All The Things

26 Feb

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This just in: Kids like food fights. 

…The Student matinee this week (our 10th show in 11 days so far), was full of Elementary fidgeters,  College ASL reps, and Teachers…which showed obvious divide in content appreciation until it came to the giant breakfast battle, wherein everyone became immediately 5 years old and hypnotized by the fact that two people were slopping around with this much goop on total purpose. 

…How much we consume and throw around on stage is pretty staggering, frankly, (as provided by our tireless prop-mistress, and cleaned up by our beautiful tech team), and contains as follows:

50 biscuits, 5 dozen scrambled eggs, 5 packs of mashed potatoes, several pans of fried potatoes, 75 pieces of bacon, one bone-in ham, 30 corn muffins, 2 cakes – one coffee crumb,  one white chocolate ganache-drizzled, 5 bags of green beans, 4  glasses of milk, many pitchers of water, and several  fistfuls of candy.  PER WEEK.

…I dunno where the hell that skinny  kid puts it all, or what keeps her from puking all over everything when I continually haul her up by her guts and fling her around…but I know I’m certainly taking in the bare minimum as necessitated per the scenes. Just keeping water down with that much action in a corset is pushing it at times, but the point I suppose is that the bulk of it never makes it in a mouth at all… rather becoming graffiti about the stage, smashed into costumes, crumbed on blankets, plastered on floors and table tops, sludged on chairs, my sunglasses, our hair, and (with amazingly few instances) audience members.

As to the amount of damage we do, relocating intermission became a necessity…cutting the show in such a way as to show a fairly set divide between the more humorous and youth-filled first half and the exhausted, dogged-and-determined second.  As our run stands, the nightmares which have haunted Annie in spurts begin to slam at her directly at the top of act two, launching her further into self-doubt and a sense of impending failure if not for solving a total lack of discipline from her pupil (and most importantly her constantly-placating family.)  A cut I originally disliked, (but obviously understood the reasoning for), I have now with performance, begun to embrace. 

…What this means is a shift from prominent physical battle in act one, to mental battle in act two…though both are present throughout the show in fits and starts. Act two has become where the bulk of the “acting” comes in…where the weariness and battle of inner demons comes to the front over fists of food and face slaps, and it is also the only instance in the entire show where we are able to tackle the words of the piece without being slammed with the constant technical work going on all around us.  One scene… with just myself and the Kellers in a room with no walls, no furniture, not a single prop to be seen.  Just three people: working organically off one another, passing the ball back and forth as we fight each in our own way, for the soul of this small person. 

…It has become my favorite part of the performance.  Not for the gravitas and tears shed…but for the lock-and-load workmanship with two fine actors who know their shit, and don’t ever let go of their particular rein and purpose and intent no matter which way they get pulled  by the other two in the scene. 

…None of which should show disservice to my Helen.  You couldn’t if you tried.  She’s a regular ball-buster of performing determination. 

…But after chasing her about non-stop for over an hour, it is nice to selfishly stand on my own two feet – upright off of the floor—face two seasoned pros, and play a game of emotional poker to see who will win THIS night.

The emotional and physical demands are great, and the stakes are high for all of us in this show, but there is something to be said for the simple joy of speaking well-written words on a stage with nothing else but the story and your scene partners to guide you and make you become better at what you do, than when you first started the night.  No other “special effects” are required.

Thanks, guys.

~D

To Our Teachers

19 Feb

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Maybe they were your first real crush in grade school. Or a favorite professor in College. They might be your kids, or co-workers…your significant other, Bff, mortal enemy, the guy who got the job that you didn’t…hell, maybe even your faithful dog. You meet them on stages and screen, and behind them…in lines at the supermarket, in the pages of a book, in your family tree. Sometimes they won the race, or lost it…baked the most unbelievable cake, or can’t even nuke a cup of soup.  They give advice to tough life questions, but most of all: they inspire us–To do more. To try harder. To never give up. Never surrender. To never stop: learning.

They are our Teachers.

I’ve had a lot of them. And I’ve learned a lot…(the good, the bad, and the ugly)…from them. And so have you.

…After shadowing one of the most famous ones in the world, for the past two months, what I’ve learned from her is that they are just people like you or me. What’s so special about even the best of them isn’t a saintly demeanor, a genius intellect, the patience of Job, kindness to small animals, good looks, social status, education, or even expertise. The best teachers are the ones willing to get down and dirty, fight through exhaustion, against the odds, often without the technical tools, support, or even decent circumstances to back them. They will take on the mess and hopelessness and pain, frustration, and fear…and power through them.

A good teacher can come from the most inauspicious place, and provide you with a lifetime of knowledge from sheer unintentioned inspiration alone. They needn’t even be aware of it…

…But then, its entirely possible that they would be.

…Because they’ve been literally at your side, every step of the way, every sleepless night, to bolster you up when you need it most, to push a little bit harder to win the race, for late night study sessions, to lend a shoulder when you’ve nothing left to give… to fight for team-you with every affirmation of, “you can do this!”

What I’ve been taught by THIS particular Teacher, among many things, is the behind-the-scene fight that they often must undertake, just to DO the job they do. The utter unabashed fight, tooth and nail, in the name of You. The often hopelessly ignored, “Give me what I need to help this person do what I know they can do!

…The handicaps so many of them fight to traverse, have nothing to do with the lack of promise in their pupils…but the circumstances they are restricted by…the lack of funding, or information…the violent atmospheres, and overwhelming sense of hopelessness and lack of resources, are often the greatest obstacles they face.

…What our greatest Teachers have taught us, we aren’t even aware of, actually. Because the battle began before we even got there, and will last long after they’ve helped us to whatever enlightenment we will achieve at their hands.

…I’ve only even been playing one for the past two months, and the sheer and total exhaustion of that fight has frankly been pretty damn eye opening.

…And truly fucking exhausting.

In short: as we attack Preview tonight and Open our show tomorrow… I’d like to say a public “Thank You!” to all my Teachers, past and present. And and all the ones yet to come.

The amount of things I would never be and never do without you, is a rack-up on the entire resume of my life that would have left many, many holes in it.

…So, THANK YOU!

…And please, don’t let the assholes get you down! Fight on, Life-Professors! We need you!

~D

Breakfast Farts & Tech

15 Feb

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Today we had our first full run with tech from which we were reminded about and learned, many things.

…Like you do, during tech.

…Things like: computers have made tech zero-percent more efficient to the old reel to reel and manual light slider days. Because human error is so much easier to fix, and people almost always are able to speak to one another without conjunction cables, software crashes and Bluetooth errors.

…Also, water is messy. And it follows almost no rules. Once it’s out of it’s holding confines, it owns the whole damn world of wherever you’ve introduced it. And we’ve introduced it damn near everywhere… in every room…rendering surfaces slick as spit, even after mopping.

…New costumes get ripped by heels and snagged on set pieces, quick changes are fought like battles with small armies, smaller bustles must be found so I stop taking out props with my ass, sounds source from wrong speakers for unknown reasons, light cues are still being built and refined mid-scene, volumes need to be pumped cuz of the air conditioner, the keys need hooks, the doors need jams…our pump is still without water…

…And then: there are the eggs.

Apparently those innocent little clump-bastards which we thought we’d solved in squish and shovel and spit, days ago, were holding out on us. Add a shit-ton of hot stage lights to the mix and after flinging them all over and rolling in them like dogs for the better part of ten minutes, the whole damn theatre (and at least two of its actors) smelled like a sulphur plant had exploded.

…I mean: horrendous. Like a hundred farts got together for a meal of baked beans, cabbage, turnips, and beer, in a 110 degree locked room, with no ventilation.

Computers: we are stuck with, rips can be sewn, pumps will be plumbed…butts can be made smaller…but it’s looking like our friendly little puffs of lukewarm slimy sunshine might be in for a radical recasting session, only days before we open.

Poor bastards….

…But then I think I’d rather eat food-colored tofu by the truckload than roll around in that joy of butt-gas air again, never mind twice on student matinees and command performances.

…See? You never stop learning.

And that’s the truth.

Also: tech is hard, and exhausting, and tomorrow is Monday.

…That is another truth.

~D

Hey, Kid I Know…

13 Feb

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Dear Kid I’m Working With~

Look, I’m gonna play it straight with you: kids are not my favorite people.  They used to be, and then I grew out of them.

…I frankly no longer have the patience for your antics, fits, mess, lack of personal space, penchant for screaming at a pitch that only dogs should be able to hear, throwing fits in supermarkets, getting goo everywhere, inexhaustible energy; smart-ass attitude, annoying precociousness, and/or creepy attempts to act like you’re 35 when you’re actually 8.  What with all the digital world of internets and gaming and hashtagging also now added to the mix with this generation, I don’t even know how to communicate with you people anymore. 

See, kids have changed. They used to be introduced to things like real-world etiquette, discipline, and imagination. They used to have respect. They used to actively “play.” Like: games without plastic controllers. Outside.* And they used to be “kids.”

(* It’s this place with dirt and trees and no walls around it, that you— never mind…)

…So no, kids aren’t my bag.  Which means that every time I work on a show with you people, it becomes a huge “gird your loins” moment for me. 

…It’s having to watch and try to temper every single “sunofabitch” and “fuck” that naturally wants to erupt when one screws things up royally. (Which you’ve obviously seen: I do plenty.) It’s having to put you first in every moment in every scene that we usher you through.  It’s constantly checking in after every stage fight and altercation, terrified that some horrible bruise matching any one of our own, will end up having child protective services banging on our door and hauling us away in handcuffs.  Plus the frustration of you little bastards knowing every single damn line we keep fucking up, and not even breathing heavy after nine minutes thrashing around or dancing or whatever-ing, when the rest of us all want to collapse on the cold concrete and just die.

…None of which is counting the off-stage moments in rehearsal…with your little high-pitched voices constantly running a mile a minute, gluing yourselves to one another in giggling bunches, fighting with one another, squirming and making noise during emotional moments, your by-and-large total inability to focus on anything but cell phone screens, lighting fixtures, or dust floaties in the air…unwillingness to “play” or look “uncool,” and like a cat somehow know the exact wrong person to follow around in a room full of other people who would actually welcome and adore your attention.

I have done my damndest to stay away from environments like this, on purpose.  I’d rather bleed from my eyeballs than endure a production of “Matilda,” “Bye, Bye Birdie,” or “The Wizard of Oz.”  I’ve only ever done one children’s theatre show, which I still haven’t recovered from…and you literally could not pay me enough to do something like “Annie.”

…That being said, as cantankerous as I am about it, I gotta admit: some of you people aren’t the worst.

I’ve known a few.

…One singular “tween” with whom I would work in several shows across several seasons, proved my “all-kids-suck” rule was for-shit.  At least in her case.  SHE didn’t-suck so much, she became like a little sister, a best pal, who would rightly (we always said she would) go onto NY and LA and all round-the-world, spewing her talent all over the damn place.

…For reasons stemming 100% on a bucket list role, I voluntarily and happily walked right into this thing called, “Oliver!” once, with about three hundred of you people totally surrounding me.  And every single damn one of the yous were fucking amazing, outstanding, hardworking “artists”…I don’t give a shit how wide the age-range gap ran.

…And if you want to talk about “horror:” a cast-full of teenage girls for “Children’s Hour?!”  This hugely emotional roller coaster job to do, based completely off of a group of young women being able to sell a performance of lies and nasty intentions so well that is catapults and obliterates the lives of every adult sharing the stage with them.  And they fucking DID!  Every night! Like goddamn Rock Stars!

…Meanwhile, ”The Diary of Anne Frank” is completely ushered, bound, and delivered on the shoulders of a 13 year-old girl.  And in the almost unheard of casting choice, ours actually WAS that age.  Have you any idea the fucking weight of that role on even a young ADULT, let alone a “girl” who hasn’t even experienced an iota of real-life emotional equivalency to inform her of what she is about to put herself through every performance?  A freaking ball-buster of awesome, who worked like a damn draft-horse, pulling us along with her. Every. Single. Night.

…In other words: I’ve been lucky.  Like… supremely.  The pit-of-my-stomach ache of uncertainty of how in the hell we would be able to swing these shows, ended up being for nothing.  Because these kids were special…these kids grew from crops bearing hard work and determination and dedication and support and monster abilities.  I’ve felt surrounded by some kind of freak genetically altered talent-fruit, just being around them.  And by the end – with not a single exception – I have seen them not as kids at all…but as co-working artists. Because they were. And are. 

…Which brings me to you.

We aren’t as emotionally close in “real life” as I was with a lot of those other young people. And I admit, a huge giant-ass part of the difficulty in this piece revolves around the fact that you can not only NOT help ME out, you cannot even help YOURSELF. Such is the nature of the story, and this script. We all knew this going in, but that does not alleviate the weight that it brings (literally), in what is required to get this show up, on its feet, and run in complete, each performance.

…And what I have to lift, YOU have to provide.  All of it.  Dead-weight, in body, emotionally feeding me every frustration, beating, slapping, pinching, and slamming your body into mine…repeat, after repeat, after repeat. Drawing me into your mind and thought process with only facial cues and touch to tell me where you are and what is happening at any given moment. 

…And you cannot see.

…You cannot hear.

…You cannot speak.

…You cannot understand.

Kid, this entire show works exclusively on the fact that every single fucking audience member who walks through those doors will believe it.  Believe it so thoroughly and emotionally that what we have all just literally busted ourselves black and blue for MEANS something, SAYS something, and that by the final moment in our little pool of light, we will have earned and lived up to the job we’ve been entrusted with: telling the story of these two amazing women who did it all for real.

…That is so damn much to ask of you.

I know it.

…But you know what ELSE I know?

(…Like in that pit of my stomach where it usually sits all sour and undigested-feeling, every time I know that a kid is about to be involved in something super high-stakes and emotional…?)

I fucking know, without a doubt, you can…and WILL…do this.

…And when those lights fade out on Opening Night, everyone else is gonna have to stand behind me. Cuz I’LL be your number one fan…waiting to shake your hand.

Actor to actor.

Thanks for the work, partner.  You’re alright.

…For a kid.

~D

Tick, Tick, Boom!

11 Feb

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You know how in every spy movie there’s a point with a bomb detonator  clock ticking away, and Hero-person needs to cut the wire, but doesn’t know which one, and then while you’re yelling at the screen to, “Fucking do SOMETHING!!,” they finally do…it goes *snip,* but the clock still keeps ticking on…because that’s the rules…and they’re sweating and crying, and you’re sweating and crying…and then for no apparent reason but the magic of cinema, the clock ends up stopping at the one-second mark?

…Yeah.  That’s what this show feels like.

I have felt that clock ticking away since literally day-one. I prepared myself the best that I could for it, and I have been working my ass off. We ALL have. Yet, I have never had a day where the technical aspects settled down so that the acting could have a chance to happen naturally.  I’ve never had a day where the tech, the props, the blocking, the fight choreography, the rehearsal clothes, the sightlines, hasn’t been the real core of what fueled the scene, rather than the situation of the education at hand. And frankly, going into Hell Week, that scares the living shit out of me. 

This is the point already universally recognized as where the Tech takes over and goes center stage, adding the gloss and paint to the show.  Problem is, it’s been tech non-stop already for like two months, and now we begin piling on more.  I’ve already ripped petticoats, torn the soles from my shoe, de-boned my corset, broken a fountain pen, annihilated several chairs …eaten piles of cold eggs, potatoes, and bacon, and racked up 150,000 bruises all over my body.  We’ve had to stage and re-stage so many times for sightlines and set adjustments, that just remembering what version we’re in now is starting to soup up the mix as well, and some of our key-most props and set components are still pending.

Listen, it’s a monster show for everyone here, from Design Team down to the Actors. And none of us are Wizards.  Things take time.  But for every second that ticks away, my body sweats a little bit more, my mind fights to hold onto the things that I CAN control and am responsible for, and I wait…

…I wait, and wait, and wait…

…And fight, and fight, and fight…

…Mutilating this second pocket-sized copy of the script with excessive repeated reviewing…trying really, really hard to have faith that the Theatre deities are going to step in on that last damn second on the ticking clock from hell I have running against me right now…

…And that, for no apparent reason…other than “Theatre logic” …

…We will Open, in nine days…

…Without going, “Boom!”

Fight on Team-Miracle. Lets please live up to the name!

~D

 

 

Annoying Necessities

4 Feb

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Marketing has begun in earnest on “Miracle,” and I’m faced with the immediate knee-jerk reaction to go on defense against what can only be stated as, “good common sense, solid name recognition, and branding hype.”  In short, it is very annoying, very necessary, and very practical.  And I hate it.

…Which can come off as incredibly snotty and apparently self-serving, given my role.  This was not my intent when this morning’s happy post of the theatre marquee change hit FB.  It should have frankly excited the hell out of me!  We are 15 days from opening, with a killer cast who is constantly fighting for and making smart and informed choices, a crew who is totally supportive and accommodating, down to wiping smashed eggs and water off of every theatre surface we touch, and a director who isn’t interested in self-pity or being pretty, but wants it real, and hard, and inevitably dirty. 

The basis of this rehearsal period has been like boot camp, with the outrageous demands on body and psyche hammered every rehearsal, every day.  I’m not what I’d call “in shape” by any means of gym-regime definition, but I can lift a damn 80 pound kid in a one-arm curl as she squirms, while walking down stairs, grab a 20 pound chair with the other hand, slam it down, and her on top of it, then commence with a struggle ending three times on a cement floor, in a corset, as only about 50 seconds of a 9 minute battle scene.  My body, such as it is, imperfect as it is, has grown to embrace and muscle through things I could never imagine previously…nor frankly even at the beginning of the night before it is done. 

…This is a beat-show…where every moment, I have to focus absolutely everything I have on “right now, this moment.”  There is no room for the arch that reaches beginning to end, that arch will take care of itself thanks to the book work and previous rehearsals we’ve had.  I can’t think about the “allness” of it…I need to focus on this kid, this moment, this task…which given the circumstances of theatre and an untrained fairly savant Helen, requires me to be on my toes for any new accommodation that might be necessary.

(Keep in mind, this is only “playing” this person in her struggle against unheard of odds, for two hours. Not actually living it, day-to-day, as she did.)

…And I fucking love it. 

It is mind-numbingly difficult, and requires all I have, to do it.

…Which makes me think of this interview with Imelda Staunton I was listening to, yesterday. 

…By the time she hits 7:53, I had a total “YES! YES! YES!” moment of confirmation.  I am not the only freak who enjoys the struggle and ass-kicking more than the rest of it.  But where we veered in attack, was my absolute fight for the biography.  And that biography, I’ve been swimming in from all different  corners of the internet and book pages, for months now.  Months of confirmations and months of proofing, and months of reading over and over and over again how easily Anne Sullivan was dismissed as a mere coda in the events of Helen Keller’s education and life.  As if she was not only NOT directly responsible for it, but that she was apparently unable even to exist without hanging onto her apron strings later in life. 

…As if her efforts and achievements completely ended at the water pump that day, instead of merely transitioning into a “part three” of a long life, already full of adversity and achievement unto itself.

…Which makes seeing the marquee, seem like another slap in the face, or brushing aside…belittling at least half of the story which gave us the reason we– any of us– even know who Helen Keller is today.

…The fact that for smart purposes, it reads: “The Incredible story of Helen Keller” above the title, shouldn’t bother me, in theory.  But it does.  And it seems that even though Gibson specifically wrote this piece as a sort of love letter to Annie herself, and even in the title, refers to her…what we know about this show in the collective consciousness is exactly what the marquee claims.  The fact that even a show about Annie’s history and work, gives Helen top billing, because that is how her work has been regarded historically, sucks.  And I’m not saying this from the Actor’s perspective of not getting “my” character’s name up in lights. I’m saying it for the simple fact that Annie herself deserves it to be there.  Of its own accord. In her own biography. And stand just as strong in recognition without Helen’s beside it.

…What bothers me is that no matter how many books are written, or times this show is ever produced, THIS is going to be the marketing necessitated…because without Helen, who-the-hell is this “Annie Sullivan” person?

…To which I say, “Without Annie Sullivan, who the hell is Helen Keller?”

~D

Grapes of Wrath (And Other Kinds)

28 Jan

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Corporate has been here all week doing inventory counts and driving us to drink.

…A new Regional Manager swap out happened with the New Year, and we traded in our GQ-Havana-smoking-bottle-of-cologne-per-day Rep, for an 80-year-two-pack-a-day-bronchial -cougher.

…With The Pimp gone until today, still on leave, that left two of us having to babysit the old gossiping bastard, trying to get legit work done while he hovered like a parasite on it’s host, attempting to suck the absolute life out of us.

Three days of loaded questions, and trying to turn one against the other to disclose crap about a third…for what the hell kind of purpose??? Who the fuck knows. But we have…oh…30 other things we could legitimately be doing instead of this bullshit-fest, which he started on day one by trying to dig up dirt on The Pimp, behind his back, while he was on bereavement leave. How fucking callus can you GET?!

…Needless to say, he hasn’t won any points this round…nor is he bound to before his (AT FUCKING LAST) 3pm flight tomorrow. It was already all I could deal with today…I have no idea how the hell I’ll get through tomorrow. The temper fuse is running short, and my bullshitting meter is tapped out.

…So, I’m tired. And pissy. And not super in the mood to deal with my music-blaring upstairs neighbor, while I try to rest before showering, and wrapping my legs in padding like a mummy, before call.

…The only GOOD thing this week, was that cupcake on Monday, and solving the mystery of this clump of bruises constantly reinfecting my upper thighs. Steel boning is the culprit, not tiny Helen hands, spoon stabbing, or floor-falling. Either way, with fresh markings after every rehearsal, (and no clear way to prevent them with the amount of crawling, carrying, tugging and squatting I’m doing), I’ve decided to embrace them as my personal Grapes of Wrath, and deal.

…The show must go on.

Dear God, I dunno how in the hell I will even find the patience to get through tonight’s technical reblocking from hell. Annie may have more bite than usual tonight.

@%##$#&#%#*$#@%# !

~D

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