Tag Archives: Main Street Theater

From “Private Lives” rehearsal

With a jewel of a play like Noël Coward’s Private Lives, rehearsal is a bit like faceting a diamond.  The gem is there in the rough, each crystal trying to gleam from under layers of physical choices, extraneous movements, vocal generalities, and the mysteries of a time gone by. But with a talented professional cast such as mine, it is a labor of love.

As actors, we may be limited by our understanding of the time and setting of the play. That is why, I encouraged my cast to watch several films from the late 1920s and early 1930s. Bringing Up Baby and The Thin Man are both American films, but they capture the bright brittle repartee and some of the playfulness of this style of comedy. I also encouraged my cast to watch Downton Abbey, which is currently (and conveniently) being reprised on public television.

For a better understanding of the British upper class tradition of the ‘house party’ and the ‘grand tour’ there are a variety of novels and short stories by contemporary authors such as E.M. Forster. Personally, I recommend checking out Rhys Bowen’s upscale period cozy mystery series “Her Royal Spyness.” The books are set in the 1930s, featuring am impoverished, aristocratic young lady moving in the circles of royalty and the wealthy in England and on the continent. They are delightfully funny, easy to read, and very well researched.

My cast is working hard on their Standard British dialects and looking at portraits to better understand the fashion, demeanor, and mannerisms of the upper classes, and trying to cram what they’ve learned into their vocal and physical representation of Coward’s brilliant words. But, in the midst of rehearsal I like to pause to ask a question or pose a scenario, so we don’t become all style and no content.

“How curious would you be about your new spouse’s previous marriage? Is it idle curiosity or self-preservation?”

“What would it feel like to suddenly meet the love of your life again, years after a vicious and vindictive divorce? What kind of courage or Narcissism would it take to flee from a new relationship with your acknowledged soul mate?”

“How would you react to discovering that your new spouse has absconded with an old flame at the beginning of your honeymoon? How vulnerable would you feel, abandoned in a foreign country? While tracking down your missing mates, would the ordeal bring you close to the other person’s spouse? Or would you blame them for not controlling their partner?”

Watching a cast of extremely talented actors explore such questions and incorporate the new knowledge physically and emotionally into the life of the characters they are building is exciting. I find it enormously satisfying to be able to facilitate that kind of discovery and be a small part of deepening the characterization and the life of the play.

I hope you will join us when we bring this wonderful script to life in its latest incarnation at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Boulevard, Houston, TX.

For show times and ticket information, please check out Main Street Theater’s website www://mainstreettheater.com or call the box office at 713-524-6706.

Miss Bennet Reprise

As many of you know, I directed Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley last year at Main Street Theater.  It was an unequivocal success, despite tepid enthusiasm from the new Houston Chronicle reviewer. We sold out the run and the extension. Such was the response, and the disappointment from some people who were turned away, that we are remounting it for the holiday season again this year. It opens on Friday after Thanksgiving.

I’m delighted to announce that all but one of our original cast is returning, including Chaney Moore, Brock Hatton, Laura Kaldis, Heidi Hinkel, Blake Weir, Skyler Sinclair, and Lyndsay Ehrhardt. Alas, Spencer Plachy, who played Darcy last year has been cast as Scar in the national tour of Lion King. But we are very fortunate to have Alan Brincks taking his place. The cast is rounded out by two new interns from Sam Houston State University, Lyndsay Craven and Tyler Mahler.

We have the same fabulous design team and the look and feel of the show will be as lovely as it was last year.

To learn more, and hopefully secure your tickets in advance, go to the Main Street Theater’s web link:

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
Look forward to seeing you all there.
Claire Hart-Palumbo

Theater 2018

This past twelve months has been very exciting, theater-wise. Last fall I directed the Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon play Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. It was a great success with Main Street Theater audiences, selling out the original run and the extension.

I directed several readings, including a play by Arthur Smiley, The Lady Demands Satisfaction, for Wordsmyth and Christopher Hampton’s translation of Florian Zeller’s The Father for Luciole International Theatre. Clara Ploux is pursuing the rights for a full production in the 2018-2019 season.

For eight months I worked intermittently with Gwen Flager and Queensbury Theatre on her award winning play Girls Who Sing in the Choir, which became Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo. We began with a public reading where Gwen and I worked with a professional cast of my choosing to give voice to the characters. The feedback she received from me, the cast, and the audience was valuable in her rewrite process. Then in February of this year, we rehearsed for a week to put the play on its feet and did a ‘staged reading’ of the play with scripts in hand. We began to discover the rhythm and movement of the play. Our public reading was sold out, with people being turned away. That experience helped Gwen to hone the shape of the play and rewrite the ending. In June we went into full rehearsal and opened in July to several sold out houses. While the overall attendance did not warrant an extension, it was generally considered a great success by everyone who participated.

My involvement with Wordsmyth led me to volunteer to usher and help support the Texas Playwright’s Festival of readings by Wordsmyth at Stages. Three plays get a public reading, a brief chance for rewrites and a second reading over the course of a weekend.

Later this year, I go into rehearsal at MST for the remounting of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. The majority of my original cast have again signed on for that lovely holiday play. We get to play together once again!

Until then, I’m open to suggestions.

Claire HP

Miss Bennet Will Rise Again!

As many of you know, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley was a joy to work on, and I was justifiably proud of the product.  Most of the magazines and family-friendly publications that covered it have been glowing in their reports.  Unfortunately, the two major papers in town were not as liberal in their praise. [Everett Evans, why oh why did you retire?] But the patrons won out. Suffice it to say that there was a firestorm on Facebook about the reviews and the very different response of our loyal audience and new patrons brought to MST for the first time. I tried to stay out of it.

The run has been very successful, with sold out previews and a near capacity opening weekend. Subsequently, word-of-mouth was so good that the run quickly began to sell out. So performances were added. This week before Christmas has several additional performances, which sold out almost immediately.

But the best news reached me at the MST Christmas party.  Apparently, Rebecca Udden, MST’s Artistic Director tried to come back to see the show mid-run and could not get in, because even the house seats had been sold. It was the feather that finally pushed her to commit to reviving the show next year.

When we close this week-end, Ryan McGettigan’s lovely set will not be demolished. Instead, it will be dismantled and preserved as much as possible so that we can reuse the glorious window unit next year.

The cast is justifiably over-the-moon, as they have been told that they will all be invited to reprise their roles next year. Barring anyone being cast in a Broadway show, I think we will all be working together again in 2018.

It just goes to show you that Jane Austen can even conquer a mediocre review. Perhaps, they will send someone more in touch with the Houston audience next year.

Miss Bennet Opens at MST

Well, the show is open and I’m feeling withdrawal pains.

We had four virtually sold-out previews and an extra rehearsal to adjust the timing and secure the laughs in the final show. Then on Saturday, November 11, 2017 we opened to a lively sell-out audience. People on the waiting list got in because a few regular subscribers were unable to use their tickets.

Energy was high and responses were quick. That almost telekinetic connection between audience and performers was especially evident.  There were obvious Jane Austen fans in the crowd who chortled at every inside joke. At one especially sweet moment, there was an audible sigh from a group in the audience. That response and energy only fed the sharpness of the performances.

Three reviewers have now seen the show. Two reviews have been published and we expect one from the Houston Chronicle shortly.

The Houston Press gave a generally favorable, if slightly tepid review. The main objection being that like Jane Austen’s books and most romantic comedies the ending is a bit predictable. The girl gets the boy. Spoiler alert! That’s what we want.

http://www.houstonpress.com/arts/review-miss-bennet-christmas-at-pemberley-at-main-street-theater-9956888

On the other hand, Doni Wilson of Houstonia magazine loved the show.

https://www.houstoniamag.com/articles/2017/11/13/main-street-theater-jane-austen-pride-prejudice-christmas-at-pemberley-review

We will let the ticket-buying public decide. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this could become a perennial favorite for Main Street Theater audiences.

The show runs through mid-December, so contact MST for tickets online at mainstreettheater.com.  Or call the box office at 713-524-6706.

 

Miss Bennet, Week 4-First Preview

This last week has been leading up to our first preview of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley and the introduction of audience to the recipe. It is that ingredient, like yeast, that will make our work ‘rise’, and elevate the rehearsal process to live theatre.

The set is receiving its final touch ups, we are still waiting for one chair that is currently starring in a production at another theater. Props are being adjusted and finalized. Decisions must be made about the exact amount of cranberry juice for color in the ginger ale punch bowl and how much light to throw on the Christmas tree without upstaging the actors. Do we use the incidental music to transition us from one scene to another, and does it end when the lights come up or fade as the actors enter? As the director, I am consulted and involved in all these decisions and processes.

But my primary focus is on the actors and their journey to bring these characters to life. The cast is as widely different in acting and work styles as the characters are different.  One actor is very free and able to commit to even extreme and presentational-performance styles. Another found the core of the character early on but is still trying to find the exact vocal balance. Still another actor must understand the psychological ramifications of every single gesture and inflection to the point of being crazy-making. Some seek me out for private conversations to rationalize a piece of blocking I’ve given. Others seem almost jealous to receive this information second-hand, so I have to reprise the conversation all over again. My detailed notes after each rehearsal are generally taken with eager and good humor, while occasionally there seems resistance to changing anything without extensive discussion. Once in a while, I have to remind a cast member that I’m the one sitting in the audience and seeing the stage picture, and I’m the one whose responsibility it is to fulfill the vision of the play, not just his or her character.

While highly professional, this is a very young cast. I find their willingness to be creative and collaborative exciting. But their equal eagerness to challenge every decision and offer their own insights as to what the play should be, sometimes takes valuable time out of the rehearsal process. A more mature actor would consider it impertinence. But then, I would not have the benefit of the occasional insight that leads to a solution. It is a balancing act.

Sunday marked our first preview. It was an almost full house, which is an advantage because it frees people to laugh. The first audience is so important to the process. It is during previews that we discover whether the humor is working. Do we need to take an extra beat before the next line so as not to ‘kill’ the laugh? Are there lines we forgot might be funny and so the laughter takes us by surprise? Even more gratifying is to discover you have actual Jane Austen fans in the audience who get the inside jokes from Pride and Prejudice. Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have skillfully inserted such references without drawing attention to them.

During the preview, I sat with Artistic Director, Becky Udden, and Carrie Cavins, my lighting designer.

It was exciting to see the eager and attentive faces of our somewhat older audience members. The first preview invariably includes long-time patrons and senior citizens. Any concerns I had about volume of the actors were allayed quickly. Pacing seemed very good, but a few scenes seemed a trifle slow to me. A sign that the actors are still tentative about what they are doing. While pleased with the audience response, I saw all the little things that needed to be fixed.

Carrie, like me, saw only the places where the light was uneven, or an actor was standing just out of light. She can only do so much if the actor cannot feel the light on his/her face and seek it out.

Becky on the other hand, seemed delighted with the show and recognized that any small imperfections can be fixed this week in rehearsal and previews.

Audience response and the buzz in the lobby were very good.  I had a few interesting conversations with patrons.  Later, Shannon Emerick forwarded our first email response from an a longtime Rice University staffer in the audience, who wrote, “It was an absolute delight. Terrific way to begin the holiday season. Helen”

We’re off to a terrific start. The rest is in the details. Next rehearsal on Tuesday. Then three more previews before opening night.