Tag Archives: rehearsals

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #12 Rehearsal…

#12. Rehearsals – Or… Making it to Opening Night

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

In the theater, things don’t always happen in a nice, sequential and unstressful order. And in Equity-waiver theatre—read low-budget—things not going as planned is the order of the day. Meaning a playwright doesn’t often have the luxury of a wonderful theatre to work in, fabulous designers to bring her vision to life, a positive casting period during which actors ideal for the roles you’ve written show up to audition and a smooth but exciting rehearsal period where each rehearsal builds upon the last; until finally your show peaks on opening night in front of an appreciative audience with top critics in attendance loving your play. Oh, would that it were so easy! In fact, getting a play up is more a case of overcoming obstacles—whether those obstacles be physical or mental. And with Villa Thrilla, we had our share of both.

Once we had our cast—a challenge in itself—rehearsal began with just four weeks until opening night. (For more on the challenges of casting, see this post in the series: http://lafpi.com/2015/03/the-self-production-series-with-anna-nicholas-9-finding-your-actors/) Four weeks is not much time when you’re mounting a new play with a cast of ten; particularly when it seemed impossible to get all the actors to the same rehearsals, even though the play required that their characters be on stage at the same time.

You do your best to get peoples’ schedules ahead of time in order to plan rehearsals but a few people in our cast apparently hadn’t heard about looking at a calendar to verify their availability before committing to doing a play. Did they not know about Yom Kippur or their Mother’s birthday when they signed on? Add losing a cast member one week into rehearsals, losing another cast member for 10 days when a parent became sick out of town and a third cast member who was so difficult to work with we wanted to lose him but replacing him would have meant losing another cast member we liked and there just wasn’t time to get new people up to speed.

The only advantage I can see to 99-seat theatre going away—and I truly hope it does not—is an advantage only to Producers. I guess they should get something for having to pay actors more. The advantage I see is that actors will need to make a greater commitment to the play they have agreed to do, adhering to rehearsal schedules for the privilege of earning minimum wage. Currently actors can pretty much not show up if they feel a little sick, have an audition the next day or realize there were important events they forgot—including their dog’s graduation from obedience school.

The fact that we didn’t have all the actors to rehearse when we needed them made a lot more work for Gary Lee Reed (Director), Josephine Austin (Stage Manager) and me. At the time, if felt as if it took years off our lives. Gary couldn’t tell what he was looking at with the stage missing up to 5 people at any given rehearsal, which resulted in having to block scenes multiple times; Josie was constantly changing blocking in her master script and having to phone errant actors who were late or hadn’t shown up; And I was not able to watch and rewrite during rehearsals, something I’d been counting on, because I had to stand-in for missing cast members—often two or three of them in the same scene. I was dashing around the stage speaking with multiple dialects and vocal timbres providing a real person for the actors who had actually shown up to rehearse. Some nights, we wanted to strangle someone—usually someone who was missing—and yet, we had to try to remain upbeat for the actors who bothered to come to rehearsal. What would be gained by screaming? I don’t know; we didn’t try it. But I doubt it would have improved the rehearsal experience, which I’d hoped would be a gloriously fruitful period when my play would change and grow in leaps and bounds. But alas, I didn’t get to have that on this one.

Being an AEA actor as well as a playwright, I like to think I understand actors but when I put my producer hat on for Villa Thrilla, I was shocked by the behavior of some of my fellow thespians. Emergencies are one thing but it would never occur to me to commit to doing a show, commence rehearsals and then spring a few “unavailable” dates on the producers.

In retrospect, I would have helped myself by choosing a play with a smaller cast but I’ve already explained why I chose this play in the post on Selecting the Work: http://lafpi.com/2014/12/the-self-production-series-with-anna-nicholas-3-selecting-the-work/

Shockingly, we did not have our entire cast onstage at the same time until 5 days before opening. And the only thing I can say by way of comfort if you’re considering producing your play, is that once we got to tech, the actors were mostly great. They showed up for the remainder of rehearsals, then performances and, for the most part, knew their lines. So you may get a few more gray hairs, but if you hire professionals, they will be there.

Next up: Ticketing, pre-sales and making some money back

How Directors Can Get Themselves into My Good Graces

by Jen Huszcza

Hello, I am back for the 16th time blogging for the LAFPI. This is also the last week that I will be blogging for the LAFPI for awhile. I’m taking a break, but don’t worry I have a week of fun planned.

Today, I want to talk about the director/playwright relationship from my point of view as a playwright. I have worked with some great directors as a playwright, performer, and stage direction reader. I have also had the opportunity to witness directors say and do some stupid things.

So today, I am writing about how exactly directors can get themselves into my good graces. By the way, do people say good graces anymore?

So directors, this is how you deal with Playwright Jen:

Chocolates work.

Don’t talk about conflict. That’s sooo high school. Talk about engagement. How do the characters engage each other? How do they engage the audience?

Don’t talk about character growth, character change, character development. Characters are who they are and exist in their moments. Help the actors find their moments. Help the actors look good.

Don’t talk about story. If I wanted to write a story, I would have written story.

Plays don’t have to mean anything. They just have to have a beginning, middle, and end. Plays don’t have to be socially or politically relevant. They don’t have to be funny or sad. They just exist in time.

Don’t whine. Just don’t.

Don’t yell. If you’re yelling, that tells me you’re out of control. I also get annoyed by directorial waves of the arm and smoking indoors.

Don’t use the following adjectives: crazy, wacky, wild, avant garde, strange, weird, and Beckettesque (shivers).

And please don’t call me insane even in fun. I have too much respect for the insane to be in their company.

Don’t change the words unless I say so. I change words. That’s my job.

I will sit in on any rehearsal. Or I won’t. I can’t sit for long periods of time, so I might stand and pace. It doesn’t mean anything.

Use the word mystery. I don’t offer answers or solutions. I like asking questions.

Look for rituals. I like to create rituals. I like to break rituals. Look for patterns and repetitions.

Be meticulous. Be patient. Be prepared.

Make choices.

Think visually and physically.

Finally, play.

THE POLISH

I didn’t blog yesterday because I was polishing Wind in the Willows like mad. It’s to be given to the cast on Saturday, ready to go. I should have been looking for typos, misspellings, and incorrect indentations, but couldn’t stop myself from tweaking. I tightened a line, took out a word, added a word, then took out the line, etc. At one point, cross-eyed, I thought, “I’m changing the ending. Why am I changing the ending!?” A small voice said, “Because this ending is better.”

Maybe.

I could find out. One of the amazing and wonderful things about living in L.A. is that actors are everywhere. They fall out of trees and into the arms of aspiring playwrights and if lured with wine and cheese and crackers, they will read their plays for them. They will read in Starbucks, in living rooms, in church basements, in recreation centers, and they help the play to change and grow.

I am grateful to all those kind people who have read first, second, and third drafts of my plays. Actors always bring something to the table and just to hear the words is so instructive. You can hear where the holes and missteps are, can hear what is overwritten, can smell the filler and the false sentiment.

The theatres that offer staged readings are invaluable. The Blank Theatre’s Living Room Series, Seedlings at Theatricum Botanicum, New Works labs, ALAP’s In Our Own Voices, Live@the Libe, to mention only a few, are worth submitting to and offer great staged readings for works in progress.

The Q. and A.s are always bracing. My play, The Last Of The Daytons, was read several times. At one reading, an audience member, another playwright, said after a long silence, “I think you’re missing a scene.” The light went on. That one comment transformed the writing for me. I added the scene and learned a lot that was new about the characters and the play took a different turn. Beautiful.

Not everybody is helpful, of course. I can always spot The Spoiler, the man or woman who comes to all the readings for the joy of cutting the playwright down.

I enjoy going to readings by other playwrights, too. It’s like going to a club to hear a fellow musician play. Here’s two coming up: The Happy Wanderer by Nancy Beverly at the Celebration Theatre, June 1 at 7:30 pm, and Sara Israel’s Bad Art at the Powerhouse Theatre in Santa Monica, June 6th at 7 pm.

Next week, the kids will start studying their parts in Wind in the Willows. Rehearsals begin after school ends and I hope to be back to share what comes next.