Yay, us!

Another very complimentary review of the show: this one is from Michael Toscano.

June [Schreiner] is a seventh-grader at Reston’s Langston Hughes Middle School, but she seems to be one of those kids with outsize talent who eventually could end up on Broadway. With a crystal-clear voice and lungs of steel, she radiates charisma that reaches to the back of the good-sized theater.

Short bits of string: 5

O tempora!
Three things that I learned recently:

  1. Cardboard file boxes (“banker’s boxes”) work very well for costume storage, especially if you have a lot of small pieces that don’t easily hang and that you don’t want to get crushed. We’re storing costumes for 26 cast members in a 3′ x 6′ footprint.
  2. You can drag and drop tabs in an Excel workbook to reorder your worksheets. I’ve been using the right-click context menu to do that for years. I wonder how many clicks and scrolls I’ve wasted.
  3. A good articulation warmup is to play Tongue Jeopardy: Sing the “Jeopardy!” theme song, but with your tongue sticking out. On each successive syllable, point your tongue up, left, down, and right. (So you’re actually singing “Anh-anh-anh-anh-anh-anh-annnh…”) It gets really tricky when you get to the eighth notes.


236 words

Theodor Geisel built The Cat in the Hat from a word list for 6- and 7-year-olds, as Lynn Neary reports. The book is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and it’s Dr. Seuss’s birthday too.

“Seuss was used to inventing words when he needed them, so to stick to a word list was a huge challenge for him,” [Philip] Nel [author of The Annotated Cat] says. “And, in fact, his favorite story about the creation of The Cat in the Hat is that it was born out of his frustration with the word list. He said he would come up with an idea, but then he would have no way to express that idea. So he said…: ‘I read the list three times and almost went out of my head. I said I’ll read it once more and if I can find two words that rhyme, that will be my book. I found cat and hat and I said the title will be The Cat in the Hat.'”

Word list

A theater rehearsal, in terms of the words exchanged, is a collision of specialized vocabulary and jargon from several different disciplines; as collaborators, we may stumble towards some level of mutual comprehensibility, but some dark spots of incomprehension remain. Kevin, the full-time assistant technical director of theater where RCP perform, wasn’t familiar with one of the items on the list below, collected from several weeks of Seussical rehearsals.

dance belt
I once heard this expression as the punch line to a joke in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, and I didn’t get it. It describes a brief undergarment worn by men to avoid, um, VPLs and other mishaps under tights. A close synonym, as two or three of us muttered to Earle when the costumer explained that we would be required to supply our own, is “jockstrap.”
color note
As used by music director Matt when rehearsing “Biggest Blame Fool,” the note of a chord that provides the particular bluesy quality, and hence the one that he wanted to make sure was sung with a little more oomph.
smart casters
Wheels bolted into the base of a set piece that can either swivel or be locked into place. Dawn has designed and Steve built a couple of huge pieces for the back of the set that aren’t going anywhere without smart casters.
sitzprobe
One of the few terms of art in music not taken from Italian. Refers to the first rehearsal that brings together singers and the orchestra, generally with no other technical or acting elements involved.
Anatevka
Strictly speaking, an allusion rather than jargon, Anatevka is the Russian village that provides the setting for Fiddler on the Roof, home to oppressed Jews who struggle on gamely. And hence, per director Haley, the idea of the plaintive mood that we’re looking for in the second half of “Here on Who,” when the Whos (and the Grinch, for some reason) sing to Horton that war is coming and the truffula trees are all gone, and he is the only one who can help them.
l’istesso
Per my copy of Randel’s New Harvard Dictionary of Music, “The same tempo; hence, an indication that the tempo is to remain the same despite a change in meter and thus in the unit of metrical pulse.” Which doesn’t give me very much information that I can work with: I just latch on to whatever Matt and the band are playing and hang on.

Choreographer Heide has kept her vocabulary, both spoken and physical, simple, for which we non-dancers in the cast are grateful. But there will still be something interesting to watch.

Seussical update

Well, we’ve been in rehearsals for Seussical for three weeks. The big concern so far has been turnover in the cast: we’ve lost one cast member who was facing a much heavier load at work, and three of the team have had to drop out for medical reasons. So we will miss Laura, Don, Sarah, and Liz, who will still be with us in spirit come opening night in March.

It’s typical for a cast this size (25) to have some churn, but four is a lot. We have filled in with new members Karl and Katie (husband and wife), Amanda, and—well, me. In addition to my responsibilties on the left corner assisting Joan, I will be singing the small character roles of the Grinch and Yertle the Turtle. The music isn’t horribly difficult, but there will be passages when the only sound onstage will be coming from either the orchestra or me, and that’s a little scary. I’ll be wearing a green bodysuit instead of my usual blacks when I’m on headset. I haven’t asked director Haley whether I can keep the headset when I’m onstage.

On a more positive note, one of the fun things about this cast is the number of family connections. Sour Kangaroo (Lisa-Marie) will have a live Baby Kangaroo, her daughter Emily. The Bird Girls will be the ever-harmonizing Marylee and her daughters Amy and Jenny. Two of the Wickersham Brothers will be sisters Lucy and Susanna (yes, women are singing men’s roles: this is community theater, there are no men, can we move on?). And Haley’s assistant directors Jess and Jim are variously related to other staff.

Festival post mortem

Saturday at the festival was dominated by plays with a sports metaphor: our own The Gold Lunch, a 60-minute reduction of Richard Dresser’s Rounding Third from Thurmont Thespians, and a very strong production of Never Swim Alone by Daniel MacIvor from Port Tobacco Playhouse Players (thanks, Leta!).

Many of the comments and questions from the adjudicators were spot on, while others (as usual) could only be answered with, “well, yes, but that wouldn’t be the play we brought you,” or even, “well, yes, but that would be wrong.” More than one judge encouraged us to slow down and savor some of the moments, and they’re quite right, my rhythms tended to be lockstep. And another good question that I didn’t have a ready answer for was, “why was it that you and Dana separated?” I don’t know what I think about the note to pump up the just-off-the-playing-field energy. I think it can work for the first paragraph, but I’m not sure how to fit it between the opening moment on the podium and the more analytical section that begins “My ex-wife, Dana, is as formidable an opponent…”

They praised many of the technical elements, some of them lovingly timed out (staring the the anthem mid-verse) and others impromptu (cobalt blue wine glasses from my cabinet). More than one judge appreciated Ron Carlson’s phrase “her twin peninsulas floating before you.”

I am more or less satisfied with my own work. I think I made a good adjustment to the three playing sides. My focus was generally there, but I did jump forward within a line more than once.

Theater festival in Frederick

former McCrory's
Saturday I rode up with Ted and his team to tech in our shows at the Cultural Arts Center of Frederick County. (The Maryland one act festival performances will be there this weekend.) The Center is lightly converted from a McCrory’s five and dime store; the building wraps around other buildings on the northwest corner of Patrick and Market Streets. As a performance space, the black box theater is long on character. It seats 110 on three sides of a playing area (no stage) about the size of Silver Spring Stage’s, but with the advantage that I can make myself heard in the Frederick space. On the downside, the space is punctuated by load-bearing columns, and lighting designers have to find ways to throw light around them. (This means that if I’m not paying attention, I’ll be standing in the dark on Saturday.)

dressing room
The dressing area is where the luncheonette used to be, with even less soundproofing between it and the auditorium: nothing but a black curtain. But Cindy, Zeke, and Spence ran a tight ship technically, and we got everything done that we needed to get accomplished in our 80-minute time slot, and then some. We’re bringing The Gold Lunch as a showcase, which means that it is not eligible to advance to the regional competition. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t be adjudicated in open session, five minutes a piece from three judges. Leta and I did the math and figured that they will have to talk longer than I will. They’re theater people: they’ll find a way to fill the time.

street name signs and CD
I had a couple of hours to kill until Leta arrived and it was our turn to tech, so I walked around old town Frederick, Maryland. Frederick is undergoing several sorts of transition. I’ve flickr-tagged these images as suburbanMd, and in many ways the town is now a suburb of D.C.: it has its own branch of the MARC commuter service, for instance. But in many ways it’s still an ordinary American small city, a little grubby behind the ears.

old and new
While the Francis Scott Key Hotel is now an office building (you can just make out an old painted sign for it in this image), Carroll Creek Park consists of new and newish brick and stonework lining the channelized Carroll Creek through downtown, just south of Market Street.

footbridge 1
Just the sort of place for open-air arts and crafts festivals, like the one I visited here a few years ago. Very pleasant, with whimsical footbridges.

the back of things
But many of the shop spaces are still under construction and/or are looking for tenants, and new demolition can reveal the tattier backsides of buildings a block or two outside the gentrification zone.

footbridge 2
After our tech rehearsal, Leta and I got dinner at Griff’s, a local institution, and a pretty good dinner it was. Local merchants were observing a First Saturday late closing, the pavements marked with dubious luminaires, so we played with the wooden toys in the toy store and dropped some cash at the funky clothing store that did a side business in Grateful Dead stickers.

Back to school

I’m working on a scene for Michael S., who is taking a directing class at the Studio Theatre. I’m doing a 5-minute scene from Jon Klein’s Dimly Perceived Threats to the System with scene partner Amal. Klein’s play is a dark comedy that swings the Hauser family from dysfunctional reality to frightening fantasy and back again, sometimes in the course of one page of script.

In my scene, Amal’s Christine is called into the office of the school mental health counselor, Mr. Sykes. A conventional upbraiding turns ugly: an imagined Mr. Sykes contemplates electroshock and desktop lobotomy with Frankensteinian glee.

Michael’s assignment for this phase of the class is characterization, so we’ve done a fair amount of table work before putting the scene on its feet. (Or floor work, in Michael’s case: he likes to work lying on the deck.) We did an improv in which, instead of the understanding Mr. Sykes, I became a harpy of a department secretary, chewing out Christine for what she’s done (she spit on three students’ baloney sandwiches because she’s having her own food issues).

Now we’re actually working the scene, and in realistic beats Michael has me moving about, leaning on the furniture, that sort of thing. Let’s hope the scene doesn’t turn out the way the last one did. There’s no storage available, so it’s pack-your-own props: I’m schlepping an extra jacket and a Makita cordless power drill back and forth on the subway.

Since the last time I was in the conservatory space upstairs, the Studio has completed the reconfiguration of its space, and now we enter through the main lobby on 14th Street. I still feel a little like I did when I was taking a class at Woolly earlier this year, working in the classroom while the mainstage production was being rehearsed in the next room over, that is, like the Bud Light gate crasher guy surrounded by all these professionals. But this evening we worked from 6:30 to a bit before 8:00, so I was on my way out through the main lobby as the house-opening announcement for The Long Christmas Ride Home played on the PA. That was cool.

Blue roses

Michelle and I met early at the theater yesterday to run our scene a few times before class. The Woolly Mammoth classroom was in use, so we camped out in the lobby to work the section of the Gentleman Caller scene where Jim entices Laura to sit on the floor with him. The residue of a (hopefully successful) Halloween party was all over the lobby: DJ equipment, ghostie and ghoulie decorations, even a few crumbs of broken glass. The way the building is set up, the lower lobby is actually out of a lot of the traffic flow to the box office, rehearsal space, and classroom; and there are a few chairs that we could make use of.

I had taken my glasses off, so I can’t be sure, but at one point I believe that Howard Shalwitz walked through and checked out the scene, no doubt assessing the decorations that needed to be struck. But I couldn’t help thinking that what could be going through his mind was, “Why are there two people sitting on my lobby floor making heavy weather of Tennessee Williams?”

Breathe

For the remainder of the month, I’m taking a short class from Mitchell Hébert through Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s education program. My scene partner Michelle and I are working on the gentleman caller scene from Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Part of the assigned prep work is journaling the process: we’re writing both about the life of these two characters, as well as what’s going on with us as we do the work—what barriers and fears are we fighting through? So most of my introspection about the class is going into the paper journal, rather than into the blogosphere. But that’s okay: the point of this journaling exercise is to get at messy stuff, stuff not for public consumption. And, considering reactions to some earlier posts of mine, it’s probably just as well that I keep most of my rehearsal hall thoughts to myself.

That said, I’m enjoying the class. With the exception of vipassana meditation, most of the techniques are familiar to me. What I’ve been missing for a while is the imposed structure of applying them to the preparation of a role.

Secret weapons

So the show that I just finished, The Gold Lunch, is a 12-minute monologue that comes at the end of an evening of shorter and longer one-acts. For an 8:00 curtain for the first show, I come on at about 10:25, but I like to get to the theater for the first curtain. So I spend a lot of time backstage. Survival tools: a fat collection of Raymond Chandler novels, an iPod loaded with all the episodes of David Terry and Michael Kraskin’s Catalogue of Ships, my water bottle, and (once the penultimate play—a version of Chekhov’s The Brute well-played for broad laughts—starts) lots of pacing back in the construction shop.

After the opening performance to a small house on Thursday, I had my doubts about how well the show would be received. But Friday’s house was with me from the second line, and that night I had one of those rare audience rushes—just everything was clicking, and all I had to do was tell the story.

Thanking the Academy

Leta and I are tweaking the short monologue The Gold Lunch that I will be doing at the one-act festival two weekends from now. Once we got past some initial flabbiness on my part (Leta would say, “You’re not connected to this. You sound like Jaclyn Smith on Charlie’s Angels.”) we found a groove for it.

What is still difficult, what we are working and reworking like a fussy passage in an oil painting, is the opening 60 seconds. I’m giving this from atop the customary 3-level podium (John B. is building it) all lit up like Oscar night. This is the piece’s expository passage, where the Medalist (as we’re calling Ron Carlson’s anonymous narrator) has to sell the audience on the idea that Eating Lunch with Your Ex-Wife is now a medal sport in the Olympics. Once he gets us through that section, he can go on (from a set dressed with a lovely tile table and chairs that we found in the theater lobby) to show how he won the gold.

But it’s that opening minute (out of maybe 13:00, tops) that is killing us. Leta has tried suggesting any number of images—Lou Gehrig’s farewell at Yankee Stadium, the kiss-and-cry area just off the ice at a figure skating competition, Sally Field’s Oscar acceptance speech, getting a mic shoved in your face by Mary Hart at the Emmys—to motivate what happens. We’ll find something that works, eventually.

I found a suitably smudgy recording of the national anthem to play for the opening music, but Leta kiboshed my recording of Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” for curtain call. We’re going to try some Blossom Dearie instead.