Sunday, May 28, 2006

Andrew and I produced Torrid Affaire together. We got funding from our families (in lieu of Christmas presents), and we were fortunate enough to make back most of the money we spent. As an actress, my phone wasn't ringing off the hook with casting directors calling to meet with me, but I got to do a great show and the opportunities may catch up with me at a later date. The fantastic thing was that Andrew got people interested in his writing and directing. He was approached by a few people about roles in his next show (even though these people have no idea what the next show is), and he has people asking when the next show goes up because they don't want to miss it. That's pretty awesome.

Since this is the pre-production phase of Sonny, we have to find the money and the location to provide a home for this piece. We loved the theatre we used last time, but we'd like to get something that costs a little less. There are so many crap theatres where you pay a chunk of money for something that seems substandard. Our last theatre wasn't. Ideally we could find some place where they'd split the door with us. I know there's one place in town that does that but I hate the venue. We're on the mad hunt for a place to do this show (which includes casting and rehearsing) for cheap. The great thing about the last place was that we paid for the performance nights and we got rehearsal time free (depending on when the theatre was open).

We're also getting down to the wire if we want to do a few weeks run in August. July is out of the question at this point. The play isn't finished and we haven't secured the venue. We still need to do casting. Any old dumbass will not do for the title role. While we could run foolishly ahead, this isn't a suicide mission. We want to do a press screening and then open for maybe three or four weeks. That takes planning.

I hope I don't go insane this time.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Cinematic vs. Theatrical

So I'm in full-on playwright mode. My next play is "Sonny" and it's about girl and a boy ... and the boy's parents. I'm playing around with what tools theatre offers in terms of narrative. What makes theatre a "purple cow"? In other words, how do we create Immediate Theatre?

In college, I flirted briefly with the wonders of "cinematic" staging: Plays, mostly musicals, that attempt to produce the illusion of cinematic space and time through the heavy usage of mechanical lighting (Vari-lights and the like) and automated scene changes. Although stunning and effective when done right (I'll never forget seeing that helicopter land, pick up a wailing Chris, and take off leaving dozens of Vietnamese clawing at chainlink) before long it bothered me that such an ephemeral and vibrant artform as theatre was losing itself in the attempt to match what movies do better.

When you're talking about a simple stage play, attempting cinematic realism is terribly additive to the experience, and ultimately detracts from the play itself. (Shakespeare made do with much less than even dimmer packs and flying drapes! And some in his audience would stand through five acts absolutely chockablock with prose and verse! Of course, his theatre served ale ...)

Sonny will be much more "theatrical" than Torrid Affaire. It's a challenge to write, and it will be a challenge to produce. But hey, what's the point in doing it if it's easy, right?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Be Completely Honest

So I was whining about what to do with all these actor friends when we put up a show without upsetting or offending anyone. I thought, "Surely they realize that there's just not enough room in a small, personally funded show for everyone we've ever come into contact with. How could they not realize that?" And then I found out that while some dear friends realize it, others get upset that you called someone else instead of them, even if the role was for a man and you didn't ask a woman to play that part.

Here's my solution: Be completely honest. Okay, maybe not completely. Mostly honest. I think we're going to post for casting for Sonny on the casting websites. We'll probably send out an email to all of our actor friends and acquaintances announcing the show and the roles, but I think it will say, "We're only auditioning people who would best fit these roles at this time. If you submit and we don't call you in, it isn't because we think you're untalented; it's just that we don't have enough time to audition everyone we know when we're looking for very specific qualities in the actors that fill these roles. We may have general auditions for our upcoming productions later, so don't get your panties in a knot." If there are personal acquaintances that we REALLY want to see for certain roles, I think those people will get a "Hey, we don't know exactly what we're looking for but I'd love it if you'd audition for us."

I know some people are going to get their panties in a knot no matter what we do, but this should handle the borderline panty-knotters. Casting is a tough process. You have to have the supporting cast complement the leads. Can't hire a seven-foot tall black man (no matter how much we like him or how good an actor he is) to play my father since I'm pale as milk toast. Ain't gonna happen. There are scheduling things to consider, availability, work ethic, how one relates to other people, chemistry, blah blah blah. So I think my statement just might work.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

GO SEE THIS SHOW!

Sherlock Holmes and the Saline Solution

Pamela and I attended a preview performance of this wonderful, rollicking blast of a show! The cast is thick as thieves and twice as charasmatic. The "prologue" is the best theatre I've seen in years. I need to write up a full review of this show, but in the meantime go and see it for yourself.

Sound and Fury is one of those groups I alluded to in my last post: Artists who make truly "popular" theatre.

Here is artistic director and troupe member Richard Maritzer's invitation:

We're relying on word-of-mouth almost completely for audiences to see our show, so if you like us, or saw the show and liked it, please forward this to the people you know, so that we can continue to do shows here in our hometown, instead of just going to other places in the world. We like L.A.... Help L.A. like us!

Sound & Fury's comedy farce:"SHERLOCK HOLMES& the Saline Solution" Now thru June 17, 2006
At Café-Club Fais Do-Do
5257 W. Adams Blvd.
L.A. 90016
(Just west of La Brea Ave,and just a block southof the 10 Freeway.)
Tix $15/$12 Students w ID

Online ticketing available at
http://sherlock.soundandfury.org

"The group performs with wit & panache!" -- L.A. Weekly.

Monday, May 15, 2006

On Maple Syrup and Vital Traditions

Pamela's last post brought to mind something I read in Spike Lee's Gotta Have It, the journal and production notes for Lee's breakthrough film She's Gotta Have It. Here's Spike Lee:

"The majority of people can't spend forty dollars for a play, even the small plays. The Negro Ensemble Company is twenty-five dollars. That's five movies right there. The theater's not really acccessible and the shit that's accessible no one wants to see. The walk-on-the-stage-and-act-like-a-tree-shit. That's what white people call art."

This book was published back in 1987, when movies cost $5. And to their credit, the NEC is very accessible nowadays at $15 a ticket (what we charged for Torrid Affaire). However, I think it sums up the general attitude toward theatre rather succinctly. "I'd rather see a bad movie than a good play" as they say.

There is some truth to this cliche (otherwise it wouldn't have become a cliche), and Spike is absolutely right, overall. Tickets for the recently concluded run of Oscar Wilde's Salome, starring Al Pacino ran from $68 - $93! Yikes! I can rent Pacino AND Keanu Reeves for a couple of bucks down at Blockbuster! I can see Al on the big screen later this year in 88 Minutes for around $10 - $14 depending on what theater I hit. And I can bring a tub of popcorn and a ginormous soda into the theater with me.

On the other side of the theatrical equation, there's . . . well, I'm not sure. Living in Los Angeles is like being daily washed over by a tsunami of promotion and marketing, and it's sometimes hard to pick out smaller groups of artists struggling to make themselves heard among the din of "Industry" brouhaha and "Paid Escort" advertisements. I am fairly certain, given the size of this fair megaoplis that somewhere someone is in a green room preparing themselves to wadle onstage in a tree costume in an economically priced production of Rock Maple, a Dramedy.

Speaking of rock maples, read this:

"In order to be vital, tradtions have to be a part of what people do, not what they used to do." (from Thomas Chittendan's Town: A Story of Williston, Vermont by Willard Sterne Randall and Nancy Nahra.)

I found this quote on a calandar at my "day job", accompanying a picture of a rugged Vermonter tending the stove in a sugarhouse. The tradition of making maple syrup out of rock maple sap originates with the Native Americans; it's a very simple process that hasn't changed much over the years. You put the sap in a pot and boil it down to it's essence. Sort of like what a director does with an actor.

The point is, it is our job to make our tradition vital. It's more than just a matter of ticket prices or famous headliners. It's about finding what makes the theatre unique, and creating an experience for audiences that they cannot find anywhere else, an experience that can, as the great Peter Brook put it in his book The Empty Space, "evoke in audiences an undeniable hunger and thirst." "Necessary theatre-going" he called it, "The Immediate Theatre."

I'm not sure how to go about doing that. People are pretty damn cynical nowadays. In fact, cynicism is up there with know-it-all-ism and road-rage as national pastimes. I know I engage in all three - sometimes simultaneously! I can imagine a truly "popular" theatre (and I mean "popular" in its sweatiest, noisiest sense), and I know there are examples of such a beast far and wide, and brilliant artists making it happen. I seek them out where I can find them, and throw as much support to them as I can. I watch, I study, I learn. And when I mount a play, hopefully I bring my audiences closer to that hunger, closer to that thirst.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go make some pancakes.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I'm in a made-for-TV movie that's running tonight, so I promoted it to a bunch of friends and acquaintances. I got a lot of emails back from people wishing me well and saying they'd watch, but one email really got me thinking.

An acquaintance of mine is in a play in Long Beach. Her director was wondering why there weren't many African-Americans in the audience when the majority of the cast was African-American. This gal asked me to promote the play to the people I know so that they might get more African-Americans in the audience.

I noticed when we produced Torrid Affaire in January that it was tough to get people to the theatre in Los Angeles. I'd seen it before when I did six or seven nights of Diary of a Catholic School Dropout last fall. I think we had a couple dead (eight or ten audience members) nights. For Torrid Affaire, we made the conscious decision to have two nights so we could fill the house and leave people wanting more. We had half a house the first night and a full house the second. Our promotion was word of mouth, Evites, posters, fliers and postcards (500 to casting directors). That's it. We didn't have a website, our posters & fliers were black & white. We didn't spend a ton of money, and I don't know that we would've had more attendees if we had more performances.

And what about these blokes who spend more? This show in Long Beach is promoted on a website as part of a season. How much did they spend to promote? How many people are actually showing up? How many nights is it running -- too many or too few? Per this gal's email, they're not getting the turnout from one particular racial group that they expected. We attended a preview of Sherlock Holmes and the Saline Solution by this hilarious comedy troupe that we found out about at a Renaissance faire (not from the $400 ad they ran in L.A. Weekly). The preview was full, but Andrew suggested that they may not be getting the audience they deserve (based on a recent email he received).

So what's the deal? What does one have to do to get people off the couch and into the theatre?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Friendship & Theatre

Most of the friends I've made in Los Angeles over the past year are actors. Some are more like acquaintances than friends (since they don't know my middle name and I don't know theirs), but I'm still on friendly terms with a lot of actors. When we did Torrid Affaire earlier this year, we used friends.

Let me explain. I met a bunch of great girls last summer when I returned to the theatre, and I didn't want to let our chemistry go to waste. I asked Andrew to direct us in [unnamed & overproduced play that has great roles for women that we didn't get the rights to]. He agreed and cast the show with the best character fits from my cast and a couple other friends. We informed each of them of our intentions, and all my castmates who were invited jumped on board. We did a first reading and found out two weeks later we didn't get the rights. So what to do? Andrew wrote Torrid Affaire with these ladies in mind, writing to the strengths of these actresses. One of our friends and one of my castmates had to drop out of the show due to time conflicts, so we auditioned and recast the roles and we auditioned and cast the male lead from another show we did. It was a great show and we had a lot of fun, and we pulled it off with people we knew. It helps to make friends around here, and it's even better if you make the friendships without thinking about what the other people can do for you.

After the show was over, we discovered we upset some other friends for not inviting them to audition for the show. Now, as I mentioned before, these roles were written with specific people in mind. The two roles we auditioned for weren't the right casting for every friend we had. We had limited time so we invited in the friends we knew would fit in with the current cast and had some of the best natural attributes to serve those specific roles. We didn't set out to piss anyone off, but we managed to.

I did a show last fall that a friend was producing. There was a role (small according to the breakdown, but a role nonetheless) that was suitable for me, so I auditioned. Several days after the audition I found out I was cast. Cool. I didn't expect to be cast just because she was my friend.

I had an audition earlier this year for a play that another friend was producing. There were three roles I could fit, so I submitted and the friend auditioned me. I never got a call or email that said I was cast, so I'm guessing that since the show was planned for March they didn't want to use me for this piece. Cool. I didn't expect to be cast just because she was my friend.

Andrew's writing another play. Yes, I'm cast. Yes, he's writing for me. He also has three other personalities that he's writing for, but we're auditioning for all three of those roles. He's been approached by a few people since Torrid Affaire asking to audition for his next play. So here's the conundrum: Should we audition people who are absolutely not right for the roles just to keep friends from being offended? (The roles are for a son, a mom and a dad, and the son has to be shorter than the dad but look good next to me.) What's the appropriate thing? What's the proper code of conduct?