Director’s Notes #11: Lessons I Learned So Far

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Evie Riley, the best actor I’ve got gives tips to Gail and Brooks Black. Her mom and Prop Mistress Hailey Denevere humors us. 

We had our first rehearsal last night and it has become apparent to me there is a huge gulf between writing a play and directing it.
The thing is when you write a play it all pretty obvious to you. You see the action in your head and the words (hopefully) flow out. You see. When you get actors (especially good ones like I got) the things you thought were clear turn out to be a bit opaque. They didn’t see it as you wrote it.
For example, you have an actor bring a riding crop on stage and as the action moves to physical confrontational, what the hell do you do with the riding crop? I never even thought of it, but sure enough the manual dexterity gymnastics of what to do with which props as the scene developed popped up. How can

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Bill Potter works with Cancer Cells and Blood Cells for the big fight scene

Colonel Rituxin fight unless he uses the crop as a weapon? Or gets rid of it? Where?
As we walked through the blocking, these small pieces and parts that initially seemed insignificant, began to mushroom and multiply onto themselves. Riding crops became how to hand off weapons, moved onto the discussion of where exactly on stage should hand-to-hand combat take place, and on-and-on. It was a lot to take in, but we pushed on through, but I learned a lot.
It was all quite humbling.
Since I wrote the piece, I have to confess a certain arrogance (until last night) when I approached the blocking. I thought it would take care of itself in most regards. You see, I concentrated more on story than staging and probably didn’t do the detailed work on my blocking plan I should have.
Lesson learned.
A bright point. When Bonita (played by Connie Regan) gives her first speech and she is eventually surrounded by the cast and everyone describes the new cancer language, it is devastatingly beautiful. You guys are going to love it.
Anyway, more notes to come.
Can’t wait for next week’s rehearsal.
BTW – A special shout out to our logistics team of Hailey Denevere, Lyn Anderson, Jeanne Jerzak, and Gail Wagner. These guys are walloping the heck out of this.

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Directors Notes #10 — I’m The Only Thing That Can Screw This Up

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Bearl and Mabel at the Hospital

Okay, well here we are.
Suffice it to say this is one of those “be careful what you ask for, you just might get it deals.”
Tonight is the first official rehearsal for “Units of Love: A Cancer Journey” and I am as nervous as a __________.
You get it.
Anyway I have a great cast, good script, a place to on the show, and the only that can go wrong is me screwing this up.
Ugh
Last night I was looking at some old files trying to find my copy of “Christiana Cancer Blues” and realized I’ve been working on this – on and off – for about four years. AAAAAA. I never did find it, but luckily, I have it memorized.
Lyn Anderson – my co-director – broke the script down by scenes and which character was in which scene. It was a great bit of detail work I eschew. Anyway, I took it and did some figuring and it was quite astonishing.
• My favorite character, Colonel Riuxin, is only on stage five times.
• Bonita is on stage more times than anyone else – 14
• Sally and Chance (the cancer patient) are on sage 13 times.
It’s funny. When I write a play, I don’t think about this kind of thing; I write a story. It’s strange how it all works out.
The point of the whole matrix exercise is to ensure we are not wasting people’s time. I will review it with the cast tonight.
Tonight’s plan is to warm-up, go over some admin notes, and do a read through so people can record it and learn their lines in the car.

Director’s Notes 9 – Collaboration –It’s Humbling — But Good For You

solid-senderThe Green Turtle in Newark, Delaware doubled as a community theater think-tank Tuesday night, December 18, 2108 when Co-Director Lyn Anderson, Prop Mistress Hailey Denevere, all-around good sport and designated gopher Kate Potter, and I convened an ad hoc production meeting to discuss stage design, lighting, and some needed rewrites.

It was pretty cool

Lyn brought a fancy schmancy cardboard model of the Reedy Point Players Stage (which is in Delaware City Community Center). It was all done to scale and very, impressive. Hailey brought sketches, complete with lighting gel suggestions.

I must confess to being a tad intimidated by the level of detail and deep thought.

Fueled by some beer, fries, burgers, and the odd salad we talked it all out.
Hailey, Kate, and Lyn had some really good ideas relative to a couple things I had in the original script. I had been wrestling with some weak or mixed metaphors in the script but did nothing. You see, I am pretty sure every key stroke in my manuscript is as close to being divinely inspired as a non-religious text can be.

To hear the three of them point out errors I knew were there – but for some reason known only to God – that I refused to edit, was all a bit humbling. I do have a couple of rewrites to knock out before the cast reconvenes.

I guess in the long run that’s what community theater about; taking advantage of all the eyes, ears, and voices available to give the audience a great show and deepen the quality of local art. It’s the synthesis of a collaborative process in an ephemeral art endeavor.

Years ago, I was conducting training exercise in the desert with an infantry unit. After the fight was over and we were assembled for a review of our tactics, the lead evaluator said something I have carried these many years, “All of us, know more than one of us.”

So I guess, with that axiom in mind – I got some typing to do!! Rickety Tickety!

Units of Love: A Cancer Journey — Director’s Notes #2

Wednesday night I had dinner at Iron Hill Brewery with Lyn Anderson who is either my co-director or assistant director, or something like that, and with Kate Potter my property mistress. Anyway, we began some preliminary drinking er, ah, thinking, that’s right thinking about things we want to accomplish before the word premier on Aril 12th.

The first thing we need to do is run the script through another edit (or two). There are a couple of changes I want to make to heighten suspense and get it a little tighter.

I have been wrestling with realism or austere. When I saw Erin Miller’s use of space in her version of Romeo and Juliet, I became more convinced that less may be better. I still have to figure that out. I’ll be relying on Lyn a lot for this as she has an intuitive excellence in that regard.

I am envisioning a bright white stage.

WE talked about getting sponsors. I’m  thinking about asking Christiana Care, Helen F. Graham, LLS, and the American Cancer Society for help.

That’s it for now.

Reedy Point Romeo and Juliet

I got something to say … about Romeo and Juliet put on by the Reedy Point Players – I saw it last night and it was pretty darn good – well  worth your entertainment dollar. I’m going to see it again next Friday – really, I am.

If you’ve read my notes before, you know that I tend to not mention a whole lot of names, but rather focus on pone or two aspects of a production. With that said – Erin Miller.

I hadn’t seen Erin in a year or two, so I was glad to see her back at Reedy Player. This time though it was as a director. Her courageous direction of the Shakespeare classic captivated me.  

She is very clever.

She used an incredibly austere set that really worked. The center of it was empty with the majority of the action taking place in that space. She built two, three feet high platforms with railings and placed them up stage left and right with a smaller platform (about 6 inches in the center to connect the two). While it work great for all the classic Romeo and Juliet lines; it wowed as the mausoleum. Just wowed – Artistic Austere and Creepy.

The set had the effect of a West Side Story kind of vibe.

The West Side Story vibe, hmm; funny I should mention that because Erin’s version takes place in New York.

Another courageous choice she made was tinkering with the script and the setting. She and Kevin Austra (who also played the ill-fated Mercutio) updated sections. They added hand guns instead of swords, introduced cell phones, and threw in some radio broadcasts for good measure.  I won’t tell you much more because it’ll ruin the surprise. But it really worked well – I mean really.

All this had the effect (or is affect, I always get those two confused) of pulling the audience in and at the same time, clarifying points.

A couple of shout outs.

Gina Velardi – A great Juliet. She was determined, naïve, and appropriately tragic. She made you really care about her.

Kevin Austra – An enormous presence on the stage. His timing is wonderful, and his motions forced you t focus.

Ruth Brittain – I had never seen her before last night. But, man, she can act.

The last time I saw Patrick Ruesgegger was in the film “The Reprogramming Of Jeremy,” he did his usual great job, and his diction was superb.

Gunnar Funk – I had never seen Gunnar Funk before, but really enjoyed his Romeo. His death scene was first rate.

Gail Wagner – Was her usual superb self. I love watching her.

I’ve gone this far so I should probably mention everyone.

Matthew Lovlie – Okay Mr. Lovely is another one I love to watch; he gets it. Great job.

Jeff Fentrees – I had never seen Jeff before either, but his explanation of the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt was great.

Max O’Neil – I had never seen him before either, but man, if his goal was to come off as hot head, it worked. You know those people who are just and they are going to go off, you don’t when, but it’s going to happen? He did that great with Tybalt. Loved it!

Sam Vernooy – Sam had a hard job as Paris. That’s a more difficult role than you think. Paris wants to love Juliet, but he has no chance. She barely knows he is alive after Romeo shows up. He did it very well. And he died great!

Sam Dressler – He was great. As the omnipresent whipping boy, his timing was excellent, Thing about Sam is he always remembers his lines.

Lisa Coruzzi – I love listening to Ms. Coruzzi. She has a tenor in her voice that captivates when on stage. I wish the mayor had more line. Anyway, she was a gem.

Ken Guerino – In his first show at Reedy Point, Mr. Guerino held his own with all the vets. He knew his lines, hit his marks, and most importantly, enunciated wonderfully.

Lisa Velardi – I wish I could have heard more from her. She’s a good actor, but I didn’t see enough of her. What I saw, I liked.

MVP Award – Mother and daughter team of Jeanne and Kate Jerzak walloped it as the stage crew. Everything showed up and left the stage on time. BRAVO!

I guess that’s it. If I forgot anything or anyone, it’s because I’m an idiot!. It’s not you, it’s me.

Murder on Cue — Great Cast Work

Somebody asked me to review “Murder On Cue” this year’s fund raiser for Newark’ Del. Chapel Street Players, playing this weekend and next. For more info go to http://chapelstreetplayers.org/.
Anyway.
The cast is so huge I won’t be able to mention everyone; they were all wonderful.
The show starts out, it seems, as an homage to the 1976 Neil Simon comedy “Murder by Death” and the longtime favorite board game Clue. I could be wrong, but it sure felt that way.
There’s the deaf housekeeper, the nun with a vow of silence, the beauty queen, and the usual suspects in any mystery spoof. It was actually quite effective. This campy tribute goes on for about 15 minutes.
That’s where things change.
Scott F. Mason, the Writer and director of “Murder on Cue,” is shot. The house lights come up and an investigation of the entire cast, crew, and house staff begins under the watchful eye of FBI Agent Sawinski played with pitch perfection by Andre Wilkins.
I knew he was a good actor, but his performance last night cemented him as a great leading man kind of guy.
A plug for Nicole Pierce. She has a certain indescribable vibe (or presence) that I just love; she was her usual superb self this particular evening. Will someone please put her in a leading role!? Jeepers.
Back to the show.
I don’t know if I had ever seen Courtney Lynahan before, but I really liked her as the vow of silence nun and the pilfering cast member (oops don’t want to give too much away).
I can’t go any further without mentioning five of my favorites in the CSP stable of stars. I just love Michelle Cullen, Judy David, Peter Kuo (who is hilarious btw), Michelle Opaleski, and Brian M. Touchette. Each one was superb and acted with great skill. They heightened the tomfoolery and suspense. Bravo!!
As I said in previous reviews – I love Susan Boudreax and Susie Moak. They knock my socks off.
I had never seen Ann Matthews act Before, but she too, was a delightful surprise. She appeared with her husband of 33 years Pete Matthews. I had never seen him act either. Whenever I see him he has a hammer in his hand; this time he had a cigar. Regardless of hand tool, he did an excellent job.
Remember the gloriously evil bad guy in CSP’s production of 1984? That was Zack Jackson. In this show, he played a hilarious loudmouth plumber and then himself as the show progressed. BTW, he has one of my favorite actor skills – he makes great faces.
I’ll tell you who doesn’t get enough credit around here — Heather McCarty. She is a blast to watch and also makes great faces. I always see her doing something interesting down stage left. Isn’t that weird?
Renee G. O’leary celebrated her 55th consecutive fund raiser. She was delightful as Boddy and took a second to show off her great legs to audience.
Danielle Jackomin played bestselling murder mystery novelist LC. She is always fun to watch. Pay attention to her last couple of minutes on stage, those are pretty special.
I don’t know who Darin Bishop is. I think he got swallowed up in the crowd of actors after the shooting of Mr. Mason. He is listed as the EMT in the program, so maybe I had a bad seat and just couldn’t see him.
The last time I saw Patricia Lake was last Spring when she appeared in Holy Traffic. She was delightful.
I really enjoyed Matthew Brown’s performance of Newark policeman Bernhart. It had an honesty and naivety that was really refreshing when juxtaposed to the snarky witness interviews of Mr. Mason’s shooting/murder.

Walt Osborne played Major General Cleopold Poupon and was especially good throughout the sho0,w but really shined in the first few minutes with a small dance bit that got entire audience clapping.
I guess that’s it. Not a whole lot more to say. There is a bunch of people acting and you’ll like them. The show and the cause (CSP Fund Raiser) are a good place to spend your entertainment dollar. So go see it.

DTA Competition The First Night Blues

DTA Weekend – The Arrival

DSCF5367 (2)Hmmm. The Delaware Theater Association (DTA) festival was this past weekend (23-24 Mar 2018) and I’m pretty sure it was a success. I had fun.

Initially though, it was kind of weird, at least for someone who had never been to competitive theater festival.
At first blush, it seemed so contrary to the “Delaware Way,” I found the first night off-putting. We got to the Barnstormers Theater in Ridley Park, PA and everyone seemed gruff, overly official, or something. In fairness, maybe they were just tired; it had been a long day for them.
We (Reedy Point Players) arrived a bit early and there was a delay here or there for one thing or another, but we were eventually ushered into the theater after hanging out on the street, like a bunch of high school kids smoking behind their parents backs.
I guess a contest must have rules, so one of the organizers gave us the lowdown and it quickly became apparent we weren’t going to be able to behave, the way we do at home. You see, at home it is more of a free-for-all of goodwill. We help each other out move sets on and off the stage, make sure everyone is okay, and run lines with members of other casts. – you know community theater. None of that here.
We were finally allowed to bring our sets in and “Meant to Be” (the other play from Reedy Point) went up for their tech rehearsal, the cast for “Jumping” (the show I was involved in) went down to the basement amidst assorted dressing rooms and a common area referred to as a green room (though it wasn’t very green). We were cold and damp – and stayed that way.
We were in a bit of shock (I guess) and passed about 90 minutes telling silly stories to one another bemoaning our situation. I was going to write hostage notes to slide under the door, but one of the organizers came in and said, “Jumping You’re up.”
We went up the basement stairs this time to find the cutest theater, but it still seemed as if most of the officials were aloof or perhaps just busy. Even so, there was really no welcoming vibe.
Officials huddled at tables chatting amongst themselves and seemingly thinking great thoughts. To be fair, it was likely inappropriate for them to engage the contestants at length for fear of shouts of favoritism. Even so, it still struck me as odd.
We walked the stage, got our bearings, and started to work. Lyn Anderson adjusted the set and Aniela Miendhaldt, L’Tanya Morrow-Cain, and Lance Thompson did a quick rehearsal and realized they had a line or two tighten up. Lyn Anderson worked on lighting, and I walked around moving furniture and gave free advice whether I asked to or not.
Toward the end of our tech rehearsal we had it all figured out and Lyn had put together a pretty stunning visual for the show. We packed up and headed home – many of us disquieted and wondering where the fun went.
That would change the next day.