Monday, December 01, 2008

Life After the Play

I've had a much harder time "getting back to reality" after the close of Pin-Up Girls than I have after any other play in which I have been involved. The four day holiday weekend did not help. There was a certain quality to the comraderie that developed backstage, a quality that I exposed myself to as often as possible. I even slipped backstage during intermission each night to hang out with the cast. It was pleasurable, and addictive. Naturally, being deprived of it has led to some withdrawal pains.

Being the kind of man I am, it is moments like these that lead me to quoting Kermit the Frog:
Yeah, well, I've got a dream too, but it's about singing and dancing and making people happy. That's the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And... well, I've found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream. And that makes us like a family.

Truer words have never been spoken by a frog.

Theatre has an ephemeral property, and theatre folk are constantly on the move, transitioning from project to project. This is equally true of all the performing arts, but unlike movies and television, we don't have a DVD copy at the end of the day. I believe this is a good thing. There is nothing more exciting and bracing than uncertainty. Yes, uncertainty can be quite worrisome, as in waiting for the results of a blood test or an election. But there is that incredible rush one gets when boldly facing the unknown and stepping forward into the inky blackness.

I would like to call this attitude "owning the future" and here do state that it is a quality germain to the artist, entrepreneur and explorer. (All three of these are essentially the same person, by the way.) "Owning the future" sounds better than "chasing the next fix" at any rate.

Theatre Unleashed, part of my Los Angeles family, continues to own the future. The great thing about being strong in numbers (and we have grown to just over forty members in less than a year) is our capacity to hit the ground running with our next production. At the moment that next production is The Holidays Unleashed, a variety show similar to May's Theatre Unleashed Presents Theatre Unleashed Starring ... Theatre Unleashed!!! This shall be the perfect bookend to a perfect season. And so I leave you with the particulars of our final offering for 2008:

The Holidays UnleashedDirected by Darci Dixon and Phillip Kelly
Produced by Theatre Unleashed

Done in the tradition of holiday variety shows of the 1950s and 60s, The Holidays Unleashed features a plethora of entertaining acts. Lead by two Rat Packish (in theory) emcees, the show features a few classic holiday song and dance numbers, a traditional caroling group called The Figgy Puddings, a disturbingly sexy burlesque piece, lots and lots of slapstick and a few skits involving everyone’s favorite20holiday celebrities. But the real fun begins when the show starts to…well…stray a little off course. The all-important holiday message, though, remains intact throughout.

December 15
Monday, 8 p.m. (doors at 7 p.m.)
*Meet and greet with the actors after the shows.

M Bar
1253 N. Vine St.
Hol lywood, CA 90038

General Admission: $10
*Plus $10 food and drink minimum.
Reservations Strongly Suggested!!!
For reservations, call (323) 856-0036
For further information, please call: (818) 849-4039Or check out our website at:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Now That It's Over

I want to share a lesson I learned as a producer this time. You might want to write this down or bookmark this page. Learn how to pick your people.

Let me give you an example from casting. You have two people come in and audition for the same role. One isn't as talented as the other but is easier to work with in the casting session. The other actor is talented, talks the talk and sounds great but is tougher to work with. Let's say your director meets this actor first (and I'm not really talking about actors from our show) and sees the talent and listens to the sales pitch and is sold. The director comes to you and tells you how great this actor is and how much you're going to love this person. You meet the person, expecting to love the person, and are pleased by what you see in the portfolio -- er, audition -- and how much research has gone into this actor's work for this role. Wow! That's pretty keen. The actor is very effusive with you. It looks like this might work out.

Okay, I'm not really talking about actors at all. Let's drop the charade. Your designer (that's nice and vague, right?) seems like a wonderful person. As an actor, you drop a couple hundred on the table to pay for some pieces this designer is supposed to design so you can keep them later because that's how much confidence you have in this person based on recommendation and what you've seen in the research. You offer assistance and assistants for the months leading up to the show so this person isn't overwhelmed and so everything gets done. You offer shopping help since you know the places to get deals on things for this kind of show. You help when allowed by the designer, providing hours of service, comfort and chocolate. You take home things to help lighten the load when you should be working on your lines, but as a producer you have to make sure it gets done. You spend time at your day job fielding phone calls so the work is done by opening night. You defend this person when she attacks your theatre executives on more than one occasion, and you bite your lip and let it slide when she says the executives are out to sabotage the production three days before opening when you have nearly nothing to show for your personal financial investment. The executives are out to sabotage it? Really?

That's not all, folks. As an actor, you wind up in a hoodie for the dress rehearsal because your costume isn't done. There are finishing touches to be done on other costumes but there's one person (you) who doesn't have anything to wear for most of an act of the play. You've gotten sick from the stress of the thing and never took the initiative to take the reigns, seize the materials and do it yourself because you thought this person might deliver without upsetting more people. Opening night you have something to wear. You spend time every weekend making repairs to your costume, finishing things that weren't done. Other actresses in the show have to do the same thing. This person has worked out wonderfully as a stylist for two photo shoots to promote the show, but not so much in building costumes by a deadline.

And right before the show closes, you are dissed by your costume designer to the director, fellow actors and random people you've never met. You're called insistent because you wanted to make sure the materials purchased were actually used. (There isn't a money hose in non-profit theatre to run out and buy more fabric when the designer jumps ship on a design.) You're picked on for asking if a costume could be in another color long before materials were purchased, fine with a different color being used if necessary but being told by the designer at the time that it wasn't a problem at all. (Remember, you're paying for the materials so this request isn't that uncalled for.) You're also accused of changing the costume yourself at the last minute before opening night. Gee, that would've been possible if you actually had a costume! Your director and theatre executives have been ragged on and ranted about and your photographer has been reamed. All of these people are working for free, and the stress is really unnecessary. You feel like you've been attacked by a rabid dog.

So, in closing, I've learned to pay attention to my people training. I know how to choose my people but I have to remember to apply what I know. It's always been my policy to go with the person who is easier to work with and may or may not be as talented.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


The run of Pin-Up Girls is now officially half-over. Last night was our biggest night yet; we were oversold by two seats! We actually had to bring in folding chairs. The after show ("The High Jinks Burlesque") was nearly sold out. I think we had one or two empty seats.

So here's the deal: If you want to see this show, MAKE YOUR RESERVATIONS NOW! The last weeks of any show's run are always the busiest. You can buy tickets through Goldstar, Brown Paper Tickets, or just call our ticket hotline and reserve your seats to pay in cash on the day of the show.

We will not extend the run! The Avery Schreiber is booked up after our run ends. Sunday, the 23rd of November, we're pulling down the walls of the High Jinks and putting the costumes in storage. But today the play is alive, and we welcome you in to our house! is your source for ticket details, times, etc. Our ticket hotline is (818) 849-4039.

“The principles offer lovely performances.”
Steven Leigh Morris – LA Weekly, October 2008

“An intriguing tale of what love means to people and how they show it, Theatre Unleashed’s production of Pin-Up Girls features fine acting and production work.”
Mary Mallory – The Tolucan Times, October 2008

“Acting is uniformly excellent…”
Mary Mallory – The Tolucan Times, October 2008

"[A] poignant reflection on relationships pulled apart by time and circumstance ..."
Philip Brandes – The Los Angeles Times, November 2008

"Moore's nostalgic affection for the tough-talking gals of the 1940s is obvious. With so many men shipped off to fight overseas, the six well-delineated strippers of San Francisco's Hi Jinks club have no one but themselves to rely on."
Philip Brandes – The Los Angeles Times, November 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

Originally posted on 6 November 2008, at In The Extreme:

"... a poignant reflection on relationships pulled apart by time and circumstance ..."


This is the second review I've received in the Los Angeles Times, and the second time I felt the reviewer got what I was doing. This is the fairest, most clear-headed review so far. It's not entirely congratulatory, nor should it be. The reviewer does an outstanding job of pointing out what actually needs work, rather than offering up a smug "I didn't like it" in purple prose.

He's right about the subplots. I was going for something more than a mere love triangle, and I do feel that I weave things together nicely in the end. But as I've mentioned before (on Mad Theatrics, if not here) I'm struggling to maintain a certain economy of writing, and it's a struggle that I haven't fully won. To be soberly honest, there are still cuts to be made, and they reside exclusively with the subplots.

I have learn much about this show, watching it every night since it opened. There is definitely another draft in me. But please forgive me for being elated about this review; as a writer, I have a blurb. A blurb! From the Times!

(The Times reviewer also caught the line of dialogue early in the play that firmly sets the location as San Francisco, a minor point that escaped the LA Weekly reviewer. I do so appreciate it when critics reviewing my work bother to listen to what the actors are saying.)
Romance on the home front

Amid the backstage antics of the World War II-era burlesque hall depicted in writer-director Andrew Moore's "Pin-Up Girls," there's a tight little tenderhearted romance percolating somewhere. But coaxing it from this new play's ambitious but often muddled initial outing at NoHo's Avery Schreiber Theatre will take some doing.

Moore's nostalgic affection for the tough-talking gals of the 1940s is obvious. With so many men shipped off to fight overseas, the six well-delineated strippers of San Francisco's Hi Jinks club have no one but themselves to rely on. As Helen, the most fiercely independent of the bunch, Pamela Moore parlays experience in both theater and burlesque choreography into a thoroughly convincing portrait of hardhearted survival. Having recently contracted a venereal disease, Helen finds her past innocence colliding with her jaded present when her onetime lover, a disabled vet named Scotty (Seth Caskey), unexpectedly returns from the war, bent on rekindling their romance.

Their awkward reunion is a poignant reflection on relationships pulled apart by time and circumstance, further complicated by the fact that Helen's roommate and fellow dancer, Ruby (Sarah Cook), has long carried a secret torch for Scotty.

These sympathetic lead performances notwithstanding, the triangle at the core of the piece is overrun by too many subplots involving the other eight characters, some of which lapse into caricature.

The antique prop-laden set by Starlet Jacobs and Christine Guilmette's eye-catching costumes add a period feel, though it clashes with occasional anachronistic dialogue that begs for careful scrubbing.

-- Philip Brandes "Pin-Up Girls," Avery Schreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 23. $20. (818) 849-4039. Running time: 2 hours.
Click here to see the review on the LA Times website.

The Tolucan Times Review

Originally posted on 30 October 2008, at In The Extreme:

(l to r) Sylvia Anderson as "Lottie", Alana Dietze as "Wilma, and Pamela Moore as "Helen." Photo by Chris Cortez.

Another good review, this time from a paper much more local to North Hollywood, where the play is being produced (Toluca Lake is a bordering township.)

Mallory reviewed the play at face value, rather than projecting any preconceived notions or outside baggage onto it, and for that I am thankful. I would disagree with her point about "too many subplots." You can count the subplots on one hand, they all resolve, and the play is an hour and forty-five minutes long. For a play as fast-paced as "Pin-Up Girls" anything less would make the show seem simplistic. There's a wonderful weaving of these subplots into the main plot towards the end of Act II that makes any perceived chaos worth the trouble to keep up.

The misidentification of one of the romantic leads is a bit disappointing. Lauren Burns turns in a wonderfully layered and understated performance as Tillie; she really sucker-punches you with the reality of her character's story late in Act II. (I've been intimately involved in this project forever, and have seen the show more times than I care to recall right now. Sunday night, her final scene brought tears to my eyes.) But it is indeed Sarah Cook, as the pining pilot Ruby who "nurses a true love for Scotty."
"Pin-Up Girls" Takes Off On Love

by Mary Mallory

An intriguing tale of what love means to people and how they show it, Theatre Unleashed's production of "Pin-Up Girls" features fine acting and production work.

The play focuses on the daily struggles of the members of a burlesque troupe struggling through romance, sexual identity, and work issues. Helen (Pamela Moore), is in a relationship with Scotty (Seth Caskey) who is away overseas during World War II, realizes that she wants excitement and not steadiness in romantic relationships. Her troupe mate Tillie (Lauren Burns), contrary to Helen, nurses a true love for Scotty.

Writer/Director Andrew Moore keeps the action moving and realistically brings to life the irritations and closeness of any performing troupe, but it occasionally seems disjointed with too many subplots going on and one character that seems to have escaped from a Saturday Night Live skit.

Acting is uniformly excellent, with outstanding work by Moore, Caskey, and Burns. Moore goes full throttle as the hard charging yet emotional Helen. Caskey touchingly underplays the wounded vet Scotty, positive and steady through turmoil. Burns brings sweetness and vulnerability to the warmhearted, loving Tillie.

Starlet Jacobs' set design is a wonder to behold, a cluttered, busy dressing room. Christine Guilmette's gorgeous costumes and hair wonderfully capture the 1940s.
Bringing to life the dramatic and hilarious goings-on backstage to comment on how values impact the choices we make, "Pin-Up Girls" provides an entertaining look at the big changes brought on by World War II.

"Pin-Up Girls" plays Fridays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 7 PM through November 23 at the Avery Schreiber Theatre in North Hollywood. Tickets are $20. Saturday's performances feature a bonus show "The High Jinks Burlesque" at 10:30 PM that costs $10. Both shows cost $25.

LA Weekly Review is up:

Originally posted on 27 October 2008 at In The Extreme:

(l to r) Lauren Burns as "Tillie" and Sarah Cook as "Ruby." Photo by Chris Cortez.

The reviewer seems to have had a good time, but largely missed the point.

For instance, Helen's definition of idependance is not "the right to leave her guy dangling emotionally." Scotty places a demand on Helen, that she continue to be the girl who wrote to him, "Suddenly this big city seems so very daunting and sinister. I wish I could have you here to guide my way." She tries to accommodate this wish, to the detriment of her own freedom, and the whole thing blows up in her face.

It is only when Helen is honest and truthful with Scotty that the situation resolves for both of them. If there is any cruelty on Helen's part, it is self-inflicted. Freedom is not a "get out of jail free" card; there are consequences to calling your own tune. In the end, Helen, Ruby and Scotty make the personal sacrifices necessary to win their freedom.

I'm sure he didn't mean it as such, but I take "cutesy" and "sometimes romantic" as compliments. They say the same things about Capra and Hawks, and that's what I was going for. It's a helluva lot better than "heavy-handed" and "depressing" at any rate.

NEW REVIEW PIN-UP GIRLS Set designer Starlet Jacobs sets the stage with '40s memorabilia -- racks of vintage costumes adorn the playing area and a model of a USAF bomber hangs suspended from the proscenium arch. With waves of overlapping dialogue punctuated with sporadic moments of farce, playwright-director Andrew Moore varyingly hits his mark of hyper-realism in his depiction of burlesque performers in the midst of WWII. Though the locale isn't specified in the program, snippets of dialogue suggest a West Coast setting. While the burlesque act mostly remains off-stage, what we see are the backstage comings and goings of the proprietress (April Adams); the dancers (Sylvia Anderson, Lauren Burns, Sarah Cook, Alana Dietze, Pamela Moore and Lauren Mutascio); the pianist (Jovial Kemp), who taps on a non-functioning spinet to recorded piano sounds; and a cartoon of a self-appointed guardian of decency (Judith Goldstein), who's like a Salvation Army officer out of Guys & Dolls. Moore's story spins on the homecoming of wounded Marine, Scotty (Seth Caskey), to his unfaithful STD-infected heartthrob, Helen (Moore, in a robust and sassy performance). Helen defines her independence as the right to leave her guy dangling emotionally, while dancer Ruby (Cook, in a gentle portrayal brimming with hidden desires) eventually makes her move on her colleague's man, while accepting a post with the WASP corps. It's unclear how the two women catfighting over a guy is an examination of women's freedom, however demurely their fighting may be. That idea is best captured by Helen's insistence of being her own person while stringing along her wounded suitor: Is this cruelty part of a burgeoning women's movement, or a subtle condemnation of it? There's also a subplot of the puppy love between a semi-blind youth (Bryan Gaston) and a teen apprentice (Mustascio), who replaces Ruby when the older dancer enlists in the military. The principals offer lovely performances, but this new play is a sometimes cutesy, sometimes romantic construction. Its larger insight into who we are, and where we've come from, has yet to be chiseled. Avery Shreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 849-4039. A Theatre Unleashed production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
You can find the review in context here.


I've been blogging about my Pin-Up Girls reviews over at my other blog, forgetting of course that theatre people do occasionally read this, and may find the reviews interesting. So Get ready for a bunch of reposting!

But first, let me just say how important it is to have a publicist who knows what he's doing. In Theatre Unleashed, we are quite fortunate to have the very able Jim Martyka as a founding member. The work he has done this year to attract press has been absolutely stellar.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pin-Up Girls Third Prelude Video!

video written and directed by Gregory Crafts

The play opens this Friday in North Hollywood. See our website for further information, or visit Brown Paper Tickets to purchase your tickets online!

bonus: behind the scenes photo of our set!

We completed our load in yesterday. The set design is by Starlet Jacobs. This is a tightly framed picture of one of the make-up counters backstage at the High Jinks Burlesque! If you look at the vanity mirror to the left, you'll see the "$17.00" price on the mirror. Needless to say, that will be scrubbed off before opening night.

Today our lighting designer, Johnny Ryman is overseeing the hang and focus. We'll have a full run of the play tonight at our rehearsal hall downtown, and into two dress rehearsals tomorrow night! It's crunch time, and I'm excited to see things coming together.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pin-Up Girls Prelude Video!

video written by Jacob Smith and directed by Pamela Moore.

There are a couple more of these coming. The idea behind doing our video promotion in this way is to extend the story beyond the confines of the theatrical, thus creating a truly multi-media experience for our audience. Also, I like the idea of other company members tackling the material in their own way (just wait until you see what wunderkind Sebastian Kadlecik has in store!)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Theatre of the Mind

A direction I would like to "unleash" in is audio theatre (the artform formally known as "radio drama.") There are many reasons:
  1. It makes Theatre Unleashed output available to anyone, anywhere and at anytime.
  2. It satisfies our mandate to explore multimedia.
  3. It can contribute to the synergy we already enjoy between our video output and live stage shows.
  4. It's got to be a heck of a lot cheaper than mounting stage productions.
I know that I listen to podcasts. Do you? Is it possible that with the advent of podcastingm we'll see a renewed interest in audio dramas?

I have much more research to do on this topic!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

We're well underway with Pin-Up Girls rehearsals. In fact, we open in about three weeks. It's been an interesting experience for me as a producer this time. It's not as dreadful as it was with Torrid Affaire. I think the major difference is that we have a team to support our efforts. Theatre Unleashed has totally gotten our back throughout the process.

Something wonderful about this show is that everyone in the cast is doing the work. They're working on their lines outside of rehearsal so they can have them down by the deadline. (There are a ton of lines in a 127 page play. Some of them are already off book.) They're asking Andrew intelligent questions to create a better performance. No one is butting heads with anyone. People show up on time to rehearsal or contact the stage manager if they're going to be late or missing. Hell, we have a stage manager!

Our press releases went out this week. We have our postcards. The costumes are underway (by an incredible designer named Christine Guillmette). It's easier to do your work when there are other people to do their part and they actually get it done.

Good Ideas

I miss the challenge of scholarship sometimes. By that I mean, the challenge of professors.

Oh, I complain about academia as much as the next guy. I have a healthy disdain for ivory towers, and joke about my "English professor look" whenever I don my tweed sports coat. I mock 'em, I laugh at 'em. But that's part of the joy.

A good professor is a whetstone. He or she is there to be drawn against, bringing their students to a sharpened edge of knowledge and (hopefully) wisdom. My favorite college professor once remarked that it is ideal for the students to surpass the master. It doesn't seem possible, that a student could become more able in his field than the guy teaching him. But indeed it is the synergy of a student's raw talent and drive and the professor's command of a subject and passion that result in an accomplished professional.

And just as you build up static electricity by rubbing two fabrics together, a student coming into contact -- even conflict -- with a professor results, ideally, in a charge of energy waiting to be released upon the world.

When I think of the people who most impacted my life, the teachers are most widely represented. There's that high school chemistry teacher who challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and take on a subject that I cared very little about. There's Tommie Webb, the absolute best drama teacher a kid could ever ask for. There's my college humanities teacher, who did more to challenge my assumptions on the subject of religion than anyone else before or since.

And there's Dr. Pat Farmer. I haven't said much publicly about the man in the past (muffle muffle) years. I've been following "Thumper's Law" if you will. But I have come to appreciate lessons learned from Dr. Farmer and the sense of professionalism he attempted to instill -- perhaps a bit too aggressively -- into us kids. There are things he taught me that I use to this day as a director and occasional actor.

The curious thing about Dr. Farmer -- my relationship with him as an obstinate, rebellious student; what I may perceive as his shortcomings as an educator -- curiously, the whole ball of wax has made me a better person. Having someone to push against, to come into conflict with, to disagree and agree with, helped mold me as a theatre professional. So whatever my personal opinions of the man, I hope that he understands that I do respect him.

Another professor I've discovered is Scott Walters. His blog Theatre Ideas is one of my regular haunts. I was planning on launching into a blog response to one of his earlier blog postings. (He asks, "Is there a way to move the arts into another type of economy?" As if it's possible to be a part of society and divorced from society's trappings at once. Only an academic could come up with that.) But before I got carried away, I thought I would take the time to say how much I appreciate Walters, Partridge, Eakins, Strain, Webb, Watts, and even Farmer. A fellow doesn't get any smarter in an echo chamber. Thank you for the challenge.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Absolute

"A man must go forth from where he stands
He cannot jump to the absolute, he must evolve toward it"
- Victor Wooten, The Sojourn of Arjuna

Believe it or not, this is a continuation of my "Music Video" post. I'm getting a little lateral here. Sorry about that, but if you stick with me, this should get interesting.

At the same time I find myself pursuing theatrical thought experiments, trying to figure out how to engage an audience and evoke that "undeniable hunger and thirst" that Peter Brook describes, I find myself giving advice on playwriting shortcuts. You see, I'm of two minds. On one hand, I want to pursue unbridled experimentation and really put some theories to the test. On the other hand, I'm pragmatic enough to know that unbridled experimentation is almost surely doomed to failure more often than success, and theatre is far too expensive an artform (in L.A. in particular) to run the risk of bankrupting any future productions with today's wild hare. (As a libertarian, I'm all-too familiar with the struggle of idealism versus pragmatism.)

The production of Juana I directed last year was perhaps my most unbridled experiment so far, and it was an unmitigated disaster. I am very proud of my cast and crew for doing their best in the face of an impossible play, and I take full responsibility for my part in the debacle. But to be honest, the only thing epic about the production was the level of "fail."

And so I decide to take baby steps towards this ideal (that is, "necessary theatre-going, a.k.a. Immediate Theatre). Part of this process is to identify productions where the ideal is showing through, and to attempt an analysis of what went right. I'm not particularly interested in what went wrong, except to learn from my own mistakes. I can thenn bring these ideal aspects into my own work, and see if I can duplicate the success I perceive. Finally, I take the lessons I've learned, and continue from the beginning of this process.

In short: Identify, analyze, experiment, repeat.

For those of you not as familiar with my theatrical background (and for the love of god, who reads this blog? I'm guessing mom, and the occasional surfer who took a wrong turn at a Google search) in college my wife and I ran a children's theatre company that produced a one-person show written by Allen Partridge entitled Einstein's Quest. The purpose of this play is to teach creative problem solving to children, to wit: "Identify, analyze, experiment, repeat." So yes, I have taken my scientific procedure from a children's play.

To be continued ...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Theatre, Music Video Style

Okay, this post is going to be a bit "out there." Bear with me.

Is there any artform more distant from live theatre than the modern music video? I don't think there is. Modern theatrical techniques have enabled a much more cinematic experience from the stage; automated scene changes and special effects can almost make you forget you're seeing it live. Yet there is no technique that can duplicate the "MTV-style" editing, the extreme camera angles, the super slo-mo, and the myriad other things that give music videos their unique look.

Sometimes music videos open up a theatrical world in miniature, reminding me of the toy theatres of long ago:

Best production of Waiting for Godot ever. Or, at the very least, the one most people have seen.

Not, strickly speaking, a play. But very theatrical. I would like to see this play, if it existed.

Music videos give you a sense of something, they convey an emotional life. They give you the barest bones of story structure (when they're done right)

And sometimes music videos are a triumph of style over substance, revealing worlds that exist beyond plot points and characterization. This last video has no story, but it is as riveting to me as anything I've seen onstage. It's a dance and it obeys the three unities of French Neoclassicism(!), so I suppose it has theatricality. All I know is if I saw this live on stage they'd have to pick me up off the floor when it was all over:

Can this sort of thing even happen onstage? Can it happen in an under-99, and in some way convey a cogent narrative? I think so.

More on this later.

Monday, August 04, 2008


It has a slightly stylized voice (the play is set in the 1940s) but this is pretty naturalistic, even for me:
Yeah, well, no doubt she’s off arguing with Merv. New number and
all. And he’s playing too fast or else missing a verse or who knows.
It's almost an acid-test for actors. Can they read the line and deliver it as written? I can tell so much about an actor's "method" and diligence with this one line.

The second draft of Pin-Up Girls is almost done. The first reading will be scheduled soon, and rehearsals begin after that. We open in October! I'm a bit nervous, naturally. But the writing is going very well. Knock on wood.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Evolution of a Line

I'm still learning to exercise economy of words.

I'm working on the second draft of Pin-Up Girls, and I observed myself in the process of editing. It made me chuckle when this happened, and I'd like to share it with you:

Scotty, a WWII vet, has returned home to the burlesque club where he played trumpet before the war. As he sits backstage, eating cold dumplings, he says:
Yeah. I remember. Jesus. Why does it feel like I've been gone for a lifetime? Why does everything look so different?

Yeah. Clunk. What the hell was I thinking? Here's the first edit I made:
Yeah. I remember. Jesus. Why does it feel like I've been gone for a lifetime?

"Why does everything look so different" is redundant and a bit hackneyed. Okay, it's extremely hackneyed. No one talks like that.

Not done editing:
Yeah. I remember. Jesus. I've been gone a lifetime.

Goodbye passive voice! Hello active. We don't need to be told how he thinks he feels. That's what the line did before. It said "I think I feel like it's been a lifetime." No one talks like that who isn't being interviewed by Oprah or somesuch. After this edit the line gives us a peek inside his universe, how he views things. This is good.

There is just one more thing I'd like to do:
Yeah. I remember.
Jesus. I've been gone a lifetime.

The parenthetical "pause" is just music notation. It's a "rest" if you will, telling the actor that the gears are shifting, and "Some sort of psychological change goes here."

Sunday, June 29, 2008


I'm re-reading David Mamet's Three Uses of the Knife. Mamet is perhaps my favorite curmudgeon. He's like a grumpy, older male relative who's seen it all, and doesn't understand "them kids today." Except he really does understand them, he just doesn't understand why mankind persists in making the same damn mistakes over and over.

So please forgive the sweeping generalities and curmudgeon-like words below, or at least take them with a grain of salt. These thoughts occurred to me as I read, and I would like to share them with you:
When you come into the theatre, you have to be willing to say, "We're all here to undergo a communion, to find out what the hell is going on in this world." If you're not willing to say that, what you get is entertainment instead of art, and poor entertainment at that.
- David Mamet, Three Uses of the Knife
From its Latin root, communion is essentially "a sharing." Removed from any specific religious sense, communion is a form of intimate communication.

The definition with which I am most familiar is the Christian meaning, the eucharist, the sacramental consuming of bread and wine as originated by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. The tradition I grew up in did not believe in transubstantiation, the actual transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, but I do know of of it, albeit from Protestant publications highly critical of the belief.

There is something inherently holy about communion, whether we're talking unleavened wafers and wine, or a completely honest exchange between human beings. We live in increasingly unholy times, it seems. What passes for intimate conversation is oftentimes self-centered exhibitionism: "I'm manic-depressive," "Let me tell you what an asshole by boyfriend is." There never seems to be an attempt to dig any deeper into these surface issues, to discover some personal truth that may improve our conditions, or at the very least satisfy our need for some ounce of understanding about them.

Instead we are satisfied to dress ourselves in our problems, put on our neurosis and phobias as if they're jewelry. These "intimacies" are in fact plumage put on display for all the world to see. Yet, I wonder how satisfying this exercise truly is?

Theatre at its most potent is a laying bare of the psyche. It's a means of taking situations, thoughts, and feelings familiar to all, placing them on a dissection tray, and opening up the experience of life for an audience to see and ponder on. So the theatre is a kind of life laboratory. If slapstick depends upon the quality of "safety" to elicit belly laughs, so too does drama depend upon the safety of knowing it's all just a game. The players are merely artists, and we in the darkened house are not witnessing acts that possess any true, lasting effect on the characters involved.

It is in this laboratory and safe zone that theatrical communion can occur.

Any seasoned audience member or actor, any veteran of the stage will tell you there are times when the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts, moments when the electricity is in the air, and a sort of psychological transubstantiation occurs. Joe Actor as Hamlet becomes Hamlet, if only for a few lines. A sharing occurs, and intimate communication is had.

It seems funny to me that true intimacy can occur between strangers in a public milieu, yet it escapes us among the closest of friends.

Friday, June 20, 2008

An Anthology of One Acts for L.A.
My new theatre company is currently presenting an evening of one acts, and I'm involved in two of the plays:

* At the Threshold, which I directed, is an incredible short work by Phillip Kelly. It deals with something I'm all too familiar with, the unstoppable crash of adulthood into an otherwise happy-go-lucky, young adult life. It's a quarter-life-crisis story that's not soppy or self-indulgent. Nor is it too heavy. I'm a big fan of this play, and I literally jumped at the chance to direct it. My cast is just incredible. Jacob Smith, Darci Dixon, Gregory Crafts, Lisa K. Wyatt, Katie Sikema, and Jenn Scuderi bring this work to the stage.

* Three Small People in Very Big Shoes, which I wrote, is a satirical look at backstage life at Disneyland. It's a sex farce expertly helmed by director Jim Blanchette and brought to life by Jacob Smith, Vanessa Hurd and Ana Therese Lopez.

And here's a deal readers of this blog just can't beat: Mention my name at the box office (or when reserving your tickets on our reservation line) and you'll get half off the price of admission this Saturday and Sunday! Holy smokes, that's a good deal!

I'm really proud of the work we've done, and I want to share it with as many people as possible. Because what's the point of doing this stuff if I don't get to share it?

Details: June 12 - 29 , Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm At THE COMPLEX in Hollywood, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd. Tickets: Normally $20, half price this Saturday and Sunday if you mention my name (Andrew) To reserve your seats: (818) 849-4039

And after you see the show, come back here and tell me what you thought!

Here's what Pat Taylor at The Tolucan Times and Canyon Crier thought:
"A 'cutting edge' fearless and talented bunch who 'tell it like it is,' just opened this series of gritty, thought-provoking scenes, exploring the complexities of desire, ambitions, regrets, self-identity, love lost, and the delicately diverse art of communication."

"This is an e-ticket ride into the dark and vulnerable psyche of human nature ..."

Friday, June 13, 2008

What We Should Have Said

An Anthology of One Acts for L.A.

Ticketing information available here. (NOTE: If you purchase tickets through Brown Paper Tickets, type in the passcode "Spike" for savings of $5 off the price of each ticket!)

As the title suggests, this evening of one acts is concerned with communication. From the Artistic Director's statement:

Whether it's abundant or lacking, communication is at the heart of dealing with everything from personal issues to world affairs. Regret, ego, anxiety, denial, love, ambition -- these are all intagibles that affect our need and desire to communicate who we are and what we want.
I wrote one of the pieces and I directed another. I hope to see you there!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Theatre Unleashed Spring Company Member Auditions

Theatre Unleashed is a highly organized, artistically motivated force looking for fellow artists to partake in creating something spectacular in the world of live theatre in Los Angeles. We're not only looking for actors, but writers, directors, designers, stage managers and tech people to join our company and help us bring new life to the classics but also to help shape and mold original works.

At its core,
the mission of Theatre Unleashed is simple: to work together as one, passionately and professionally, in creating truly remarkable theatre. Theatre Unleashed celebrates the creative collaboration process by encouraging its members to explore fresh, thought-provoking approaches to both original works and established shows. Theatre Unleashed will experiment with various forms of multimedia to heighten the entertainment experience while staying true to the playwright's words, characters and thematic intent. Story-telling will always be the driving force behind any Theatre Unleashed production as the company pledges to always push its artistic boundaries, striving to reach that emotional resonance with our audience that only live theatre can create.

re Unleashed is a dues paying company. The $40.00 a month will allow you the opportunity to be a part of a creative community as we bring some of the finest theatre to Los Angeles through our series of main stage shows, travelling variety shows, experimental theatre, labs and workshops specific to the Theatre Unleashed experience. It will also allow you the opportunity to hone your skills in a community of exceptionally talented writers, directors, actors and other like-minded artists.

g a strong company with members focused on supporting each other in creating great theatre is the only way we feel an impact can truly be made on our audience and the members truly recognized for their craft. Our goal is to unleash ourselves from artistic restraints and to unleash ourselves upon the city of Los Angeles.

To be a part of this:

e prepare a one minute contemporary monologue and a one minute classical monologue for your audition.

To learn
more about our company and our 2008 Season check out our website: www.

The Detai

Sunday, May 18th 11:30-4 and Monday, May 19th 6:30-10pm

To sched
ule an audition please email:

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Choreography Experiment

Our Theatre Unleashed intro show was Thursday night, and it was a wild success. Our first fundraiser brought more attention and money than we initially estimated, which is a fantastic thing to say for a company that was officially incorporated on April Fool's Day.

I choreographed a cabaret chair dance number for the show. We have a Latvian pop star in our company and a lot of talented ladies, so she sang while some of the ladies did a chair dance. We had about a month to put the whole show together. My dancers were all in other acts in the show, so that limited our rehearsal schedule. I'm a professional burlesque dancer so I have shows of my own, limiting our rehearsal schedule even more. I estimated that the last two weeks of the month would be spent running the show, so those nights were out for choreography. Finally, this is Los Angeles. It's really difficult coordinating six people's schedules and a rehearsal space when you don't have money to throw into booking a space at the one perfect time when everyone is available.

My solution was to choreograph the first minute and change and video it in my living room. I uploaded the video to You Tube and told all of my dancers to learn that piece of choreography before our first of four scheduled rehearsals. We went over that bit of choreography at the first rehearsal and added a little more. I videotaped the second chunk of choreography and uploaded that to You Tube so they would have the first two minutes down perfectly for our second rehearsal. This was also helpful with people having vacations and acting classes and other rehearsals on rehearsal nights; this gave them the opportunity to keep up. I continued with the videotaped choreography to the end. The dancers were able to run the number in their homes when it was convenient so they all had it fantastically when they ran the number together.

I'm happy to say my little experiment worked. The girls all looked fantastic on show night. They were seductive, playful, naughty and fun. I think I may try this again the next time I have to choreograph a piece that needs to be ready in a short period of time.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Theatre Unleashed is officially incorporated! We filed our state incorporation paperwork through Legal Zoom. Legal Zoom is a great resource for do-it-yourself types. We didn't have the money to spend on a lawyer, and it seemed that a regular person could fill out the forms without one. The format was easy to follow. We got expedited service, a binder for our Articles of Incorporation, membership certificates, a disc of forms and a company seal. The longest part of the process was gathering the money to pay for it.

Our next step is drafting by-laws. We also have to fill out our federal non-profit application. The first milestone has been passed!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Directing like Michelangelo, Directing like Da Vinci

Ancora Imparo ("Yet I'm Learning")
-- Michelangelo
This is a companion piece to "Writing like Beethoven, Writing like Mozart" a blog posting from about a year ago. In that piece, I offered up a couple of observations on writing. This time, I'd like to talk about directing.

I enjoy directing. I enjoy working with actors, breaking out a script like it's my great-grandmother's cornbread dressing recipe, rolling up my sleeves, and dirtying up the kitchen a little bit. I like to think I'm pretty good at it, as well. I've had more successes than failures, at any rate. I haven't heard much complaining from my actors, either. Not even the ones I forced to walk around with those stupid looking puppets last year. (Note to self: make sure I'm not just horribly out of touch.)


When my wife and I visited Italy, we did the usual touristy things, including going to see the famous statue of David. Huge, imposing statue, that David. He lives in the Accademia Gallery these days, and the grand hall that brings you to the great Biblical king is lined with the Slaves or Captives.

To me, these four Captives are far more striking. They're not as "posed" as David. They feel more alive.

And they demonstrate something wonderful about Michelangelo's work. As he said about another of his sculptures, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." Michelangelo would spend hours just looking at the marble, until he could see the statue inside. He would then chip away everything that wasn't the statue.

And so we come to my first observation about directing. There is a real art in observing the raw materials before you, and chipping away everything that is not the play. You know the old saying about how good directing is 80% casting? It's true. I'd much rather shape a performance, and discover serendipitous little synergies between my vision and the actor's vision, than have to drag a performance kicking and screaming from a recalcitrant actor. It's much more fun to free the captive, so to speak, than to keep plopping spackle on an incomplete form.


Da Vinci was a total gear head. He had to know how things work, to the point of performing autopsies to better understand human anatomy, and thus improve his painting. He was an accomplished engineer as well.

I like to find out what makes people tick, what makes dramatic literature work, and how all of this comes together before an audience to move that audience, enlighten and entertain. I read a lot. I watch people. I scribble little notes in my comp notebooks, and refer to them later.

Breaking out a script is part of this. Finding the beats, figuring out why the writer has character A say this, or character B do that. This is all structural, it's all engineering. It also helps me define the skeleton on which to drape the play. Arbitrary and perfunctory choices in other people's work drives me batty. Arbitrary and perfunctory choices in my own work makes me want to crawl under a rock.

The best way to avoid the mediocre is to know what you're doing, inside and out. Even if it's not necessary to know which way the blood flows in order to paint a pretty picture, maybe that extra bit of knowledge will inform your choice of skin tone, or blush; some subtle little touch that will communicate to your audience on a sublime level.


Frescos. Paint mixed in with plaster. The way I learned it, this combination would dry fast, so the artist would have to quickly make his paint strokes, pushing more pigment into the wet plaster, and shoving it around like some miraculous technicolor mud. No time to second guess your instincts. All the observation and study leads up to this moment, this here-and-now. The cast is arrayed before you, and they're looking to you. It's time to pick up your brush, and mix the pigment with the plaster.

Well ... it's what I strive to do.
For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.
-- Da Vinci

Monday, March 31, 2008

I Will Be Unleashed

Writing in Laundromats

This year the wife and I will finally purchase a washer and dryer. I'm not too sure why we haven't done this yet. It just hasn't been a priority. But our time has become very dear, and carving out that hour to run around the corner and do a few loads has become difficult.

I will say this for laundromats: They're good for writing. Waiting for clothes to wash and dry is like watching paint dry. Not a whole lot else to do. Plus, I have access to uncluttered horizontal space, perfect for laying out my plot cards:

Above you see my latest endeavor, Pin-Up Girls, in progress. Note the copious plot holes. These blank spots get filled with blank index cards which shall be filled in in time. At this stage in the process, I have the major story beats (or plot points, if you prefer) figured out. Spreading out the cards in this way is my way of determining the pacing of the play.

What gear do I need for plot carding at a laundromat? Take a look:

Clockwise, from top center: my stack of plot cards, a cup of coffee, a plastic index card case, ink pen, my discard pile, a list of my characters written on an index card, and my 'secret weapon.' Let's take a closer look at that last one:

My 'secret weapon.' Two cards, taped together: On the top card is the three-act paradigm as defined by Syd Field in Screenplay. On bottom is "the hero's character arc" as defined by Christopher Vogler in his book The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. (I have since added a third card with the archetypes as given by Vogler.)

I'm not slavishly devoted to these models, but I do recognize their worth when plotting a play or screenplay. If I find myself stuck, not knowing where to go next, or what to put into one of those plot holes you saw in the first picture, I refer to my 'secret weapon.' At the very least, it points out the way to go. These models are very good maps. (And I understand that the map is not the territory.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

And now a word from the President (pro tem) ...

Back in January, Pamela and I got together with a small group of our friends, and discussed the possibility of forming a new theatre company. This discussion (at a Denny's, no less) was the culmination of many private conversations that had been taking place over the preceding months.

I am proud to announce the formation of our company:


I have been entrusted by my fellows with the responsibility of serving as President, pro tem of the Board of Directors (hence the photo of gravitas-exuding-Executive Drew at the top of this blog entry.)

Our Mission Statement:

At its core, the mission of Theatre Unleashed is simple: to work together as one, passionately and professionally, in creating truly remarkable theatre. Theatre Unleashed celebrates the creative collaboration process by encouraging its members to explore fresh, edgy, thought-provoking approaches to both original works and established shows. Theatre Unleashed will experiment with various forms of multimedia to heighten the entertainment experience while staying true to the playwright’s words, characters and thematic intent. Story-telling will always be the driving force behind any Theatre Unleashed production as the company pledges to always push its artistic boundaries, striving to reach that emotional resonance with our audience that only live theatre can create.
We are in the (very) formative stages at this point, filing our paperwork and raising our funds. We have a season scheduled, and we have some very exciting things in store. But more about that in the coming weeks! In the meantime, I invite you the reader to visit our MySpace page and befriend us.

It's going to be a wild ride. I'm just happy to be here!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bertolt Brecht: Sympathy for Der Teufel

[NOTE: Much like my earlier blog on Antonin Artaud, the following is a work-in-progress; an airing out of some notes I've kept and thoughts I've thunk. I'm very interested in any feedback from the two or three people who occasionally (accidentally?) find their way to this blog each week.]

An aspect of my original collegiate experience that I did not fully appreciate at the time was the discipline of scholarship: the necessity of researching a subject, digging deep, drawing conclusions and writing up the findings. I wrote a number of papers, most of them cranked out at the last possible moment and hardly deserving of the grades I typically received.

The necessity of doing scholarly work (e.g.: for a grade,) the pressure of a looming deadline and the demand for good and honest research -- these things taken together I place under the heading of "Discipline of Scholarship."

Last year I did a bit of research on Brecht, and I found it -- god help me -- fun.

I revisted Brecht to both reacquaint myself with his "epic theatre" techniques and to fill in the holes in my education. I feared this would be a dry, boring subject. I hated reading his plays in my college days. I was delighted to discover I was wrong. In compiling my reading list, and in addition to the famous bio by Martin Esslin, and a collection of Brecht's own writings entitled, rather succinctly, Brecht on Theatre, I discovered a wonderful little book by Ronald Gray simply titled Bertolt Brecht (1961, Grove Press.) This paperback is part of a "new series ... planned to meet the need for inexpensive, up-to-date and readable introductions to the work of modern American, English and European writers." It's a 114 page summary of Brecht's life and work with an ample survey of "the best published criticism."

It was a very instructive read. One of the things I never liked about Brecht, and perhaps the main block keeping me from an appreciation of his plays, has been his dedication to communism. I find it interesting to learn that Brecht served as a medical orderly in WW I, and in the post-war years aligned himself with the only overtly pacifistic group in Germany at the time, the Communist Party. Later in life, he was highly critical of the communist power structures in the Soviet Union and East Germany.

V-effect and the "Little Organon for the Theatre"

Gray gives us an excellent chapter on Brecht's "Theories and Implications." This chapter quotes Brecht extensively, particularly from his "Little Organon for the Theatre," a sort of manifesto he wrote in 1948. In it Brecht states that the theatre is a place where the Laborer might "enjoy his terrible and never-ending labors as entertainment, together with the terrors of his ceaseless transformation."

"The easiest form of existence is in art," he says.

"Once the world is presented as strange, it must also arouse in the spectator the desire to alter it." And here we come to the dreaded verfremdungseffekt, or "V-effect" for short. Two things I know about V-effect from college: It's always italicized when spelled out in the original German, and no one knows exactly what it means. It is often translated at "the estrangement effect" or "alienation" but we're told that these are not exact translations. Babel Fish translates it to mean "foreign effect."

Here's a novel idea: let's read Brecht's explanation:
The estrangement effect occurs when the thing to be understood, the thing to which attention is to be drawn, is changed from an ordinary, well-known, immediately present thing into a particular, striking, unexpected thing. In a certain sense the self-evident is made incomprehensible, although this only happens in order to make it all the more comprehensible.
To me, this means providing an audience with the opportunity to view life or some aspect of it with "new eyes." By having soldiers carry spoons and forks instead of guns, we may alienate an audience. Perhaps as a result this audience will see the soldiers as if for the first time, and come away with a new viewpoint, maybe something like "soldiers gotta eat."

And so I come to the end of my Brecht notes. I haven't returned to the subject in some time (I've kind of been busy,) but I hope to finish reading Esslin's bio and Brecht on Theatre. I am intrigued by the idea of doing a Brecht play in true Brechtian fashion, as soon as I can figure out what that is!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

How to Use Wikipedia and Google as Research Tools

Looking over some old posts here, I ran across "How To Pretend You're an Expert." There's something I feel I should put a finer point on:


Wikipedia is a really nifty idea. A really nifty idea that gets abused by crackpots with an axe to grind. You have to take just about everything you read there with a grain of salt. (Depending on the subject matter, sometimes a salt shaker should be keep close at hand.)

When reading through a Wikipedia article, take note of proper nouns: places, people, things. Take note of the external links they sometimes provide at the end of articles. Follow hypertext trains of thought.

When attacking a subject with Google, specify your search with those proper nouns you took note of in Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia article on Evel Knievel turns up the name "Doug Malewicki". Googling the two names together takes me to a website of Malewicki's patents and engineering concepts. This may lead to speculating on Evel Knievel's (fictional) role as a Batman-esque superhero, utilizing devices invented by his Lucius Fox-esque gadget man, Doug Malewicki. Like that time Evel used Robosaurus to defeat communism. This is a crappy example, but perhaps you get the idea.

The idea is to ferret out the cubby holes of knowledge and camp out there.