Author Archives: chartp

About chartp

Former actress and theater director turned technical writer and instructional designer, moving toward writing fiction. Loves Jane Austen, Noel Coward, cozy mysteries, SCBWI, and the beach.

Turning a Corner: Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo

Sunday was our extended tech rehearsal for Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo. As we incorporate technical aspects and refine acting objectives, there is always one very long day where it all has to start coming together. Sunday we rehearsed from 1 pm to 10 pm with a break for dinner.  We completed two full runs and choreographed the prop crew’s efforts during the scene breaks. I always like to make the changeover look like part of the show if possible, so our prop crew is dressed as if they are employees of Edna’s diner.

The musical segues and interludes are a play list of all the great torchy female vocalists of the 70s and 80s. The mature members of our audience will have a great time trying to remember names of all the singers and the years the songs came out.

Adding costumes and sound can be distracting to some actors, especially when fast changes are involved, so I was pleased to see that this did not derail us. Although, we are still tweaking and accessorizing, the physical personae of each character became clearer. Some actors find that adding the clothes of their characters can give them that last nudge into realizing them as three-dimensional people. And so it seemed to be yesterday.

My lead actress has been struggling for clarity in her character, as she felt the text sent her back and forth in opposing directions concerning what she really wanted. Talking through this in notes, I suggested that she needed to decide what ‘she’ wants to do to the other person and try her best to do that. The emotional baggage of what she secretly wants as opposed to what she is doing is what weakens her resolve occasionally and becomes an obstacle to overcome. She wants to protect herself from being hurt by the person she has been in love with for years. So every time Mac pushes Rosie away, her love pushes right back and opens the possibility of hope. That hope is what undermines her resolve and what she struggles against. She cannot hope and barricade her heart at the same time. She has to choose when to open herself up, and that choice is the crux of the play.

When we came back for the second run-thru, everyone was more energized, pushing the envelope and working their objectives. And suddenly, it seemed like we might be on the brink of having the play I’ve envisioned in my head; the one Gwen Flager wrote and rewrote.

As Geoffrey Rush says in “Shakespeare in Love” when he is asked how something fine can come out of the chaos of rehearsal, “I dunno, it’s the magic of theatre.”

We open on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Hope you have us on your schedule. Currently, the run is only two weeks, and it is in the Black Box theatre. So don’t wait til the last minute to buy your tickets.  Our staged reading turned people away. For schedule and information go to:

https://www.queensburytheatre.org/shakintheblueflamingo

Check out my interview about the show:

Check out my interview about Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo on the Queensbury Theatre facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/QueensburyTheatre/videos/1957135634330687/

Thanks,

Claire Hart-Palumbo

Rehearsal for “Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo”

We are now three weeks into rehearsals and our process is alternately blissful and excruciating. We work subtle nuances of one scene until all seems to click, and then go on to a scene we think already perfected and discover we’ve lost the rhythm or the refinements…or the lines.

Each of my actors is a veteran theater professional, but each with very different experience, skills, and strengths. Some learned the lines almost immediately but struggle to remember blocking. Others get the blocking, but stutter step through the words—which have been changing as we refine this wonderful new play.

Some with a strong vocal instrument and ready access to the ‘psychology’ of the character came in strong, but now begin the torturous journey to dig deeper than their usual comfort level. One actress informed me that I was terrifying, but then admitted that I was only demanding her best. I try never to yell or throw tantrums, but my expectations of these women are very high. And sometimes my frustration has to show. I suppose that can be terrifying if you are used to relying on technique or the usual bag of tricks and I insist on more.

It is a constant ebb and flow. One day five or six of the seven are working at high energy. Another day, someone who has been struggling makes a breakthrough. We discover a ‘moment’ in the play that wasn’t previously defined, and it’s all worth it. Painstakingly, we carve the emotional terrain of this play and hope our audience will find us and recognize the labor and the love that has brought us to the stage.

As we define the action and perfect the emotional pitch, the next struggle will be as we begin to integrate the technical aspects, stop miming the actions and begin working with food and liquids and prop phones. How to master the swing of a kitchen door, time the sound of a chair scraping the floor, or a spoon clinking on a cup? These are the millions of details that go into making the perfect arc of the play. Mastery of one thing only leads to larger challenges and obstacles.

Oh, but the joy of finding the right note, the perfect laugh, the synchronous movement and line. There is the satisfaction that keeps us working for low wages at a craft we are passionate about. At the service of the words, and hopefully the playwright.

Our own dear playwright, Gwen Flager has brought her own energy and focus to this process. She is learning much from this shared experience. For a play may be born of a writer’s mind, but it is birthed by the collaborative effort into a living and breathing thing.

For Gwen’s notes, pictures and musings on this process, go to her website:  http://gwenflager.com/blog/.

Above photo by Julye Newlin.

Hope everyone will come share the bounty with us when we open on July 12, 2018.

 

 

RIP Blackie

Some eight or nine years ago, a long lean overgrown kitten insinuated himself into the lives of my neighborhood. Coal black, big sage green eyes, he had a princely air of privilege and ownership that belied his status as a stray. He plopped himself on my patio and began talking to my girls through the French doors. Christabel and Cindy Crawford were a bit flustered, being older divas and not used to young male admirers. But they seemed to tolerate him and almost look forward to his visits. They would slip around him at the door as he munched a handful of dry food, and soon all would be lounging around the patio, pleasantly absorbing the sun.

A natural charmer, Blackie became a regular visitor to houses for a three or four block radius. He developed a route through the subdivision. One morning, when I was leaving unusually early, my garage door went up and I saw him come to attention four houses away and race toward my house. He got his treat.

Generally good mannered, I had to take him to task a couple of times for walking in and taking a tour of my house. After that, he realized he would only be fed on the patio and was satisfied to wait for me there. Often when I let my cats out, he was already lying on the seat of my patio chair under the oak tree.

He came to know which yards were safe and who offered refuge. Another morning, I pulled out of my garage later than usual and discovered two bruisers of dogs trying to pin him down. He raced to the grill of my front entrance, but the mailman had pushed it inward and so the dogs were able to corner him. I came flying out of my car screaming, which distracted them long enough for Blackie to scoot past and along the back of my front hedge. But they quickly pinned him down at the gate between my house and my neighbor Maria’s. They would have snapped him in two in another minute. Perhaps foolishly, I rushed to his aid and was promptly knocked down in the skirmish. My strident yelling sent one dog running, as Blackie disappeared over my fence. The other Rottweiler-mix trotted a few steps, then turned to assess whether I was worth attacking, but finally raced away.

Shaken and upset, I left the car idling and hurried through the house to the backyard. Blackie cowered in a cleft between my tree and the back fence, covered in slobber but without visible wounds. While I went for a treat and a towel, he disappeared into Maria’s yard.

Returning that evening, I found the small pile of food I’d left untouched. I called to Blackie and heard a faint mew from over the fence. Knowing my neighbor was out of town and fearing the worst, I invaded her yard and discovered him huddled in the rafters of her tool shed, where he’d been all day. Coaxing him down and through the gap in my fence, he returned to the safety of my yard, where he stayed for a few days, until he recovered his bravado enough to resume his neighborhood rounds.

My neighbor Bonnie and I took Blackie to the vet to be fixed, and annually to get his shots. He didn’t hold it against us.

Then four years ago, a new couple moved in a few doors down. Blackie walked in the door to welcome them and decided to stay. Anna and Hector adopted and loved him. He became an indoor cat who occasionally went out to  greet his old friends, human and feline. He would still come and wind around my feet if I happened to be working in the yard.

A few months ago, Anna noticed that Blackie returned from his prowl limping. She thought he might have injured himself. On inspection she discovered a lump in the joint of his leg. After a lot of tests and general angst among his friends, Blackie went through surgery to remove his right front leg. He came back looking like a peg-leg pirate.

Miraculously, he seemed to recover his balance and his sense of humor and fun. He still managed to climb and loved sunning himself, but Anna kept him close to home. Then recently they discovered lumps over his kidneys. He became lethargic and Anna discovered blood in his urine, then his gums bled.

He was loved and cared for until it seemed his pain was inexcusable. I visited with him yesterday. petting his almost limp and emaciated body and sharing stories with Anna. A low rumble of a purr and a steady flick of the tail were his only response. His glazed eyes, once green were dark with a slim corona of blue, but seemed to focus briefly and I think he remembered me and enjoyed the slow and steady stroke of my hand. But the time came to leave, and later last night, Anna and Hector welcomed the pet Hospice people who came to end his pain and put him gently and quietly to sleep.

His sweet presence will be missed by many in the neighborhood, but most acutely by Anna and Hector. Goodnight, sweet Prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Phase 3 – Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo

Queensbury Theatre’s 2017 Playwrighting Competition winner, Girls Who Sing in the Choir, by Gwen Flager, has a new name! Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo will be the title going forward, and hopefully in print. Along with the new title, we have a new ending for the play.  Based on the developmental readings and feedback from myself, cast members and audience talk backs, Gwen has reworked the ending in a way that I believe all will find more satisfying and hopeful.

Those of you who have followed my previous posts about the play development project I’m working on at Queensbury will be happy to hear that we have started rehearsals for the full production. There have been a couple of new additions to the cast. We are excited to welcome Susan Shofner and Jennifer Doctorovich who replace two cast members from the developmental readings. Both are Actors Equity Association members.

Blocking rehearsals began last week and the new cast members and new groundplan for the set encouraged me to experiment a bit with the flow. Characters are evolving and being more clearly defined and the relationships are being plumbed to a new level. The general feeling among the cast is one of excitement to be working so closely with the playwright, who is almost instantly responsive to our questions and suggestions. It’s evolving as a true collaboration.

The play tracks a group of former sorority sisters as they sponsor and plan an LGBT prom for gay students at the local high school. In the process, old secrets, lies, attractions, and betrayals are revealed in often hilarious and alternately painful ways. An old love is rekindled, friendships are tested, and at least one relationship will be destroyed.

This full production, the result of an eight-month process, will preview to the press and friends on Thursday 7/12/18, open on Friday 7/13/18, and perform Thursdays through Sundays at Queensbury Theatre, 12777 Queensbury Lane, Houston, Texas 77024. It performs through 7/22, with an Industry Night on Monday 7/16/18.  For dates and times and to buy tickets, call the box office at 713-467-4497 ext 1, or go online to:  https://www.queensburytheatre.org/girlswhosinginthechoir

Industry rates are available to all working theater professionals if you ask. Otherwise, use Promo Code: PRIDE for discounted tickets.

Hope to see you there.

“There You Are” Premiers at OutFest in LA

There You Are, will be world-premiering at Outfest in Los Angeles this July!

As many of you may remember, I was part of a wonderful short film project back in January of this year.  Just received word from our illustrious director, Lisa Donato, that “There You Are” has been accepted to premiere at Los Angeles’ OutFest in July.

“There You Are” is the story of a transgender woman (Jessica/Justin played by Jenn Richards), in a loving relationship with another woman, who is called home by her conservative and judgmental mother because her maternal grandmother is dying. She makes the effort to meet her mother’s expectations of a ‘son’ and to deal with the grief and tragedy of loss in a high-stress and deeply emotional situation. I was blessed to be cast as the repressive mother and had a wonderful experience shooting this short film with a very talented cast and crew.

If any of you will be in Los Angeles in July, here is the link to the schedule.

Screening Dates/Times:

“Cleo” at Alley Theatre

Last Saturday, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Alley Theatre’s World Premiere of Cleo, by Austin writer Lawrence Wright.

I’m a subscriber, but I don’t normally schedule my tickets for Saturday. So I was delightfully surprised to find I had been given me a seat dead center in the Hubbard Theatre. Standing to allow people through to sit next to me, I realized they were talking to a couple in front of us, which turned out to be Lawrence Wright and his wife.

A Pulitzer-Prize winning author, he is also a screenwriter, television producer, and sometimes playwright. His six previous plays all have a historical/political bent and have been produced by Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.; the Old Globe in San Diego; off-Broadway and  the Public Theater in New York; and as far away as the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv.

It is tempting to think of Cleo as something completely outside his usual subject-matter, which often deals with the Middle East. But the play is about a real-life historic and very scandalous love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton during the filming of Joseph Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra, a hugely expensive movie about the most famous Egyptian queen of all time. The professional, political, and sexual wrangling on and off screen documented in the play is not that different from the politics of world ideologies.

I am old enough to remember some of the scandalous headlines that my mother tried to shield me from, while gorging on the details herself. I am an avid movie fan, currently teaching Film Appreciation classes. I also know enough about the body of work between Taylor, Burton and Rex Harrison, and Liz’s personal tragedies and many marriages to have had a preconceived notion of what the play was about. I must say, I was delightfully validated and surprised.

Wright has taken the stuff of tabloids and woven in the tragic death of Liz’s great love Mike Todd, her subsequent co-opting of her friend Debbie Reynolds’ husband Eddie Fisher, and her sometimes pathetic need for validation as a serious actress, to paint a vivid and riveting picture of a film icon we all think we know. We meet her after these events and as she sets out on arguably the most ambitious film of her career, supported by the overly protective Fisher and Joe Mankiewicz, the gentle and caring director.  For Mankiewicz, this is the grandest project of his illustrious career (only a few years after being blacklisted in Hollywood) and he must juggle not only the needs of his three very different stars, but Fisher’s as well.

Against the politics of a dying studio system, a failing marriage, and an apocalyptic sexual attraction, Wright (under the brilliant direction of Bob Balaban) manages to give us a truly human and heartbreaking tale of two beautifully talented and self-destructive people.

Liz, a bona fide star since she was child, is terrified to be playing opposite two legitimate actors: Rex Harrison, the pompous aging film star, and Richard Burton the scrappy, alcoholic Welshman.  She fully expects to be taken to school by these celebrated stage actors. Instead, she becomes the object of a ridiculous bet based on sexual conquest. The fact that Harrison is condescendingly oblivious to how ridiculous his aspirations are makes him comic relief.

Three major supporting characters bring warmth and humor to the play. Mark Capri plays Harrison with all the dignity and ego of an aging icon, who cannot see that his character of Caesar is not the star of the film. Brian Dykstra, as Joe Mankiewicz, is a teddy bear of a man, balancing all these egos and pyrotechnics with a humanity that is reaffirming. Adam Gibbs plays Eddie Fisher, not as the smooth and fashionable crooner we remember from photos and album covers, but as a swaggering street-wise Rat Pack wannabe. Some of that personae is warranted from the often pandering and constantly needy character Wright has written. But no effort is made to make Gibbs look or speak like Fisher. It is only when he starts to sing (and sell) some of Fisher’s ballads that we finally understand why he was the inevitable casting choice from the Alley Company.

Lisa Birnbaum seems to be channeling Taylor on the stage. Make-up and costumes play their part, but she genuinely looks and behaves like Liz Taylor, alternately sniveling and needy, and then the diva star. Her postures and hand gestures are not imitations of Liz, but the embodiment. Her voice captures the same lilt and inflections that made Liz distinctive, without the irritating tendency toward shrillness. Her performance rings so true, that after the first few scenes I stopped thinking of her as anyone but Liz.

Richard Short plays Richard Burton. We see a dissipated, raunchy, alcoholic street kid who has parlayed his very real acting talent into a way to live a wanton and careless life. Forever straying from his long-suffering wife, but firm in the belief that she will never leave him for his philandering. What Wright makes clear in the text is that Burton lusts for Liz, like any other conquest, but never intends to fall victim to that passion. What we fail to get from Short’s portrayal of Richard Burton is the tragic waste of a brilliant actor’s gifts and his self-loathing that drives him to try and destroy everything good in himself and in this new and fragile relationship. We get a lusty, gorgeous hunk, but not the brilliant Shakespearean actor. He plays the doomed relationship and not the character traits that will make it so.

In their scenes together, Short and Birnbaum bring real fire and passion to the stage. The difference between their performances can be summed up in one observation. Birnbaum is always generous in her playing, and not afraid to turn her back to the audience and let the other actor be the focus. In the pivotal climactic scene near the end when Liz is preparing to leave with her alternately rejected and retrieved husband Fisher, she is blocked to spend much of the scene on steps with her back to us. This is Short’s scene, where he must break through the barriers and try to make her understand, and finally admit that he loves her, very much against his will. He should be trying to make her turn around and look at him. Instead, he faces downstage toward the audience doing what I call ‘TV acting’. It is possible that director Bob Balaban blocked the scene this way. But considering the effectiveness of the visual pictures throughout, I find that hard to believe. It felt more like an actor trying to get as much mileage as possible out of his big scene.

Nevertheless, this is a rousing success and no doubt meant for greater glory in New York. I congratulated the glowing Mr. Wright, who very kindly used his own pen to sign my program.

 

 

Cindy Crawford and Christabel

 

My cats wake me up at 5:30 every morning.  I suppose that’s partly my fault, but I don’t know how.

They became my alarm clock some years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t turn them off on weekends or use their noses as a snooze button.

It starts with Cindy Crawford, my white and black calico with the beauty mark beside her mouth. She meanders over the contours of my body to then circle and coil herself into the nook between my chin and shoulder. Her hot breath alternating with my own, she revs that engine in her throat and chest that passes for a purr. Then she starts to knead my flesh with her front (un-declawed) paws. Sometimes the tiny pricks of pain are bearable and elicit only a slight groan from my befogged brain and throat. Other times, after she has sharpened them on everything from the backyard fence to the nineteenth-century Amish sideboard, they pierce my epidermis like needles into balloons, causing me to surge to one side of the bed, sleepily flinging her across the room.

But when we synchronize our throaty exhalations and become the ying and yang of pur/snoring, it is a peaceful and lovely world.

About this time, Christabel, the elder of my two cats, tobogans onto the bed (often from the peak of a piece of furniture) and nestles on my back slope, causing me to contort into a question mark. When at last the position is unsustainable and I slip the bonds of their embrace onto my side, then Christabel walks the ridgeline of my slightly bent legs and establishes a campsite at the summit of my hip. There she will sit, staring at me with her laser-like obsidian glare until at last it pierces my brain. If, at length, I roll onto my back, it is slowly so that she can navigate the avalanche of my hip and abdomen to surmount and nestle between the mounds of my breasts. From that valley she continues to peer at me.

If I manage to keep my eyes closed through all this, Christabel extends her paw to just above my chin or nose and ever so delicately pokes me with one claw. After a couple of minutes of this affectionate prodding, my eyes at last come open and I glance toward the clock to see that it is exactly 5:30.

I struggle into a sitting position as they slalom down the hall to lead the parade toward the finish line in the kitchen. Once I’ve stumbled into the den and turned on the kitchen light, both cats take their positions on their respective area rugs and patiently wait to be rewarded. Christabel emitting a sharp and somewhat discordant feline version of “Well?” every two seconds until I have at length rinsed their dishes, paper-toweled them dry, spooned out exactly half a can of fancy moist cat food into each, and bestowed it directly in front of one then the other.

As they begin to delicately partake of their gourmet feast, I stumble once again to my disheveled bed and fling myself onto the mattress and beneath the comforter for two hours of the deepest sleep that I’ve probably gotten all night.

I guess, in a way, their breakfast is the snooze button. Because just about 7:20, we start the whole process all over again, except they don’t get fed and I do end up in the shower.

Christabel was the ugly kitten sibling of Maud, a pale grey ball of fluff that was my one true love. They were the last of a litter and I felt I could not take one without the other. I brought both home the December after I bought my first house.

Maud was asthmatic and like a sickly child became my focus and my favorite. While she lived, she was sole beneficiary of my queen-sized bed. Even when Cindy arrived a year later, a much bigger and more adventurous cat, she deferred to Maud. I still hear her perfectly pitched and harmonious purr in my dreams. She disappeared without a trace in 2012. I cried almost as much and as long over her loss as I did when my mother died two years later.

It was only after she had been gone for some time and Christabel and I had mourned deeply and separately that she and Cindy began to take turns trying to comfort me. It has evolved into a loving communal, almost sensual co-dependence of living beings in a shared space.

We have aged together and settled into our little rituals and loving patterns much as any trio of friends might. They are now sixteen and fifteen years old. The question becomes, what shall I do to fill the hollow formed by their little bodies, when they too are gone.