Monthly Archives: October 2017

Miss Bennet Rehearsals – Week 3

Over the weekend, we had our ’10 of 12′ rehearsal.  It was exhausting, but productive, and we survived it–as we always do.

Actor’s Equity union rules allow us to have one rehearsal during Tech Week, where we work actors and crew ten out of twelve consecutive hours.  This is usually done in two five-hour work sessions with a two-hour dinner break. Ours fell on Sunday.

Tech rehearsals are a long and tedious, but necessary process where the director, stage manager and designers try to work together to pull a show out of the proverbial hat.  We ask the actors to move through the show from one cue line to another, stopping to build a sequence of light and music transitions.  We track the props through their appearances on stage and off. We make critical decisions on costume pieces and quick changes. The actual furniture is added to the set, final details are completed or painted on the set, and adjustments are made in blocking to accommodate all these elements.

I take second chair to my fabulous stage manager, Lauren Evans. The actors are temporarily relegated to animated mannequins that must walk the same pattern and say the same phrase over and over until all the computerized elements are in sync and as they need to be for the final product. There is a lot of sitting or standing around, while being completely upstaged by the technical elements. It can be very boring and certainly taxing to patience and good humor. The cast and crew of Miss Bennet managed to weather the process with minimal storms and tempests, in good part thanks to Lauren. The product is starting to become visible.

Sunday we made it through Act 1 and part of Act 2.  Monday, we finished teching the show and were able to actually rehearse some scenes with full technical support. This week, we add the costumes and put all  the elements together with the wonderful characterizations that the cast has been developing.  The final push will be to meld all these moving parts and impose a story arc that brings the audience into the world and on the adventure.

The audience is, of course, the final element; the ‘chemical’ reaction that adds the magic, which turns a play into a piece of theatre–and hopefully a work of art.


Check out the Houston Press interview with me about Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, at –


Miss Bennet Rehearsals – Week 2

Rehearsals are moving along with the Main Street Theater production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon).  In the first week, we have managed to block the entire show and are working through each act to find the relationships and the overall arc of the character development.  Actors are off book for one act and learning their lines for the second. The ladies are beginning to work in corsets and a pregnancy pad, and the men in their boots. Having accomplished so much, the pictures I snapped on a break may seem deceptively relaxed, but they’ve earned every ten-minute break believe me.

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017, we added two new faces to our number. SHSU students Adonis and Sara are interning with us for this show and will be costumed as servants to facilitate changes.  So, we went back and blocked the transition intermezzos between scenes, where we need to move furniture, establish a change of time or retrieve props before the next scene.

That same day, we were surprised to see that parts of the set had been delivered and were being installed.  Once the palladium windows and built-in bookcases are in place, it will start to look really impressive. Still working on our ‘do-fer’ furniture for the moment. If you are not familiar with this highly technical theater term, it means ‘it will do for now’.

Thursday, we have a stumble through for the designers to make notes for set changes, lighting and music cues, and to track props. Unfortunately, one of my very busy actors has a conflict and will be out, so my stage manager will undoubtedly walk the blocking and read in the lines. This makes giving acting notes difficult.  But the next night, two actors are missing and we are relegated to the rehearsal room in the annex, so I should not complain.

Out of this chaos, it will all come together beautifully. As the Geoffrey Rush character says in Shakespeare in Love, “It’s the magic of the theater.”

Theatre – Post Harvey Update

Between difficult subject-matter-experts at my day job, Hurricane Harvey, and having to redesign my online Film Appreciation class multiple times around the delayed start of the Fall semester, I’ve been very busy and not a little stressed.

But the good news is that this is a busy autumn season for me theatre-wise.  While some theaters were adversely affected by Harvey, causing delays or cancellations, some of the mid-sized theaters are very busy. I’ve tried very hard to make time to support the theaters that are still producing by attending a variety of different offerings. This is a great season for edgy new plays like Ayed Akhtar’s Disgraced at 4th Wall Theatre Company, Wallace Shawn’s  Evening at the Talk House at Catastrophic, and entertaining additions to established franchises like The Ensemble’s Sassy Mamas by Celeste Bedford Walker. But it is an even better season for some wonderful and often over-looked classics like Maxim Gorky’s Enemies at Main Street Theater, George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession at Classical Theatre Company and its upcoming production of An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen.

Last weekend, we launched the eight-month development process on the 2017 winner of the Queensbury Theatre Playwrighting Contest. My cast and I met to do table work and hold an initial public reading of the most recent revision of Gwen Flager’s The Girls Who Sing in the Choir. Gwen and I will meet in consultation over the next few months as she does additional rewrites. Then in February, Queensbury hosts a staged reading of the play. After additional workshops, revision, and rehearsal, the play will receive a full production in the summer of 2018. It is an exciting inaugural project and I hope that Queensbury will commit to making this an annual event.

I’m confident that MST’s production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley will bridge the gap between the lovers of classic literature and edgy new playwrights.  It should prove a welcome holiday alternative to the usual Dickens fare and The Nutcracker.

I am directing this homage to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice characters, as reinvented by playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. Named the Most-Produced Playwright of 2016, Gunderson also wrote Silent Sky and The Revolutionists, which were featured in recent seasons at Main Street Theater.

Our first read-through of the play, held last night, was a “Part of the Art” offering to our loyal MST subscribers and longtime supporters.  People on the MST list serve were invited to experience this sneak preview of the play in its purest form.  Folks attending last night’s table read will be able to compare their impressions to the actual production later and more completely appreciate the journey a play makes before it is fully realized.

Joining the audience and myself were my Stage Manager, Lauren Evans; Assistant Director, Joanna Hubbard; Costume Designer, Deborah Anderson; and the cast: Chaney Moore, Brock Hatton, Spencer Plachy, Laura Kaldis, Heidi Hinkel, Blake Weir, Skylar Sinclair, and Lindsay Ehrhardt.

I like to think that one of my strengths as an actress-turned-director is putting together a dynamic and talented cast. That was reaffirmed by last night’s gathering. While the cast has had their scripts and my research notes for several weeks, most of them have been working hard doing other shows. Nevertheless, the reading showed preparation and thought and was as close to production level as I’ve experienced with any cast in recent memory.  It will only grow and deepen over the next three weeks as we learn to work together and create art.

For me, this is a moment filled with excitement and anticipation, fully appreciating the adventure and the possibilities before us, and not yet overwhelmed by the physical and design demands of the show.

I hope you will join us for the adventure.

Miss Bennet will run at Main Street Theater November 11 through December 17, 2017.  For information, visit or call the box office at 713-524-6706.

Claire Hart-Palumbo

SCBWI-Houston Conference 2017

Well, another great conference has come and gone. I splurged this year, as my schedule has been very hectic and promises to get worse. I took advantage of the special offer and booked myself into the Marriott Hotel where the conference was being held on the night before and stayed till Sunday. Very nice accommodations on Briar Park just off Westheimer.

Per usual, a wonderful group of local SCBWI volunteers helped keep us on track and on task, introducing our guest speakers and directing people to the silent auction, Blue Willow Books booth and the food, which was as plentiful as the information.

Our key note speaker this year was middle-grade author, raconteur, and former teacher Bruce Coville.  Some of his best stories involved lessons he learned from his own students and from those who helped him along the way. It was an entertaining and up beat opening to the events and a foreshadowing of the delightful novel writing workshop he ran on Sunday morning.

There was a panel discussion that included a number of our more successful and prolific Houston authors, from debut novelist Caroline Leach to the very successful Crystal Allen.  We also got tips from Jennifer Hamburg, Chris Mandeleski, Varsha Bajaj, and Pat Miller. Pat represented for the non-fiction contingent and led a workshop on that topic Sunday morning opposite Bruce Coville’s.

Little Brown Books editor, Deirdre Jones spoke on “New Twists on Old Themes” and how to put a new twist on the universal topical themes (think the seasons, holidays, colors, etc.) that make your book marketable year after year. Finding a way to mash up multiple themes in your picture book makes it seem fresh and ever more appealing to tiny would-be readers and their parents.

After a brief break, bidding on the auction items and some networking, the attendees were divided into break-out sessions for writers in general and a special session for published authors. I attended Random House editor, Martha Rago’s workshop, “Speed Dating with a Picture.”

Christa Heschke, agent with McIntosh and Otis spoke on writing an engaging mystery atmosphere that reeks of tension, is properly paced, and has an original premise. She stressed the importance of outlining in writing mystery. Pre-planning can save two or three of those seemingly endless rewrites.

Anna Roberto, editor with Feiwal & Friends, an imprint of MacMillan talked about the ever elusive ‘voice’ and what it is, what it sounds like, and why it is so essential to setting your manuscript apart.

Thao Le, who is an agent with Sandra Djikstra talked about the art of revision: tightening language, being specific, and the use of vivid active verbs.

I had two critique sessions, both informative and helpful, but differing widely in what needed to be fixed and how to do it.  While I was meeting with my critique mentors, I missed part of the presentation by Full Circle Literary agent, Adriana Dominguez, who spoke passionately and informatively about diversity in children’s literature, both in subject matter and in authors.

After a long and eventful day, the pitch sessions began, followed by dinner and dancing. I went to bed early, my brain completely overloaded.  But I woke fresh and ready for the novel writing session with Bruce Coville the next morning (pictured with me above).

Attendance was slightly down this year, partly because of the recent flooding and losses experienced by stalwart SCBWI members.  But overall it was a great experience.