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Posts Tagged ‘Livermore’

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.]

Specific Exploration

In Uncategorized on October 5, 2013 at 8:54 pm

It’s a warm early October day here in Livermore. My nephew came out here from Oakland yesterday and spent the night. We’ve been drinking espresso and eating breakfast and discussing new Magic decks while listening to John Lewis’ J.S. Bach: Preludes and Fugues. Various obligations we’ve had for the day have evaporated and as of now (1:08 pm), it seems that all of our horizons are clear and we are free to do whatever we please. It’s a bit of a shock, actually. The general consensus is, “Now what?”

I have something I want to do, and my plan is to talk the fiancee and the nephew into it. The main obstacle is the price of gas. Getting the fiancee to commit to any leisure activity that requires major expenditures for gasoline is problematic, at best. I can’t use the argument that it’s research for my blog — which it definitely is — because I don’t earn any money from the blog. You would think, with over sixteen thousand pageviews, I could earn some money. But Google hath decreed that my blog is adult in nature (because my characters and I all swear a great deal), and that I am therefore ineligible for monetization of the blog. So that argument is not going to work. I’ll have to come up with something else.

What I want to do is go for a drive. On a very specific road, South of Livermore. It’s an incredibly beautiful drive, and I’d be able to take some pictures for reference. Maybe that’s the argument. I could also show her some spots of which I’ve spoken to her in the past, places she’s never seen, on a road branching off of the main road. I can honestly tell you that she will not be terribly interested in these things. Maybe I can convince her to let me take the nephew on this journey of discovery. That might be just the tactic, but it again involves gas, which means money. Right now, things are tight.

The fiancee never wants me to write about our financial status. It makes her very angry. I’m supposed to “just not mention it,” even though it is absolutely central to every single thing we do, central to my decision to turn down every theatrical job I’m offered that doesn’t pay a living wage (which is all of them), central to every moment of our lives. It’s the source of the tension which causes her to grind her teeth in her sleep, the source of the tension which has wound around our relationship like a creeping, choking vine — strangling light, happiness, comfort and overall pleasant demeanor. She broods about money. Broods about it. I’ve always felt that a positive attitude will get one further than dark, angry obsessing. Perhaps I’m wrong. But she has yet to embrace my approach, and I always manage to pull money out of a hat at the last possible moment when we’re desperate.

I’ve got some writing plans that could expand into other areas of late, but of course they require attention and completion. Getting these sorts of things done can be tricky while socializing. I’ve begun to feel that I am losing too much time during the day if I’m not writing something. (I have this time right now because the nephew is in the shower.) There was a time when I would meet three days a week with some filmmaker cohorts, but since they moved in together we basically never meet. And since many of those meetings ended up being nothing more than pleasant, coffee-fueled debates, I look back on them with the distinct feeling of opportunity missed.

To be clear: I do not begrudge the nephew or the fiancee or anyone else my social time. I simply ache to get something written, to get at least 2,000 words of fiction saved, before I go and do something else. I also understand that balance is essential — one needs to get out of the house and do other things. I have been the charismatic housebound introvert for months, now. Perhaps a day simply out and about is all I need.

Here’s an idea: I’ll record the day. An audio recording to be transcribed and fictionalized, adapted to one or more 2,000 word short stories. Then it’s totally justifiable. Which, ah, now opens my mind to the possibilities I’d forgotten in these last months: every social interaction is a possible short story. I’ve been holed up here in front of this computer or my typewriter since May. It hasn’t been healthy, but it has occasionally been productive.

I need to go to some parties. Preferably raging topless bacchanalia. I’ll add that to the shopping list.