Monday, June 24, 2013

Pencils With Erasers

One the the first lessons I learned as an aspiring actress was a practical one: Always bring a pencil with an eraser to rehearsals. Simple.

When you're walking around with a script in your hand, writing the stage directions in the margins of your script, as dictated by your director and duly recorded by the stage manager--and to which you are expected to adhere as rehearsals progress--that lead pencil is all-important. The eraser as much so, maybe more, because these original moves are likely to be changed.

Insecure in my early days, I used the blocking of the movements as a safety net. Knowing where I was standing and when I moved to which exact point on the stage was my security blanket. I found I remembered lines in relation to where I was when I said them. For the first years I worked as a neophyte thespian I was stiff as a board, bound to the moves and concentrating on all the wrong things to protect myself against the right ones, that is, trying to make it look as if I knew what I was doing while making myself as impervious as possible to emotion. Spontaneity and improvisation terrified me. I don't know how I ever got cast, but I suspect it was in spite of my rigid adherence to blocking. I took Alfred Lunt's advice to actors ("Speak in a loud clear voice and don't bump into the furniture") literally and was confident that if I could do nothing else I could do that. I always carried a pencil with an eraser, too, so I could record the changes from above and not move a muscle I wasn't told to.

Years later I learned (seat-of-the-pants, the way I learn most everything) to direct plays. My first admonition to actors, stage managers, all people who show up at the early rehearsals, was "Bring a pencil with an eraser." It is important even if the actors are not as tied to blocking as I once was. Details must be written down, even if they will be changed soon after.

I was founder of The Little Theater of Geneva, an American community theater in Switzerland, and saw to it that everybody showed up at rehearsals with pencils with erasers, and, in case somebody didn't, the stage manager had a stash of them to dispense. Later, back home in Fairhope, Alabama, I was founding director of Jubilee Fish Theater, an Equity theater based in my hometown. In both jobs I was in charge--selected the plays, cast them (sometimes in NYC with professionals) and directed almost all of them. I was in one or two myself. The buck stopped with me and I had to do a lot of the tasks usually taken by others in the smooth-clicking machine that is theater.

Landing in New Paltz, all that was a few years in the rear view mirror. I had attended a lot of Broadway and off-Broadway shows while living in Hoboken, but the local theatre there was small and didn't really have a place for me. I wrote reviews of their shows on my blog "Finding Myself in Hoboken."

I connected early on when I got here with the cozy Rosendale Theatre Collective. Lunch with Managing Director Ann Citron bagged me an invitation to join the group
Stephen Balantzian and Christa Trinler, rehearsing "Titanic"
s Short Play Festival as a director. We hit it off and I am on two committees as well as directing three ten-minute original plays that will be seen July 5, 6, and 7 at the Rosendale. The show is expertly run and the plays are first rate. I am thrilled with my actors, but I confess a little apprehension the first time I met with the cast for the first of my shows. Did I still have it? Would I convey the authority to direct these young pros? Am I over the hill, or will my ideas strike them as hokey and old-hat? I would bring pencils with erasers to the first rehearsal to show them the way we used to do it in the old days.

I needn't have bothered. The pair showed up, raring to go and cooperative on every level. And they brought their own pencils, with erasers.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Just Around the Corner

The park above symbolizes Rosendale to me; beautiful, peaceful, with something wonderful just out of sight, just around the corner.

Around my corner is the Short Play Festival. It's a presentation of original ten-minute plays about movies. We're well into the planning stage, having read some first-rate scripts, auditioned excellent actors, and awaiting our first rehearsals later this month. Such a project requires expert organization and intense coordination, but the team of directors (of which I am the newbie) is working together like a well-oiled machine that enjoys what it's doing. We've met together to talk it over and I'm scoping out the territory while being scoped out at the same time. My companions on the team know the lay of the land and are hoping--as only theatre people can hope--that I shall fit in and provide a new voice for future festivals. I join them in that aura of hope.

The plays we've chosen are excellent. Most are two-handers but two are monologues. The show will be rounded off with an original song about falling in love at the movies (and learning you're a lesbian), and a ten-minute documentary film about the productions. There are love stories, spat stories, a didactic lecture by the ever-exuberant Doug Motel, family-unit stories and stories about people actually making a film. Something for everyone. I'm directing one about a couple in the process of natural childbirth while discussing the merits of the movie TITANIC; a discussion of acting styles between a hilariously demanding movie director and his clueless starlet--and the third one is a monologue by the one-man dynamo that is Mr. Motel teaching a class in Film 101.

I search my soul as I get back into directing plays. I found a few old resum├ęs that remind me of how many times I've done this--as producer-director of The Little Theater of Geneva and at Jubilee Fish Theater in Fairhope, Alabama--and how well I did--and how much fun it all was. And meeting my professional-level actors I am certain that the work is not going to be difficult. In fact, it's going to be fun for all of us.

Writing this, I can't help hoping you are somewhere in the Rosendale NY area, and will be around for the show, which will run July 5, 6, and 7. It is a fund-raiser, and it's going to be a hit. In the meantime, I'm getting back to work.