Dear Annie

11 Mar

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Well, my friend, as I’ve stacked two shows simultaneously after this one…I wanted to take a moment of reflection before an insanely busy weekend launches, inhibiting me completely.

…As it stands, we are three performances from where our road together ends.

…The time when both our bruised bodies and wrecked knees, ribcages stuffed in steel-lined corsets…the gallons of sweat and frustrated shared history with “that kid”…will have come to completion. I know how exhausted my body and brain is…I cannot even fathom how much yours was at final rest…but with Helen there beside you, I know it’s a peaceful, and well-loved place I leave you…until someone else picks up this script and begins the journey all over again.

I have truly treasured being a part of your world and history…learning the tiny details and intimacies of your life…the hard times and the sweet, and I’ve done my absolute best to provide the most truthful access to you that I could conceive of from months of study and communal brain space.

…I have to admit, it has been a more difficult task than I thought, to keep perspective in. Because honestly, you crack me the hell up with all your self-affacing humor in letters, your ferocious arguments in a heated moment, your stubborn refusals to back down, your imperfect people skills. But god, you were beautiful too…with your very honest, human struggles against doubt, and self confidence, and pain, and the loss that fueled the nightmares which haunted you all of your life.

I am astounded by so many things about you, but most of all, at the way you still managed to open (even if only to one person, truly) and trust enough…to “love” again. Despite all of it.

…I have loved being some far-reaching part of your existence. I did my best to do you proud, and though I could frequently hear you cussing at me and sighing from above, during manic rehearsals …I know you’ve nodded in my direction at least once or twice. Because I’ve felt it.

…A lot of actors I know, find performing actual people from history a daunting task. It’s a slippery slope that many feel caught and restricted in, which I never have. The homework only feeds me…the mindful conversations I have in my head which I have always invited the spirit or essence of such person to openly become a part of, makes me feel I’m participating in a secret interview with the past that not many people get the chance to undertake. I feel connected and energized and try to erase as much of my own judgment as I can, to keep an honest and open gateway to whatever enlightenment may come of it all. In essence, it may sound freaky-deeky, but in those moments, if I’m good and fair and trust…I am never alone…and I try to bring that with me as a host for the story being told. Frankly, I love the companionship of history and the people who make it worth remembering and talking about.

…Like you.

If you could look down right now and see what has come from the work you had started, all those years ago…I think I know you well enough to say that while not totally satisfied, you would still be proud. So many things changed for the better because of the work that you and Helen did.

So many lives.

…If you taught us nothing else, it is that every person has a worth of destiny and meaning…be they deaf, dumb, and blind, or an orphan girl with only six years of education under their belt.

…Whether you were of the inclination to believe it or not… I bet you all I’ve got, that a little boy named Jimmy…perfect in body and mind…is standing beside you right now, proud as hell, and grinning with all of his might, in agreement.

…And Helen too.

Three more shows, and I have to let you go. But before I do…wanna know my deep down secret?

In over 50 roles, you have been my most especial and absolute favorite.

Thanks for the hard, and wonderful work, Lady. In life, and on stage.

Your Big Fan,

~D

Earnest, My Lover

4 Mar

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Here we are…halfway through the run of “Miracle,” over the hump of that 16 shows in 17 days marathon, back at performances as usual tomorrow, while today I have first read to begin the next show.

It’s the first time I’ve ever remounted a role, which is going against the grain for me.

…Whatever character I take on, I put everything I’ve got into it…so good, bad, or otherwise, there is no need to revisit them to my mind.  Obviously I could have taken later lessons and instilled them into earlier characters in my career to make the work more solid, but performance art being what it is…one could always say that, then end up playing the same 5 roles your entire career on repeat.  No thank you.  I learn what I can from each, and move the fuck on.  It’s healthier that way.  Even for the ones I really, really love.

…But this re-visit comes from what I’d call “unfinished business.” And it is also allowing me to work with one of my favorite artists I’ve ever shared a stage with.  The fact we had both done the same show before, is anything but adding dust to an old already-written book, as his role has now swapped and we’ll be firing on all cylinders in a trilogy of romantic mayhems together.  Our last chance to touch upon that regime was in “Importance of Being Earnest,” where we first realized the mad-cow totally platonic chemistry we apparently swim in together…which amuses the fuck out of us both, I think…as I doubt two more totally NOT interested-in-one-another-at-all people could be found. 

…The joy of finding a performing  “yin” to your “yang,” the always “yes-man” to every idea…the person who you can literally go anywhere you can mentally and physically conceive of, on a total whim, which for some reason just always fucking works…THAT is a hell of a lot of fun to play and work with. Actual communication isn’t even a necessity of the beast…it’s like we’re artistically wired to the other’s guys idea-sector.

…Which, given that it’s period and farce, outrageous and scintillating, means I’ll have a lot to keep my mind busy and inventive, and  joyful as I wave goodbye to my favorite role to date.  The transition will be far less bumpy with a buddy at my side…several buddies in fact. 

…Sometimes being “The Woman,” ain’t all bad…

Hark, “39 Steps”…it’s me again.  Grab the wigs n’ handcuffs…eets time to plaaaay. 

~D

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

 

 

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