Monday, August 30, 2010

July-August 2010 Events Archive

Sunday, July 11th @ 6pm
Dancing and Emceeing in the Theatrical Bellydance
Closing Night Party at
Lafayette Grill
54 Franklin Street (3 block south of Canal), NYC
212-732-5600
$15 Cover/$15 Minimum

Sunday, July 25th @ 1pm
Dancing with the Rising Sirens
in Stanton Street
Summer Sundays

at the Intersection of
Stanton and Orchard, Lower East Side, NYC
Free and Open to the Public

Sunday, July 25th @ 3pm
Dancing with the Rising Sirens
in Caribbean Rose's Latina Arabe
Showcase at
Lafayette Grill
54 Franklin Street (3 block south of Canal), NYC
212-732-5600
$10 Cover/$20 Minimum

Sunday, July 25th @ 4pm & 7pm
Saturday July 31st @ 8pm

Dancing Funny in NY Artists' Cringe Fest
(A Festival of Deliciously Awful One-Act Plays, Films & Musicals)
Sunday's Show: "Dow Jones Meets Deep Throat"
Saturday's Show: "Sex Encounters of a Disturbed Mind"
The Producers Club
358 West 44th Street @ 9th Ave, NYC
212-242-6036
$20 (Sun)
$25 (Sat)

Sunday, August 29th @ 6pm
Performing Improv Comedy at The PIT
154 West 29th Street (btw @ 7th Ave), NYC
212-568-7488
$5 Tickets
(PIT Audience gets a 10% discount on food and drink at Mustang Sally's on 7th Ave & 28th.)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pay No Attention to that Woman Behind the Curtain! (Thoughts on Directing, Part 2)

The theatre director's hand should be invisible, as though the playwright's words are flowing effortlessly from the page to the stage.  Throughout the rehearsal process, a good director must nudge and inspire the actor from within, rather than domineer and control from without.

This invaluable credo is central to the excellent book A Sense of Direction, by William Ball, which I mentioned in my earlier blog entry on theatre directing. Indeed, the Wizard of Oz quote graces the very first pages.

So, from the beginning, I understood that a good director must not be a puppeteer -- and must not hold too tightly to whatever initial vision he or she formed upon first reading the play. What appears on the stage must arise organically, a product of the director's unfolding vision and the actors' intuitive creativity.

The director shapes and prunes, and always keeps faith in the actors, no matter how awful things get in rehearsal. And, when this is done gently and seamlessly, sometimes even the actors are not entirely aware of the director's work, and can find themselves believing the finished performance would have emerged all on its own.

*  *  *

"What did you make of that last play?" I asked a fellow theatre company member as we headed out of an evening of one-acts.
"Which one?" she asked, searching her mind for images that she had seen less than 10 minutes before.
"The thing about the woman in the bar... in Scotland? She meets this weird drunken guy...?"
"Oh right!" she said and paused.  "Not much!! I mean, what was that?"
"That was Life and Death -- the same play I directed a few months ago. Which you liked..."
"It was? No fucking way."

But, yes, it was. It was. In every fucking way.

Earlier that year, I had been given this spare, tense script about a vulnerable American tourist who is beset, seduced, frightened and charmed by a tortured charismatic Scottish nobleman in Edinburgh.

My two actors: Lee, a slight young woman with a hint of toughness, and Greg, a stocky, good-natured 30-something guy from Staten Island.

Lee immediately had a sense of the character's vulnerability and curiosity.

Greg, on the other hand, had no clue whatsoever. In the initial read, he started overacting, hunched over like a slightly deranged Jack Nicholson with a hint of Peter Lorre.

"Um... Let's try it again," I said, "And just sit up straight in the chair. And don't worry so much about acting. Just read the words for sense."

Now he gave me a more straight-backed Jack Nicholson.

"OK," I said afterwards, "That's getting there. And it's good that you're getting a sense of the dangerousness of this character. But remember, she's not running away, so he is charming her, right?" Greg agreed. "So, once again, don't worry so much about acting, just put in the back of your mind how you might talk to a woman you're interested in."

Now he stared at her relentlessly and even seemed to be salivating a bit.

"OK, let's take a break," I said.

Greg went for a cigarette and Lee pulled me aside, shaking her head, "This is really creeping me out!" "I know, I know," I sighed, "Give him a chance."

"Have you ever seen My Favorite Year?" I asked Greg after rehearsal.

"The thing with Peter O'Toole and the Jewish guy?" he asked.

"Yes. Yes, that's the one. Before our next rehearsal, can you watch that and pay special attention to Peter O'Toole's performance? Because, remember this character isn't American, so he should be..."

"You mean kind of faggy-like?"

"Um... yeah...."

"Sure. No problem."

So Greg watched My Favorite Year and came back with a respectable embodiment of an upper-class Brit. We tamed the creepy leering and punched up the properness and things started to work.

But he was still having a hard time with the character's many transitions.

As he is charming and seducing the woman, he delves into increasingly angry and resentful diatribes about his brother being killed in "The American War" (i.e. Vietnam). Then he switches in to charming-mode, and then into dangerous seduction (OK, we kept a bit of the initial creepy leer after all :-> ), and then he goes back into Vietnam-War-anger, then he wistfully reflects on his life in Scotland and then back into charming, and then seduction, and around and around...

And Greg couldn't tell one beat from the next.

So I bought a box of crayons and color coded the script: pink for charming, red for seduction, light green for the early stages of the Vietnam diatribe, and darker green as his anger intensifies, then light blue for the reflective bits, and so on.

I had him monologue about the brother and about the war, about sex and love. We went through the script and found active, riveting verbs for each beat, layering moments of tension and suspension which gave the whole thing a beautiful roller-coaster feel.

In short, I practically breast-fed the guy.

And through it all, there was Lee....

She did well enough responding to what he was now giving her, but since I had to focus so much on him, I was not able to help her develop her character.

Even on opening night, she was working with generalities like, "I'm in Scotland to escape..." From what? Why? What do you want?? We never figured it out. She did well enough because she was a good actor, but I did her a disservice....

The upshot?

The playwright LOVED him -- and hated her. (And she didn't care much for me either.)

It turned out that the piece was semi-autobiographical, and the playwright made the mistake of expecting to see an onstage re-enactment of her own experience with some real-life Scottish weirdo.

She expected to see her own anguish, frailty, desire, frustration, confusion, etc. played out in Lee's eyes. To the playwright, this was a story about the woman. And, perhaps because she was telling her own story, she believed the vividness in her mind's eye would come across in the text, but it didn't.

As the play is written, the woman is just a foil for this bizarre man; to artificially make it her story would only dilute the drama.

Anyway. Everyone loved it. And everyone LOVED Greg.

Lee and I stood aside as exiting audience shook his hand and slapped his back. He continued to receive praise -- and additional roles -- for weeks and months after the show.

And the theatre company loved it so much there was talk of entering it in the Samuel French festival for Best One-Act Plays. And they decided to remount it a month or two before the festival. But this time, without Lee -- and without me.

The playwright cast herself in the woman's role and got some friend of hers to direct the incomphrehensible mess that appeared on the mainstage that summer.

The result was bad. It was worse than bad.

It was instantly forgettable.