Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thursday, March 26, 2009
New Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Venus Retrograde
Rainy and cold

I am ready for a new moon, baby! 😉

I was in “gastric distress” yesterday for most of the day, the aftermath of the previous evening. And, I was tired. So I wasn’t particularly productive. However, I found that radishes helped enormously. Unfortunately, I then baked cookies and ate raw dough, so we were back to square one. By dinnertime, the sight/smell of food didn’t make me want to curl up into a fetal position and wail. An improvement.

Managed to get the grocery shopping done – that rocked, I shopped very well on my budget, including the food I need to bring with me on the site job this weekend.

Several people asked me what it feels like to see my work on stage. There’s always a bit of strangeness to the process, because you’re seeing something that ran two-dimensionally in your head (even if you see actual people speak your words as you imagine them) and then it’s three dimensional in front of you. Also, because I was not part of the rehearsal process in this particular case (I often am part of it – I love being in the rehearsal room with actors), there’s a lot that’s out of my control, and you just have to roll with it, as far as beats, rhythm, choices, etc. Mostly, when it’s a good production, it feels good. Good actors and good direction will take it to heights you couldn’t imagine when you wrote it.

You also have to put aside your own ego and accept it for what it is – it’s live, and sometimes an actor will go up on a line or paraphrase or whatever. Mistakes happen. When they’ve simply miscast, that’s when it becomes an issue. When I’m more closely involved in the day-to-day process of a show, I try to get in on the casting, and in theatre, it’s far more likely to include the playwright than in film (the screenwriter is rarely involved in casting unless the screenwriter is also directing and/or producing). Most actors pull from the same pool of monologues, material that most of us on the other side of the table have heard a zillion times – and, after the 15th time you’ve heard it in the same day’s casting session, you’re ready to tear your hair out. One of the reasons that actors who use my monologues usually land a callback and the role is that the material is fresh and that alone makes the casting folks perk up. That and the fact that the monologues roll easily off the tongue. Anyway, when you know the material the actor performs, you know if the actor paraphrases. It’s a warning bell. If you bring him back for a cold reading (he’s handed pages from the script and has to read them with a reader provided in the casting session – I always pay an actual actor to sit and read in the casting sessions, it’s only fair to those auditioning). Some actors are awful at cold readings, some are great at them, and you have to hope that being good in a cold reading isn’t their best, or it will be a long road ahead. Because it’s a cold reading, the words won’t be spoken exactly as written. But, again, if there’s too much paraphrasing, the actor is not going to respect the script in the rehearsal or performance process, and my vote is “no.” Also, in a callback, you get a chance to work the actor in a scene and then give direction – if the actor can’t take direction, it’s a “no.”

Of course, there are some actors who do their best work in auditions and go steadily downhill during rehearsal, and then you have to make the decision to fire them.

As a writer, I love being in the rehearsal room with the actors (provided the director isn’t a control freak). Yes, the director is in charge, but there are some directors who don’t want the writer to talk to the actor AT ALL, which is ridiculous. It’s something the director, writer, and producer need to thrash out before starting rehearsals. What’s the protocol? Who says what? When I have a good relationship with the director, we discuss the day’s work ahead of time, go in to the rehearsal on the same page, and we can both interact easily without contradicting each other. We check in with each other, but we don’t defy each other. I think it makes everyone in the room uncomfortable when the writer and director debate a point in front of the actors, or, every time the writer has an idea, the writer pulls the director into the corner and there’s a lot of whispering. I find that very counterproductive. It’s one thing to turn to the director and say, “Hey, I have an idea! Wanna hear it?” And then the director either takes you out of the room or says, “yeah, sure” and you present it (best scenario, when there’s a real collaboration). Again, there has to be a lot of communication before the production starts. You want to provide a creative and stable environment in the rehearsal room so that the actors can fly and contribute to the creation process.

You still discuss notes ahead of time with the director, and the director’s the one who gives the notes (although I’ve been in a room where suddenly the director turned to me and said, “Do you have any comments?” – I prefer to discuss them with the director ahead of time, and, if it’s something controversial, I’ll say that’s what I want to do, but if it’s little tweaks, I’ll say them). Also, I’m big on cutting in rehearsal – when you have a three-dimensional actor, you can cut out the unnecessary words. So there are often sessions at the top of the rehearsal, after I’ve discussed it with the director, I’ll sit and give cuts. And usually terrify the actors, because the act of cutting often frightens them, although once they run it on its feet, they love it. Or, if a scene doesn’t work, I either rewrite it that night, or go off during the rehearsal for an hour, re-write it, hand it to the director. The director and I talk about it, I make some tweaks, the production stage manager runs a clean copy and makes copies for everyone in the company who needs it, and off we go.

I wasn’t involved with the day-to-day of this particular play, but we’d discussed it ahead of time and I was fine with it. I knew the circumstances, I knew the nomadic nature of the company, all of that. If the circumstances were different, I would have written into the contract provisions for casting and rehearsals. So, things that might have bothered me had I had a different relationship to the day-to-day running of the show simply weren’t an issue here. As I watched it, I saw a couple of places I would have cut a line here and there to even tighten the rhythms further (although it was hard to tell with two new people ad-libbing whenever they got insecure, which was a lot).

As a stage manager and production manager, I’ve worked with playwrights so in love with every syllable that they refuse to cut anything, and it’s detrimental to a production. You’ve got to be willing to cut anything you don’t need.

I had a strange dream last night. I dreamed I was reading a book. What was strange about it was that, in the dream, I was reading the actual text of the book, the story, and simultaneously seeing it unfurl behind my eyes the way one does when one reads. And I suddenly knew that the book hadn’t yet been written. So I wonder if I’m supposed to write it? Well, if so, take a number!

I have some client projects to work on today, the two anthology stories, the plays, and an article. I’ve also got some errands to run (in the rain) and I have to pack for the weekend’s site job.

Busy day; better get going.


Published in: on March 26, 2009 at 7:33 am  Comments (6)  
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  1. You sound like such a seasoned pro. Um, then again, you ARE. 🙂

    Nice dream. You going to be able to act on it any time soon?


  2. This post–what a great “inside look”! d:))

  3. Hope your tummy stays settled today.

    Thanks for the Behind-the-scenes look!

  4. Write it! :))

    I just mentioned you on Twitter as my must-read blog. 🙂

  5. I hope you’re feeling better now! Thank you so much for taking the time to give looks where we wouldn’t ordinarily have them, behind the actual play production and all it entails.
    Again, I hope you feel better.

  6. I have that dream quite often, where I don’t know what I’m reading until I’ve read it as the words aren’t there until I do. It’s quite hard work and makes for a restless night. 🙂

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