Tag Archives: theatre

Mortification

The dictionary has three definitions for mortify. Interestingly, the first and most common is ‘to cause to experience shame, humiliation, or wounded pride.’ The second harkens back to the aesthetes and stoics who mortified their appetites through denial and austerity. Thirdly, and perhaps most tellingly, ‘to cause (a bodily part) to die, as by gangrene’.

Obviously, shame is more widely recognized than self-denial. But both definitions derive from the idea of ‘the little death’.

Well, I am seriously mortified, in every sense of the word at the moment.

Because I seem to always overbook myself in March and April, I invariably sit down to  the arduous task of sifting through statements, receipts, checkbooks, etc. in August and September to prepare my taxes. My accountant will take the worksheets I give him up until three weeks before the deadline. This year, I managed to push that off until the very last minute. A slight embarrassment. So I decided to be disciplined and closet myself in the guest bedroom and push through the task this last weekend. I skipped meals, but got almost all of it done. Unfortunately, I became so focused I forgot an important appointment, for an audition. Not me auditioning, but one I was holding for a replacement for one of the roles in Miss Bennett.

My cast members, the auditionees, and the Artistic Director showed up–but not me. People tried to call, but I was ignoring phones, whether deliberately or not. So Becky Udden, ever resourceful woman that she is, taped the auditions rather than waste everyone else’s time.

She finally reached me by text later when I had a late dinner cooking and I sat down to check my class email. The cell phone was charging beside my computer, and so I saw it light up and was mystified when she asked, “Are you okay?”

Bless her heart, she was probably passed annoyed and angry and had arrived at considering sending the police to my house to check on me. So I’m sure my blithe response, “Sure, why?” was not the right note to hit. Nevertheless, she seemed genuinely relieved to find me alive. She may have reconsidered that later.

Once I realized the enormity of my faux pas, I could only respond. “I am mortified.” It seems appropriate in retrospect, as one of the more archaic meanings is to self-flagelate, or quite literally to beat yourself up.

My most sincere apologies to all those involved in my missed appointment. My only excuse is seven straight hours of peering at numbers will shrivel anyone’s brain. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa!

I will review the tapes with Becky and try to come to a timely decision without further inconveniencing anyone.

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

Sold Out Opening Night

It’s great to be able to report that Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo was sold out for Friday’s opening night performance. Granted it was somewhat packed with friends and fans of playwright Gwen Flager, but it was gratifying.

There was a small ‘do’ at Brio before the show, where I met dozens of Gwen’s friends who had traveled from Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and as far away as Delaware and Alaska for the event.

The performance itself was high-energy and fed off the love and laughter generated from the audience. This was a great house, and they not only got all the jokes, they probably knew the origin of some of them. A number of people were folks who have followed the development of this play from its first reading several years ago. Many spoke to me after the performance who were gratified at how far the play had come and how wonderful it was for Gwen to see the play be fully realized. Gwen herself was glowing.

After a small gathering with the cast after, fueled by more good will and a happy staff, I went home and collapsed into bed. It’s been a gratifying and exciting process. But the play belongs to the cast now. Hope it is a wonderful ride.

Reservations for the rest of the weekend are filling up, with Saturday virtually sold out, Sunday matinee is your best bet for this weekend. But there is next weekend. Get your tickets ASAP. Go to:

https://www.queensburytheatre.org/shakintheblueflamingo

Let me know how you liked it.

Claire HP

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.

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.

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 –

http://www.houstonpress.com/arts/preview-miss-bennett-christmas-at-pemberley-at-main-street-theater-9885242

 

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.”