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Posts Tagged ‘community’

Bus Stop: Next Stop, Livermore! Part II

In Theatre on February 18, 2014 at 10:25 am

[As mentioned in my previous post, this is a portion of something I originally wrote in another time and place. I share it here for reasons previously stated; if you haven’t read Part I, that’s where you should begin.]

First order of business: contracts! Not something many community theatres are good at, I’m giving Role Players the benefit of the doubt: contracts are on the table, and (we’re bordering on fantasy here) Role Players is willing to reimburse all gas and travel expenditures to and from Livermore for the duration of remount rehearsals, tech and performance. (Even if they were not willing to do that, in my experience many if not most non-AEA actors in the Bay Area would agree to a remount of this nature; assuming they still like the show and their castmates, of course, there’s something alluring in the shoddy glamour of a community theatre tour.)

So: we’ve got the actors and the director signing contracts. Things are looking good. It’s unrealistically rosy. Which invites the Jinx. This is what happens when things seem to be going swimmingly in theatre: someone will invariably predict success. The Jinx, being alive and well, rears its ugly head and swoops into the building, scattering seeds of doubt, distress, jealousy and betrayal whithersoever it may. Whether it’s an actual force of nature or just chinks in the armor of human nature, the Jinx is always there. Lurking.

So let’s watch where the seeds take root: will it be the supporting actress who thinks she could do it better than the lead? Will it be the chorus boy who has a jealous crush on the male ingénue and wants said ingénue’s hot girlfriend out of the show? Will it be the director who so longs for the lips of this or that actor, s/he is willing to risk the entire production by re-casting that actor in the lead, in hopes of some flustered, dusty fellatio in a props closet or the parking lot of Wal-Mart after the preview performance? (Understand that these are generic instances and do not apply directly to the cast of Bus Stop, thanks.)

The Jinx will come to fruition in one of two ways. The first, if we’re lucky, is that an actor will have an unpleasant revelation while he’s looking at the contract. Actors being actors, however, it’s more likely that he will come to his realization the night before the first rehearsal in the new space. He won’t call the director, but he will leave ten minutes earlier than usual to try to catch the director outside the theatre, break the bad news, and still have time to make a 7:30 movie with a girlfriend. The bad news is this: the male lead cannot do the show. Whatever his reasons — and they could be anything but he will devise something dire and serious — he is completely unable to go any further with the project.

This prompts two immediate questions from the director: a) if it’s so fucking serious, how could you not have known about it before now?!; and b) what the fuck is wrong with your brain you fucking asshole, how could you do this to me?

If the actor is very clever, he will devise something that has at its heart a kernel of truth, to which he can cling with complete sincerity. He will also make it something he could not possibly have known about before that very day. The director will buy it. If the actor is very good, he will use his natural alarm and anxiety in the situation to fuel honest tears, which will stun the director. Having had to struggle to get that kind of performance during rehearsals, the director will swallow the actor’s story hook, line, sinker and dinghy.

The actor departs, promising to keep in touch. The director marshals his resources, adjusts the strap on his used Kenneth Cole attaché case and marches courageously into the theatre to break the news. People are shocked. The female lead immediately dials her now-former opposite, leaving a whispered an impassioned inquiry via voice mail. As she is doing this, the director is telling the cast why the actor cannot do the show; surprisingly, even this old war-horse with over a decade of community theatre and semi-professional regional theatre is moved to tears. Briefly. It is a moment that the female lead will recall decades later in the bar at O’Flaherty’s, drawing deep on a Parliament and staring off into the middle distance, “I heard he moved to New York, that’s actually why I came. I never expected to get work. Funny how that happens. Little fucker never called any of us again. Far as I know, he’s fat and married in Suburbia. At least I am in New York.

Back to the present: one actor dropping out sends shockwaves through the cast. Those who considered it begin to reevaluate. The female lead is only here because he was going to do the show. Her parents were coming down from Oregon to sort of officially meet him but she made her mother promise not to freak Dad out. Or smile at him with big eyes and teeth that say marry my daughter, marry my daughter, you’re the first straight actor she’s ever liked and the last guy was a meth-head who hit her. A lot.

The production is in danger of breaking down here. Realistically, it probably would. In Edward’s Imaginary Theatre of Yes!, however, the producer steps in with bold and encouraging words: “You are all under contract. That actor will have me to reckon with and his reputation will suffer. We will find a replacement. You are all wonderful, truly the most amazing and talented cast I have ever seen in my life. This show will be a complete success no matter what. I feel it in my bones. Now, I want you all to work very hard today. It’s going to be tough, but I know that together, we can do it. I will find you a new lead. Hooray!”

Actors are generally desperate people. This rousing speech brings them to their feet, applauding and cheering. Rehearsal gets off to an unnaturally cheery start, with the director working all scenes in which the male lead is not an immediate part; the Stage Manager reads the lead’s lines from the second row, completely monotone. It’s a superb performance by all involved.

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Bus Stop: Next Stop, Livermore! Part I

In Theatre on February 16, 2014 at 3:46 am

[Originally posted on my other blog, this post is one of several in which I chronicle the various rinky-dink aspects of American Theatre, from the very small community endeavors to the opulence of major Broadway productions. My theory is that, with only a few rare exceptions, there is always some aspect of every production — from Hamlet to Shrek the Musical — which is rinky-dink. If it’s not a problem with the writing, there’s a disconnect between Director, Designers, Management or Audience. It could be anything from the Producer pressuring the director to cast her daughter in the lead, to just plain terrible costumes. It delights me to tell you the truth about these things, because apparently I’m the only one who sees them. It’s equal parts therapeutic and just plain catty. I make no apologies. If you think your feelings might be hurt, fuck off in advance.]

On January 24, 2008 I heard Susan Steinberg of the Livermore Independent ask Dana Anderson (director of Bus Stop at Role Players Ensemble in Danville) if it would be possible to move Bus Stop to the new Bankhead Theatre in Livermore after it closes its Danville run. That’s how much she loves this production. Her review in the Independent (check archives for 1/24/08 here) is further proof of her love; sadly, she smothers the show with affection. The result is a plot and character play-by-play, effectively spoiling all the highlights for future audiences. I realize that many community papers review community theatre this way. I also realize that dogs lick their own asses. Neither of these truths makes me want to kiss the parties involved.

What’s interesting here is the question of moving the show to the Bankhead. The first thing it tells us is how little is known of theatre by nice ladies who write synopses for local papers. Perhaps Steinberg knows more: is there a financial trapdoor one can use to avoid the $2,000.00-per-night price tag that comes with doing a show at the Bankhead? I doubt it, but I will inquire.

I further doubt that Role Players Ensemble of Danville will be much interested in transferring their show to Livermore. A reliable source, who for professional and personal reasons chooses to remain anonymous, tells me that the Board of Role Players is very much interested in proving that Danville’s got Talent. So much so they are considering holding auditions for a Talent Show. Something tells me that Role Players and the Town of Danville will be too busy with that worthy endeavor to take any time off re-mounting Bus Stop in déclassé Livermore. Though one surmises Livermorians may know a bit more about bus stop diners and cowboys than do the effete elite of D-Town.

Just for fun, let’s look at what it would take for Role Players to actually produce a tour of Bus Stop to Livermore; I realize that this is highly unlikely. But this is exactly the kind of word problem I love to solve.

First there is the question of the people involved: does the cast want to go to Livermore? Or, better angle: who cannot go?

If all have pressing previous engagements, next question: would the director be willing to re-cast and re-stage the production?

If the answer is yes, would he want it exactly as it was, or would he be able to resist the temptation to tinker with things?

Would there even be time to tinker?

If the director does not want to re-cast and re-stage, is he okay with someone else directing the re-mount?

If he’s okay with it, how much of this production is still Role Players’? The set … the sound design maybe … But then, a Broadway Tour is accepted as not exactly the original but definitely the next best thing. We’ve all heard stories of tours where the performances were better than Broadway. Does this sound to me like something Role Players would still be interested in producing? No. So let’s pretend that most of the original Danville cast wants to go to Livermore, and the director is thrilled to re-mount the production.

[Thus ends Part I of this too too engaging saga. Please do comment if you’d like to read more. The rest is pure speculation, but potentially entertaining for those of you who, like me, have squirmed in your seats as you’ve been treated to productions mounted by people who — if they’re being paid to produce this stuff — really ought to know better.]

NaNoWriMo WINNER!

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2013 at 8:52 pm

As of sometime between 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm on Wednesday, November 20, I passed the goal of 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. I did this at a blessedly quiet write-in at the Livermore Public Library. It was at this write-in that I made some other writers laugh for the first time, won a lobster (who even now is nesting in the left hand pocket of my vintage French military greatcoat), and met a NaNo who is the embodiment of the human incarnation of the Last Unicorn. I also learned that there was a write-in the following Thursday — as in, the very next night — at the Panera in Dublin, CA.

Now, everyone in my region had received messages from our NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaisons about these things, but sometimes an event doesn’t quite seem real until one finds others who are planning to attend. So I frothed myself up and attended the Panera Write-In the very next night.

I think I got one sentence written. It was not an evening of writing. From what I understand, these Panera Write-Ins are perhaps more dedicated earlier in the month. And apparently they’re also year-round. Since that night, I have attended one more Panera Write-In, and the majority of the group was playing Munchkin. That’s an awesome game. I was entertained as I ate a tasty sandwich.

No writing done.

Clearly this is an issue of self-discipline. I should go to these and sequester myself behind a house of cards. Perhaps adding a team of trained sea otters who will cavort at my command and distract the other writers. Blah, blah, blah. It would distract me, too. Only a few of these writers seem to have the discipline to write while a game of Munchkin is going on. I must find a way to do this. The two most obvious assistances are music and headphones; I have headphones and a superb playlist on Spotify. Unfortunately, the WiFi connection at Panera in Dublin seems spotty at best.

My computer does not like having a lot of sound files in it, as I learned when I produced an audiobook through ACX.com. So I’ll have to tinker a bit. And none of this should really matter terribly much, because I won NaNoWriMo. I still need to finish my novel and edit it, but I am a winner. In spite of the fact that of my grand plans to get a bunch of extra writing done on specific days didn’t really come to any form of juicy fruition.

Here’s why:
1) Between Day 3 and Day 4 I jumped from 8,000-ish words to 12,000-ish words; by Day 6 I was holding steady at 15,000-ish words; on Day 9 I jumped to 25,125 words.
1a) Here’s why: on November 6 I started not mowing lawns for nothing resembling a living, as well as never helping out with the cleanup and prep of a house here in Livermore that needed to be put on the market asap. So on 11/6, 7, 8 I wasn’t tearing shelving out of a garage, mowing lawns, using a leaf blower for the first time (fun!), and doing all sorts of other stuff that has blended together in my memory as a gasoline-scented montage of hunger fumes and Red Bull. So when Saturday, November 9 rolled around, with its all-day Write-In, I was at the computer by 7 am and wrote until we stopped to watch some Dr. Who around 7 pm; when the show was over and my lovely fiancée went to sleep, I wrote until just before midnight.
1b) Having lost entire days, you see, to not working outdoors and prepping that house for sale, I was very worried that I would not make my goals. So the days when I leapt forward by several thousand words were days that followed periods of exhaustion and near inactivity. Turns out I have a smidgen of self-discipline, as long as I make it clear to certain people (Maxwell and the fiancée) that I need an entire day, and that there shall be no Big Fat Gypsy Wedding on the television during that time. The leap to 25,125 words kept me well above my goals for the rest of the month. By Day 16, I was over 42,000 words. (This should have been exhilarating. However, it became clear to me at that juncture that I was not going to finish the novel by the time November 30 rolled around, and I began to freak out a little bit. I wanted to finish the novel, not just meet the goal. Alas, my story does not fit into a tidy, tiny 50,000-word format. And when I realized this, I felt like a complete failure. Ridiculous, no?)

Even though I had surpassed my goals and had the beginnings of something fabulous on my hands, I was convinced I had somehow failed. I posted embarrassing things on Facebook, along the lines of: “I’m already at 42,000 words halfway to the deadline, and there’s no way my novel will be complete by the end of the month! WAAAAAAAAAAA!”

Laughable as it is, I was seriously distraught. And the root of my distress I found buried in a box of confusion at the crossroads of the NaNoWriMo Goal and My Personal Yardstick Of Success. I was trying to write 150,000 words in 30 days. And that’s quite possible. I may have done so if I’d not been not mowing lawns. But my unemployment checks are tiny — well under Minimum Wage, if one calculates the amount of time I have been putting in to job searches [prior to NaNo] and considers the checks payment for that time, which is how I like to think of it — and without my work outdoors last month, we’d have been short my half of the rent. So the work I was doing was useful. And what I realized was this: people who are fully employed and / or in school and still manage to get 50,000 or 30,000 or 20,000 or even 5,000 words written in a month are the real winners.

An unemployed actor who occasionally doesn’t mow some lawns and has oodles of time on his hands? Meh. No big surprise.

By mid-November I was getting notices from EDD that they were going to cut off my meagre supply of money. I started putting more things up for sale on Craigslist.

Nothing sold. I stopped applying for jobs and figured I’d just keep mowing lawns and writing.

Then, sometime around 11/24-ish, I received a notice from EDD that they would still be paying me. I filled out the form and was about to put it into the envelope when I noticed an X in a box with a phrase near it, the gist of which was: bitch, you’d better offer proof that you’re applying for jobs! Because we watch, motherfucker, and you haven’t been on our shitty website searching for jobs in weeks!”

Commence frantic search of e-mails for proof of jobs applied for: company, contact info., person contacted, etc. Results: many applications, no responses. Even though in my mind I had utterly stopped, the difference was this: I had stopped signing onto CalJobs to look for work, because their website is creaky and clunky and counter-intuitive. I am pleased to have found enough applications made during November to fill in those early weeks.

However, I didn’t get any responses from several of the places to which I applied. Some of them should have been automatic, given my resume (big fish) and their overall talent pool (shallow). I’m not being conceited here, friends, this is actually something I’ve done in the past and have revived of late in order to keep my chops up: audition for small companies who can’t afford to pay me a living wage.

It may be kind of a dick move when one considers the torment to which I will possibly subject some of the directors, but here’s the thing you don’t know about theatre companies: in order to be able to survive at all, just about every established small / community theatre company has at least one person to whom they can go when they need the money for an emergency expense. If the director wants an actor badly enough, and the actor can’t do the job without a living wage, there is occasionally a secret agreement reached whereby the actor appears to take the same piddling $250 stipend as the rest of the cast, when in actuality she is getting a living wage.

This doesn’t happen everywhere. But it’s how I’ve made much of my living since 2007.  Of course, if the director is not impassioned in her argument, and if the backer is a dick, and if the theatre company is poorly managed, and if there’s a butterfly in a rain forest who hates Sondheim, I probably won’t get a living wage from the small company for which I auditioned this past Saturday.

That audition only happened because I sent a second e-mail with headshot and resume attached, along with a polite post-script inquiring about the earlier e-mail. So I have sent several similar e-mails in the past week or so, and have learned that many of the missives I sent in the early weeks of November just did not arrive.

Mercury Retrograde much? Maybe not. You’d be surprised how many butterflies hate Sondheim.

In the meantime, I am signing up for general auditions galore and looking at a local Masters Program in Holistic Psychology. We’ll see what happens. Auditions and rehearsals take time away from writing.

[Did you read this? Are you a human being? Consider commenting below. Many thanks!]