Tag Archives: theatre

First Preview for MST’s “Private Lives”

Sunday, July 14, 2019 was our first preview for Private Lives. Sunday matinees are their own animal, and our loyal subscription base comes out in full force for previews. The lobby was abuzz with a sold out crowd. There are always familiar faces, and this time was no different.

I talked to a couple of people who had attended our first read through and were excited to see what we’d done with the show. Several people asked after one or the other of my actors. One charming lady said, “We always know we’re in good hands when you direct.” Very re-affirming and comforting to know that some audience members actually do pay attention to who directs and designs a show.

As noted before, our fearless leader, Becky Udden was backstage doing some last minute tweaks to garments she’d pulled when our costumer failed to deliver everything promised. Luckily, her character only appears in Act III, so she had two acts to do whatever needed to be done. But in the end, all actors were appropriately clothed and ready to perform.

And they did just that.  The show went very well, and though I took a few notes, most were minor technical concerns.

First preview audiences are our guinea pigs, if you will pardon the expression. Most are long time subscribers who have been drawn to the less expensive ticket prices for our three previews. They know our theater and what we do and are an enthusiastic audience. But they are the litmus test as to whether our timing is on point or if we are missing our laughs for one reason or another. After each preview, I continue to give notes, to try to adjust for laughs we didn’t expect and capture ones that we expected but did not get, or only got a tepid response.

After the show, the buzz in the lobby was full of compliments and shared laughs over favorite moments. It was reassuring to know that this very sympathetic audience was charmed by the performances and Coward’s language. It will build the confidence of my cast and lead to even stronger and more solid performances. We have a week to burnish the gold in this lovely play before our gala opening on Saturday, July 20th.

10 of 12 rehearsal for Private Lives

If you are in the theater, you know what a “10 of 12” is. For those who are fans of theater, but not practitioners, it is one very long day allowed by Actors Equity and the other trades, when all the designers, cast, crew, and director try to work through adding the technical aspects of the show. We work ten hours of a twelve hour span.

This Sunday we started at 10 am with a ‘paper tech’, where the stage manager (Julie Pare), lighting designer (Eric Marsh), sound designer (Yezzmine Zepeda) and sometimes the set designer (Dylan Marks) collaborate on the cues for light, sound, and special effects. Both designers had previously built their individual plots in their respective computers, so it was a melding of the two into the stage manager’s call sheet. The company manager, tech director, and senior tech joined us. I always choose to be there, but the director is really extraneous at this point if communication has been good throughout the process. Because Private Lives is not a particularly tech heavy show, (aside from props) we were able to finish in a little over an hour.

Actors arrived at 11:00 am for what should have been a costume dress parade, where I get to see the costumes under light and work with the costumer to make notes on what needs to be adjusted, completed, or added. Our costumer was not quite ready and begged an extension, so I spent an hour giving actor notes from the last two rehearsals. Crew members and interns were also called for 11, and the stage manager worked with our newly assembled stage crew to walk through the major set turnover between Acts I and II and the prop changes between Acts II and III.

I assigned my iPad to my directing intern Isabelle Rogers, who played photographer during the whole long day.

By 12 noon, we were able to take a quick break and begin tech rehearsal. Often this is when we use the actors as props and just move from cue to cue rather than actually playing the whole scene. It’s beneficial to the technical staff  but doesn’t help the actors very much. But because the lighting cues are generally long and slow progressions of light and the sound cues are very specific in timing, we were able to work through a run of the entire play, including set turnovers by 4:00 pm, when our dinner break was scheduled.

Some of the crew chose to have a pot luck/take out picnic in the green room. A number of us walked over to a little French crepe restaurant in the Village and spent our break together, then wandered back to the theater at our leisure.  At 6:00 pm, we started all over again from the top of the show. During the second run, we stopped only occasionally to work out a rigging problem that we had discussed, to work business with a break-away prop, or to adjust the actors positions to be better lit, etc. During the act breaks I consulted with the prop master about a punch list of final props that are still outstanding and fabrics for reupholstering the furniture.

We finished a little after 9 pm. Light and sound designers were able to leave, knowing my technical notes would come to them from my stage manager. The set designer and shop crew worked to resolve a few issues and the running crew began to organize the back stage storage of furniture and props while I gave actor notes. When I finished shortly after 10 pm, we had almost an hour in our scheduled 10 of 12 rehearsal to work or rework some scenes, but I chose to let everyone go home a little early, knowing the set designer was waiting to continue painting the floor and we would be sharper and more creative in our solutions after some rest.

All in all it was a very successful tech. But it does bring home how close we are to opening the show.  Our first preview audience will join in the fun next Sunday, July 14 at 3:00. Hope you will consider joining us.

For more information and to buy tickets call 713-524-6706 or go online to www.mainstreettheater.com

 

Revisiting “Private Lives”

As many of you know, Noël Coward has been something of a specialty for me over the last twenty years. This summer will mark an even dozen productions of Coward plays that I’ve been involved with over my career.  Private Lives is perhaps my very favorite play of all. I played Sybil in my very first paid summer stock production, and again in my second show I appeared in here in Houston.  I was lucky enough to direct a brilliant cast in a Main Street Theater production in 2008.  Now, eleven years later I get to direct it once again.

We secured our wonderful cast months ago, including Elizabeth Marshall Black as Amanda, Alan Brincks as Elyot, Skylar Sinclair as Sibyl, Joel Grothe as Victor, and our own Artistic Director Rebecca Green Udden as Louise the maid. When we started rehearsals this week with a Part of the Art first read-through in front of our MST die hard fans, it was my first chance to hear this cast say those brilliantly bright, brittle, and witty words. I’m more excited than ever to be returning to this jewel of a play.

Rehearsals Tuesday through Thursday were spent rough blocking and working on refining character choices that the cast had made in preparation for rehearsal.  Today, we went back to work the scenes and moments of Act I.  I was thrilled with the progress we made today. But when on our way out of the theater at the end of a long Saturday, my stage manager Julie Paré said, “I love our cast,” I knew it was not just my own love  of the script. The show is already coming together. Which is great, because two and a half weeks is a very short time to put together a play of this complexity, especially a comedy.

French playwright Moliere’s last words reportedly were “Tragedy is easy. Comedy is hard.” I couldn’t agree more.  Comedy is all about the timing.  The placement of a breath can make or break a sure fire laugh line. A muddy gesture can weaken a moment. A well timed arching of an eyebrow can bring the house down. All this is true of any comedy, but it is more intensely true of a comedy of manners and high style, like Coward.

It promises to be a roller coaster ride, but I’m thrilled to be in the front seat, and hope to see you all in the theater seats when we start previews on July 14, or after we open on July 20, 2019. Come be part of our art!

For information on show times and tickets, call 713-524-6706, or visit www.mainstreettheater.com.

 

 

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.