stage. Check your age at the door. A 50 year old thinks they look like they are 40. A 20 year old looks older beyond their years and they have make-up skills. The director thinks otherwise. How old do you have to be to do props?

A monologue? Should it be from a Greek classic? Shakespeare? Maybe from the script if you can find one and get it memorized. Maybe something you wrote or from something literary. A cold reading sounds painful. Come dressed to move. Move what? The last production's scenery? Or across the street to a new location? Or do you want to see if I can dance? Is there dancing in this production or do you just want to see me in tights?
What about the poor directors and producers? Will anyone show up? Will they have the right combination of talent and life skills? Will you cut your hair? Do you or can you smoke? Can you kiss a person of the same sex?
What about the opposite sex? The filling out of audition forms is probably the worse way to begin this process. Oh, I see you were an extra in Law and Order.

Directors need to be careful in encouraging people to audition. Encouragement is not meant as a secured part in the cast. Directors want the best choices possible for any production. Does actor A and actor B have a connection? But A has a better connection with Actor C but B is taller. And actor D’s dad has a garage space and can build the sets. The combinations should be endless.

Don’t come to auditions looking for a date. These rarely work out. Don’t show up if you have deep personal and family problems at home. We have a show to produce and this isn’t the Dr. Phil Show. Come to audition as an actor. Prepared and open minded. It’s not like a typical job interview. Then there is this old home week moment of hugs and kisses. "I haven’t seen you since the last audition, the last production, the last cast party, or since last week." Then there is the actor... “I’m not here to audition but since I’m hear I’ll read for you“. Thanks, you are so cool.

I spent three years as the time keeper at KTA auditions. “Time!’ and “Thank You” were the only words I spoke. But the dialogue between the judges was memorable. Early American Idol. Hundreds of people there to audition for a few summer jobs or the chance to go to nationals at SETC. I always wanted the national time keeper job but I wasn't gay or dressed artsy enough.

Best KTA audition memory? The judges and I sat about twelve rows back from the stage putting us a little above eye level to the stage. “Number 720 you are next.” Number 720 slinked onto the stage in a tight knit purple sweater dress.  She threw a chair downstage, sat and delivered her audition ala Sharon Stone before we knew who Sharon was. And yes toward the end of her monologue she uncrossed her legs straddling the chair exposing herself and the bare fact she had no underwear on! Great audition! That was incredible!!....What was that? Was she any good? Who knew? Break! "The judges need a smoke break but we’ll be right back." She didn’t advance in that audition process and she didn't understand why. Nor did we. I think she got a job at Lost Colony as a seamstress.

Whether you go commando or not it’s just like real estate......
Audition, audition, audition.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I HATE THEATRE - Curtain Speeches

A lone Greek man in a simple tunic approaches the front of a crowd at the amphitheatre. He places a simple clay box on the ground, looks up in silence waiting for the audience to become still. After clearing his throat, he speaks loudly so all patrons can hear and begins asking for drachmas, or bartering with chickens or services for trade for the opportunity to witness the historical storytelling reenactment of Πέρσαι. He asks the sheepherder to move his flock away from the entrance and mentions the kind philosopher in the back that provided, shelter, food and means for extending the artists' crafts. Thus the birth of the curtain speech.

Hate them or love them the curtain speech has been with us since the beginning. Most are probably delivered by greedy producer types who have to pay all the bills from the production and the company. But I guess it must be done. I have given and received many a curtain speech. Short and sweet are the best. Comedic yet witty are entertaining. But the curtain speech also sets the tone of the piece, the performing space and represents all involved in the production.

One thing I have learned….never say “Jeez” in a curtain speech. Coming from behind the curtain, I got blinded by a 100,000 watt spotlight. I shielded my eyes so I could see the edge of the stage and the six foot dropoff. With no microphone and under my breath I said “Jeez” and made a silly comment about the light and continued my curtain speech duties. Someone in the audience heard “Jesus” and was highly offended. Highly! They were offended to the point that I was asked several times to apologize. The politics of that story is another chapter. 
Note to self: add "Jeez" to George Carlin’s seven dirty words…

Common curtain speeches faux pas: Ask for money. Don’t invite me back to the same show unless its free or half price. I’ve paid my thirty bucks. Ask for money. And be careful if you ask me to spread the word about your show. I just might. Ask for money. And what about the concessions? I need a full list of snacks, cd’s, t-shirts, coloring books, hygiene products, and etc. Ask for money. And thanks to the fire department for adding an extra line or two about all the other ‘No Exits”. Then, ask for money.

Thirty or forty years ago it was the occasional doctor or judge who might have a pager for emergencies. You caught them in the lobby and dealt with it personally. Now everybody has something in their pocket that sings and vibrates. And I really like to be told that I’m in for a thrill or a big surprise. Or, to be told because of certain elements out of your control the performance stinks. Oh, and the more people on stage for the curtain speech the merrier. It is Oscar night.

Best curtain speech ever?  "Due to the low budget of our show, the people dressed in black on stage are there to make Peter Pan and Wendy flyyyy through the air."
Thanks. I hope that also explains why they are seated in the audience.
"Oh did I mention, we need money."

Friday, April 1, 2011


“Let us move this city like never before…”
The above quote  is part of an internet event chant that I read that got me angry and sad. But the thought also exited me and I started craving for possibilities and became hopeful for the things that could be. I am a dreamer. I am an artist. I am no longer happy with the status quo. The existing conditions offer no imagination, no inspiration and are complacent in expectations and projections. If I told you the show was cancelled and rehearsals were halted, what would you do or say? What if I told you to put your brush down, turn the camera off, hangup your glue gun, or put a tarp over your sculpture? What would you do or say? What if I told you we longer needed your art?

I am reminded of one of my favorite paintings
"A Clown" by Honore Daumier. I have an ardent attachment to the immediacy and the emotional depth and power of this painting. I'm drawn to the hunched drummer in the background. He is not downstage on a chair in the light but humbly supporting and performing. Listening and watching. One piece of the whole act. We feel like we have caught them in action by the drummer's stick and the clown's gestures. The artist used several strokes and variations instead of one. Yet none of the lines seem excessive. In their unison they almost produce a cinematic movement. Maybe the artist was interrupted? And maybe the artist should be interrupted.

I love reading and interpreting play scripts. I am devoted to the active art of bringing artists together and encouraging and collaborating with them to create a special world upon a stage. A feeling and a thought. An experience. I am attracted to the art of composing on the stage working with all the elements that each artist brings to the play. The actor, the designer and the technician with all their tools. Auditions make me nervous. Rehearsals are the heart of the production. Opening night sucks. The run of a production is the last breath of rehearsals the audience a mistress. And closing night is bittersweet. I love reading and interpreting play scripts, but I hate the arts and feel I have been interrupted.

All my world is a stage and I want more. I want big expectations and challenges for myself, fellow artists and the audience. And I want bold progressive actions from our local civic leaders and local arts producers and related organizations and their leaders. Move us like never before. Remove the interruptions.

Artists bring a paintbrush
Writers bring a pad
Actors bring your voice
Musicians bring your instrument
Dancers bring your body
Dreamers bring your imagination
Let us move and create like never before....

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
Dr. Seuss

Coming Soon....I Hate Theatre Part plays.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Boring. Director's notes are too long and unnecessary in most programs. Put in an advertisement and make some money. I find history notes interesting but, I don't need your explanation of the journey that brought you here. Or the attempt to cover your ass in something you missed along your journey. I don't need a rehash of the history of the play, performances to date, or that Kevin Bacon made his debut with this play. Or, the dedication to dead grandma who would have loved to have been here. Duh.

The first time someone ask me if I had my Director's notes ready for the program I panicked. The what? You know the extra information you want to give us explaining the play and what we are going to see? Maybe a poem? My first thought was.....well fuck. Of the few rehearsals they have seen, especially the tech rehearsals, they don't get it. They don't understand what we are trying to do on the stage. And a poem? I only know drunken limericks. Plus, they need a bio of my life and keep that to three or four sentences. Right.

First Draft Director's Notes For Program:

The play takes place in the heart of "any town". The time could be today, yesterday or tomorrow. (Imagining blank stares from the audience) Anyway, in the first scene we couldn't build a mountain on the stage, so anytime you see an actor peering over the stage edge it's 100 feet down. Also that harmonica type sound you hear is suppose to be a train whistle. Then, that big bang you'll hear in Scene 4 is not part of the play. Someone backstage always slams the door on their way outside to smoke. And that transition beat at the end of Act I is totally messed up and we could never get it established or resolved in rehearsals. We did once.
I wish you could have seen it last week.

During intermission please DO NOT come up on stage to see how the water works or go backstage to visit the actors. There will be time for that afterwards. I'm sorry the concessions are overpriced. Not my call. If you go next door you can have an adult beverage for about the same price. You'll need it after what just happened to Gloria at the end of Act I. Plus they have free pretzels and nuts.

Beginning of Act II it appears audiences have forgotten that Gloria is dead. Gloria IS dead. We didn't have the money to afford the fancy expensive lighting effect needed for the car crash scene so we are using flashlights and pieces of cloth on a stick. I hope you get it. At the end of Act II when the lights go down the second time after a big bang (no it's not the door from the backstage smokers) you can start applauding.

After the play I'll be next door having an adult beverage and some free snacks. Oh, the poem......

There once was a man from Nantucket.......

Sunday, February 27, 2011

It's An Actors' Play

Someone has broken into an office and stolen some real estate leads and it was an inside job by someone. With this somewhat simple premise David Mamet writes great raw dialogue for the common man. The common actor. Fast and dirty. Full of anger and void of conscious. What’s underneath? This is an actors’ play and you would be hard pressed to find a tighter group of seven men on stage right now. Each actor discovers their part through the power of their craftsmanship. Each has a story to tell both personally and related to the play/stage. Sometimes the personal pain is not as rich and raw as their anger. Could they have gone deeper? I think so. Two acting standouts were the Lexington veteran Robert Parks Johnson (welcome back) and a somewhat new voice Evan Bergman. They make two parts of the seven piece ensemble and as a group and individually they deliver.

Personally, I’ve always felt Act I runs in one light and not three scenes. Separate but woven together. Some have pieced the Act together as if each vignette was happening at the same time. I want to learn more about all these characters before their scene, during their scene and after their scene. Watching Lingk drink for an hour might persuade the audience differently than him drinking for fifteen minutes.

(Side note…. One of the worst productions I ever saw just happened to be Glengarry Glen Ross. The actors remained seated the whole time, except to enter or exit, and I think they had their scripts with them on stage.)

Running late, I chose the seats in front of the speaker. So Act I was a battle for me at times to hear. Hushed private moments on any stage need volume. Plus, was the music in the Chinese restaurant a soundtrack for the play? It was distracting. Were the songs and their words important? Was that Sting singing? An idea with too much thought where that energy could have been used elsewhere. Proper sound equipment with a designer or an engineer would be a great improvement in the future.
Three technical aspects of any play include personal (costume and makeup), environmental (set, properties and lighting) and sound (effects and music). They were individually present but not effective as a whole. Set Designer? We’ve got props, lighting, sound and costumes. And a carpenter. Everyone accomplished their part but where is the cohesion? On their own they didn’t make sense. Not that a Set Designer would have solved all the problems but after 27 years we have expectations. If the director can not pull all these elements together then a third eye is needed to help influence time, period, color and space. One compliments the other and creates the whole.

I’d say the audience and myself enjoyed the performances. They are great. But as a play and a production? It's an actor's play.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This Ain't Your Dad's AGL

The play was intriguing and little edgy. Some language. No nudity. The audience did not look familiar. This  is an AGL production. But, where was I? Almost out in the country, almost in a different county. As kids we rode our bikes out here to visit the old gas station get an Ale 8 and work our way over to the airport. Now it is a Ramsey’s restaurant with a strip mall almost full with local shops and services. The space is shiny and new with some remnants of venues past. It wasn’t dingy and dirty like most AGL venues. The dark and dank cavern of Levas’ restaurant. The crampiness of LMNOP. The locker room feel of ArtsPlace. The labyrinth of Short Street. The sterile feel of the DAC. Even the DAC made me feel dirty. But it was AGL and in a weird way I was glad to see them back.

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” tells the story of the death of a man at a café. But his cell phone rings. Only a few times. The woman at the next table, Jean (Hayley Williams), picks up the cell phone immediately and ends up stuck in the middle of all his troubles, meeting his widow Hermia (Sharon Sikorski), his mother Mrs. Gottlieb (Missy Johnston), and his mistress (Schann Mobley). In the course of meeting all these people, she ends up falling in love with the dead man’s brother, Dwight (Bob Singleton). The dead man himself, Gordon Gottlieb (Tom Phillips), eventually tells his last moments.

This is an enjoyable night of theatre. Unfortunately, the second act falls short of living up to the promise of the first act. It begins well enough with a terrific monologue from Tom Phillips. But then the playwright turns the play into a metaphysical farce that doesn’t mesh with Act I. What began as a potentially witty comedy about love, death and socially invasive inventions like cell phones cries out for a stronger ending and not a rush to the finish.

Tom Phillips' attention to character delivers a strong monologue that fills in the gaps about his death and the quirky girl that has taken charge of his passed life. But Hayley Williams can not deliver past quirky. The process of creating layers and playing with character dimensions was not there. It came to easy to play one dimension and stay at that point.  Missy Johnston’s performance was in tight control with an over the top character. Again experience and listening go a long way on the stage. For example, Bob Singleton’s subtle and humble performance as the forgotten son, brother and lover. He owns this role and plays it with great intentions. Schann Mobley and Sharon Sikorski also give confident performances but Ms. Sikorski had the privilege of playing a scene drunk. Nice job, but let's talk.

Opening night at a new venue, with new staff, a new mission and with  new production problems were expected. Cues and levels will get worked out. Mostly it ran pretty smooth so far as the "normal" audience member would detect. Scene changes are an art form in them self. Cheers to the ensemble for soundly playing the Greek chorus parts. Choice of music, effects and volume provide a good distraction during these odd moments where we have to change the scenery. If the audience didn't applaud the scene before, maybe they'll talk during the scene change. Lights! The designer put the limited number of lights on the stage for a reason. Move six inches and find it! Unless for some dramatic reason, why would you stand in darkness while delivering lines and participating in a play? I'm sure more lighting equipment is in a future budget. Plus, I would invest in a better house lights system very soon. The confetti love gun made my jaw drop. And, pay attention to the HVAC. It is part of the building and part of our experience.

I wish AGL all the best in their next chapter. Eric Seale, current Artistic Director, gave an appropriate thanks to all those who had served before him. But there were so many more before them. A small band of community and college kids that wanted to produce engaging theatre like Lexington had never seen without going out of town. My thanks to Michael Grice who started us to think and dream, then to Barry Williams, Carol Spence, Martha Bernier, Deborah Martin and again especially Vic Chaney and countless others who created the community of AGL. We did good stuff back then and we need to ensure and help this AGL to make its' imprint again in Lexington and then beyond.
Now through January 23, 2011
Location Actors Guild of Lexington
South Elkhorn Village, 4383 Old Harrodsburg Road
Purchase tickets in advance by going to,
or by calling 1-866-811-4111