Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)

Byrds

A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together

If you do theatre in Connecticut, you know the name Chris Peterson. In fact, if you do theatre anywhere in the United States, you probably know his name. Chris is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the well-trafficked and oft controversial theatre blog, OnStageBlog.com.

When I first heard the name Chris Peterson, it was just a scant three years ago. In 2014, I was directing Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at The Ridgefield Theater Barn (a venue in Connecticut, if you are not familiar). At the time, Chris was the host of a theatre podcast and had a burgeoning blog that was dedicated to supporting and reviewing local theatre. For Chris, an East Haddam resident, local theatre meant Connecticut and parts of Westchester County. To be honest, I thought he was a recent college graduate, not (as turned out to be the case) a university recruiter. It was cool. He gave me a shout out and applauded the fact I chose “edgy” musicals to direct (or something to that effect). It seemed at the time, in his book, that was a good thing.

Peterson’s timing was perfect. He arrived on the Interweb when theatre critics working for local newspapers were retiring or losing their jobs, primarily due to the shift from print media to online media. Theaters were looking for ways to get reviewers to come to their shows and, with timing on his side, Chris was more than willing to attend and review shows (or send delegates in his stead). Fueled by a sprinkling of hot topics and some highly debated opinion pieces, OnStage’s readership grew at a fever pitch. Chris built a network of reviewers and contributors that, at one time, even included yours truly.

When OnStage was in its infancy, what I loved about it was that it filled a void that our community was about to be starved of : feedback. As a writer, director, actor, board/committee member, marketer and producer, I know one thing for certain – theatre artists want to know if you like them. Even more, do you really like them? Do you like them enough that you will bestow upon them an award? It doesn’t matter if you do a show in your back yard or if it is a nationally televised live production – artists want to know what you think.

Whether it was the once coveted and now mostly-defunct Paddy Award, an OnStage Award, or if the consumers of community theatre are recognizing the outstanding performances in Hoof Hearted via the BroadwayWorld.com Awards – we all love our laurels.

So, OnStage, the bestower of some of the aforementioned awards and the site that was once the steadfast provider of reviews has, for want of a better term, “re-branded” themselves:

“We can be a site that covers the industry like everyone else or we can be the one that turns it on its head. We can be the ones to make an impact so great, it forces change. We can tell the stories of people who deserve a million times more credit than they’ve gotten. It’s time people stopped saying ‘OnStage is like everyone else’ to ‘Holy shit, did you see what OnStage said?'”

— Chris Peterson, OnStage

Since Chris made that decision, he has shifted the primary focus of his blog to being the voice for the unsung heroes of theatre – and there are a lot of them – believe me. He also intends to represent issues in theatre that, no matter where you stand on the opinion spectrum, do exist : copyright infringement, gender inequality or racial/ethnic casting standards – to name a few.

The OnStage writers are actors, directors, writers, designers, fans and most importantly rebels. They write with their own voice and honesty.

Since he announced and implemented his revised mission, OnStage’s readership has soared. As a blogger, I get it. To have a reach of over 3 million is a big deal. Good on him. Truthfully, so many aspects or our lives have benefited from the work of rebels.

But that leaves those of us in Lower Fairfield, Lower Westchester and Putnam counties – the ones who do it because we love it – with a bit of a void. Do you like us? Do you like what you see? Would you tell your friends?

And that is where I come in…

I grew up in theatre. My father – a playwright, director, actor and theatre professor – immersed me in the life theatrical. I’ve been actively involved since the 6th grade (some time ago, in the 70s, I think), when I appeared as the ironically foot-plastered Dr. Beetle in Once Upon A Clothesline. I pursued a degree in the Theatre Arts and have a fair amount of theatre knowledge. Also, I know people that know a shit ton more than me. And most of them don’t hate me.

Then there is this: for the last 21+ years, I have worked for a highly regarded IT research and consulting firm. I have designed customer satisfaction programs and managed marketing databases for the majority of my “offstage” career. I know data. I also know how to analyze it.

Since I’ve sworn to my children that I would not do any theatre until they all graduated from high school, I needed a way to stay involved. So here I am, a creative and analytical person with experience in theatre and relational databases. Also, I’m a parent of three teenage girls, two of whom are fraternal twins. I’m fun, a little bit of a bad ass and growing out of my fear. Ask me. I’ll tell you.

That said, I am introducing my newest project: The SWCT-SENY Community Theatre Database. For the immediate future, I will be collecting data about productions done by the following companies:

Bedford Community Theatre
Brewster Theatre Company
Brookfield Theatre for the Arts
Carriage House Theatre
Center Stage
Curtain Call
Downtown Cabaret Theatre
Eastbound Theatre Company
Infinity Repertory Theatre
Musicals at Richter
Performing Arts Center @ 32 Below
Ridgefield Theatre Barn
Sherman Playhouse
Spring Street Arts Center
Square One Theatre Company
TheatreWorks New Milford
Town Players of New Canaan
Town Players of Newtown
Two Planks
Vagabond Theatre Company
Westport Community Theatre
Wilton Playshop
Yorktown Stage

If your theater is on the perimeter of the 20 mile zip code radius and is not represented above, please let us know if you would like to be included. E-mail us at SWCT.SENY.CTDb@gmail.com.

We will be asking people to provide very simple feedback about the last three shows that each venue has produced. From that point, we will be compiling and analyzing the data with the intent to share the outcome with any of the venues, upon their request.

There will always be the ability to provide anonymous feedback. But, if you choose to become an identified member of the feedback community, you will also have the opportunity to respond to exclusive surveys with the continued assurance of anonymity and discretion.

So, until we pull in all of the productions into the more specific feedback mechanism, tell us about the last time you attended a community theatre production.

No names. Just honesty.

Becoming Sarah: Part Seven

The Scars of War

Aside from the rehearsal process, learning the lines, developing the character and the emotional impact this role has had, there is one technical aspect of Sarah that has been both fun and tedious. In the play, the character of Sarah has been injured in a roadside bomb. As a result, during the show I have to brace my wrist and leg, wear a sling and walk with the aid of a crutch throughout the first act. In addition, there is some significant scarring and bruising make-up that I have to apply every night.

Our costume and make-up designer, Joe Russo, did some research, as did I. The first step was to look at how Laura Linney did her shrapnel scars in the Broadway production.

LLFace
Taking the lead from the make-up designer for Laura Linney, Joe procured some “out-of-the-box” temporary tattoos from Tinsley Transfers, who designed the custom tattoos that were used in the Broadway production. After a little trial and error, we were able to come up with something that worked for our production, focusing on how we could make the scars visible in our space and also allowing for healing throughout the course of the play.

After we had the basic idea of what we were going to do, I did a little extra research on shrapnel wounds and felt that the make-up would look a little more realistic with some fresher scratches and bruising. The end result is pretty realistic.

SarahMakeup
The entire process of doing my hair and make-up takes me about an hour and a half to two hours, depending on how blank the canvas is when I begin. As you can see in the time lapse video below, I am able to shower and still retain some of the tattoos on my shoulder from the night before. The end result is a pretty realistic and convincing look for someone that has been injured in a bombing.

The second act takes place several months later, after some healing has taken place. During intermission, I remove the bruising and fresh scratches with rubbing alcohol. I then use a concealer crayon to lighten the shrapnel scars without covering them up completely.

In Time Stands Still, I truly have put virtually all of my theatre training and experience into the role of Sarah and am very proud of what I bring to life on stage each night. While the end of this run will be bittersweet, it will also bring a great sense of accomplishment, which I will remember forever.

Becoming Sarah: Part Six

The Many Layers of Sarah

To me, the mechanics of performing a role come more easily than the character development. They are the parts of acting that are finite – go here, do this, say this. They provide the measurable side of bringing a character to life on stage. As I’ve indicated in previous posts, the mechanics can be daunting but, with discipline and hard work, you can be successful. I think that my extensive understanding of the logistics of theatre is what suits me (and my personality) more for directing.

I came to this conclusion following one of last week’s rehearsals. I was particularly wrecked – just physically and emotionally exhausted. Believe me, hell week is called hell week for a reason. Once we finished the rehearsal, Will, who plays Richard, said something about how he could tell this role was getting to me. He then said, “There’s no rust on you,” eluding, I presume, to the fact that it’s been a very long time since I’d had to flex those acting muscles and that I was doing all right. Yet, somehow, I didn’t feel that I’d been able to fully flex and extend those rusted joints.

So there I sat, waiting for Dorothy to happen along with an oil can.

Later that evening, I emphatically stated to Aaron, “Acting is hard!” He found this proclamation to be pretty humorous despite the fact that I was being completely serious. Tapping in to your emotional stores in order to convey the proper feeling is tough, doing it repeatedly for two hours is positively draining. The interpretation, motivation and emotion required to create a dramatic character are so much more complicated and personal than the mechanics.

People who have known me outside of the theatre know that I’m not a really emotional person. I’m pragmatic, forthright, snarky and sarcastic, not unlike Sarah. These are the elements of her character that come naturally to me. As for the sadness, guilt, anger and fear that Sarah feels, that is a little harder to access. Like Sarah, I have spent a long time rewiring myself to suppress and desensitize myself to feeling these kinds of emotions. It’s a defense mechanism that has been in place for quite some time and it works for me, despite what any psychotherapist might say. The problem with this approach to life arises when I’m trying to summon some of the more difficult emotions demanded by this particular script and character.

One thing I have never been able to do is cry on command. I saw this video a few weeks back and it gave me such cry jag envy. If there really is such a thing.

Like Bryce Dallas Howard, there are some actors that can just recall real and genuine emotion in an instant. Erin, the actress who plays Mandy, does it so well. And I secretly hate her for it. Okay, maybe hate is the wrong word. I envy her for it. There are a couple of times in the show when her eyes just well up with tears and, like Sarah, I find myself saying, “I wish I could cry like that.” Fortunately, suppressing emotion is Sarah’s thing, so if tears never come, so be it.

Aside from the emotions, building meaningful connections within the scope of the play was something that was integral to my process. Connecting to Sarah, developing the relationships with the other characters and finding truth in her journey was critical as I worked to become her. Beat by beat, line by line, moment by moment, I broke up the script and tried to make a personal connection to what was happening in the scene. Some of those connections are inherent in the relationships that I have with the three other actors in the play. Building upon existing friendships, making new ones and finding meaningful attachments within those relationships has been interesting terrain to navigate as I discovered both a closeness to and distance from each of the actors and characters.

Other connections are found in my personal life experience which I have attempted to intertwine with Sarah’s. At one point in the play, Sarah observes that her partner could have walked away from her after her accident, stating that he didn’t have to take on the responsibility of her rehabilitation. Every night, when I say that line, I recall my sister’s near-fatal car accident that happened over twenty years ago, specifically how her boyfriend dealt with her recovery. It was a long haul between the ICU and the six months she spent in long-term rehabilitation before she came home. Eventually her boyfriend walked away. Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what was going through his head and what was going through hers during that time. There are so many moments in Time Stands Still that I have made deeply personal and many really tug at those heart strings. It is a very intricate tapestry that ends up being displayed in Sarah each night and weaving it is exhausting.

Another very important resource in the development of Sarah’s character was the research I did about photojournalists and why they do what they do. I found a great deal of inspiration in the work of Lynsey Addario, one of the few female conflict photographers whose work is primarily based upon stories unfolding in the Middle East. There is one picture that she spoke about during her book tour that resonated with me.

Addario
In this picture, Addario and her fixer happened upon two women on the side of the road, one of whom was in labor. The father of the child had lost his previous wife during childbirth, so he had rented a car to ensure that his wife would get to the clinic in time to deliver safely. However, the car broke down and he left the two women to go find another means of transportation. When she learned what was going on, Addario sent her fixer down the road to get the husband so that they could take the women to the clinic, which they successfully did. People have asked Addario why there were no pictures taken at the hospital or after the child was born and she explained that once she inserted herself into the story, it was no longer documenting it, it was participating in it. Sarah remarks that the photographer’s job is to “capture truth, not stage it.” I feel that this photograph exemplifies that notion and I look at this photograph every night to help me to get inside Sarah’s head.

Early on in tech week, I was struggling to reconcile all of these elements into what was becoming Sarah. It was really taking its toll on me. So on one of my commutes to work that week, I decided that I needed to get out of Sarah’s head for a while. I put on the original cast recording of 35mm: A Musical Exhibition. I just wanted to rock out a bit, not really thinking about how this particular show is based upon the marriage of music, words and photography (it is the brainchild of the brilliant composer Ryan Scott Oliver and his equally talented husband, photographer Matthew Murphy). I was humming along when one particular song came on that just hit me, like a ton of bricks thrown at me out of nowhere.

I listened to the song on repeat for the remainder of the commute, everything just twisting together in a painfully miraculous way. And I cried. Probably the only time I will actually be able to summon tears for Sarah. Naturally, all of my best acting and singing happens in the car. In his blog, Matt discussed the photograph that he created for “Hemming and Hawing.” He said, “I wanted to create a type of melancholy relationship apocalypse (you know…one of those) where one partner’s stability is wavering, and the innocence and purity of the relationship is something only the other partner can embrace.” That statement encapsulates Sarah and Jamie’s relationship perfectly and I need to listen to it every night at some point before the performance. That picture, along with a few Addario shots, is taped to my dressing room mirror.

Certainly the process of embodying a character is different from actor to actor. There are some characters that are extraordinarily difficult to connect to and to spend extended periods of time with. Despite her challenging nature, I have grown to love Sarah. I empathize with many of the things she is experiencing and she has helped me to feel and appreciate some of my own emotions and thoughts. When all of this is over in a few weeks, I will have to say goodbye to Sarah and that will be very hard. But I’m ready to get back to Alicia, at least until the next role comes along.

Becoming Sarah: Part Four

DirectorsChair.jpg

Source: Hatena Ftolife, https://commons.wikimedia.org

Divorcing the Director

When directing a show, there are certain types of actors that are hard to direct. The divas, the drama queens and the slackers provide obvious challenges. It is also difficult to direct an actor who has already portrayed the role you’re directing him in or someone who has been involved in previous productions of the same play. Perhaps, though, the most challenging person to direct is another director.

Going into this production of Time Stands Still, I knew that I would have to fold up the director’s chair and do my best to view the project solely through an actor’s eyes. In many ways, I have found myself greatly liberated by having to tend only to the responsibilities of the actor. I am working hard to know my lines, remember my blocking and develop a memorable character.

But there are times when it is difficult to suppress the directorial urge. One of my cast mates can attest to this because apparently you can “see it on my face” when I want to say something. Fortunately, though, Sonnie is a very open and collaborative director and we have had an open dialogue about character choices, blocking or other business. I do, however, make a point to speak to her privately on those occasions.

I am enjoying the different perspective that being behind the footlights brings. It has been interesting to see how easy (or difficult) it is to practice what you preach when it comes to rehearsal protocol. When I am directing a show, there are a few ground rules that I lay down with the company at the beginning of the rehearsal process. Though not all were articulated, per se, I suspect the director of Times Stands Still (and most others) would agree with these simple rules:

Start On Time
When I direct a show, I tell the company that I expect them to be on time. Just as the actor’s time is valuable, so is the director’s. A properly managed schedule can be very productive and can even afford some actors a “night off” here and there. I also think it is important to be respectful of a call time, both for the actors and the creative team. I maintain that actors should be onstage and ready to rehearse at the scheduled time. It is equally important for a director and crew to, as best they can, tend to production-oriented tasks outside of the rehearsal window. Naturally, there are times when circumstances or the point in the production process preclude this. And all bets are off during Hell Week.

Remember Your Blocking
This one seems like common sense, right? When you are stumbling through and/or fine-tuning blocking, it stands to reason that you are expected to remember it or at least have it written down, especially if you still have your scripts in hand. I can’t tell you how many times during our rehearsal process I’ve had the stage manager remind me that I had to cross to a certain point or sit or stand. When this would happen, I would look at my script and see no blocking notes. If this occurs more than once, as it did with me, it is inevitable that you will hear the director say, “This is why I tell you to write it down!” What is even worse is when you go to write it down, discover you don’t have your pencil, and the director rushes up to the stage to hand one to you. This also something I’ve done as a director and, mortifyingly, something that happened to me as an actor. Which leads me to…

Always Be Prepared
In early rehearsals, always bring your script and a pencil with an eraser. Highlight your lines and blocking so it is easier to find your place when you are running scenes or have to backtrack to a certain spot. In later rehearsals, when you are told to be off book, be off book. If you are asked to bring a prop or costume element, bring it in when it is expected. Likewise, the creative team and crew should be prepared by having blocking notes or ensuring that the technical elements come together as expected. When you are prepared, it is a much smoother ride. If you are constantly scrambling, then you better buckle up because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Pay Attention
When in rehearsal, pay attention to what goes on around you. Listen to your fellow actors when you are on stage. When you are off stage, listen for your cues or prepare for your next scene. Time spent waiting in the wings should not be spent checking your Facebook or chatting with your friends. During notes, pay attention to what the director is saying. Oddly enough, this is the one that I have the hardest time with. It is difficult when you are building a camaraderie with your cast mates to resist making conversation or sharing little inside jokes. But, truly, timing is everything with that. There is nothing more frustrating to a director than having to repeat themselves because someone wasn’t paying attention.

Don’t Give Other Actors Notes
I hate this as a director. I hate this as an actor. This is where building a good relationship with your director and your scene partners is key. Having a conversation or posing your idea as a question is far more productive then simply telling another actor what to do. There is nothing more annoying, for the director or for the company, than an actor telling fellow actors how to interpret a line or their character. Except for maybe the actor who takes that direction.

Respect Everyone Involved
There are many theatre maxims that relate to respecting everyone involved with the production, no matter their role. There are no small parts, only small actors. Be nice to the lighting guy because he controls the “off” button. If you mistreat a crew member, your prop could be missing or your quick-change costume might not be there. It truly does take a village to build a successful production. From the producer to the director, from the crew to the front-of-house, from the actor to the audience member, every person plays an integral part in the theatrical experience. Never forget that, no matter who you are.

This latest project has really broadened my appreciation of what it takes to bring a theatre production to life and it has refreshed my memory of what the actor experience is like. Acting is completely different from directing in terms of how you reap the rewards of doing theatre. I have to say, I am really loving  this acting gig. I’ve joked with friends that I might never direct again. Of course, we all know that isn’t true. So, I guess I’m not really divorcing the director, it’s more like a trial separation. And I’m okay with that.


Times Stands Still is playing weekends at TheatreWorks New Milford from July 10th to August 1st. For tickets and further information, visit www.theatreworks.us.

Becoming Sarah: Part Three

So. Many. Lines. To. Remember.

MyBrain
I would say most theatre people would agree that every actor is keenly aware of how many lines they have when they are cast in a production. Some actors may even count them, which is no big challenge when you only need two hands to do so. Actors, by nature, love their stage time and the number of lines they have is a good gauge of how much time they will spend on stage. I would say that most of the characters I’ve portrayed, especially in plays, have been of the supporting variety and I firmly believe there are no small parts, only small actors. While I’ve had a decent amount of stage time over the years, much of my time has been spent backstage waiting for my cue. This, however, is not the case with my role in Time Stands Still. I haven’t even tried counting the lines, there are so many.

Regardless of whether your role is large or small, at some point, you need to commit those lines to memory. Only then, in my opinion, can you really start to live in the character and engage with what is going on around you in the onstage world you are creating. I believe that as a director. I am passionate about it as an actor.

Over the past few years, I’ve had a couple of friends who have made their return to the stage after a significant hiatus (meaning a decade or more off the boards). One common concern they all had was how difficult it would be to memorize the lines. As a woman in her mid-forties, I freely admit that my mind is not what it used to be. In my twenties, I was a quick study. However, with the passage of two decades and very little need to exercise the memory muscle, the lines don’t come to me quite as quickly.

Let’s just say that the role of Sarah in Times Stands Still pretty much requires me to flex that memory muscle. In fact, it’s like a Crossfit workout for my brain.

Holy. Crap.

Our director, Sonnie, is a stickler for precision when it comes to line memorization. As a writer and director, I have to say I wholeheartedly agree that exactitude is critical to a successful production. First and foremost, when a writer puts a line in a script, he puts it there for a reason. The words have been carefully chosen to accomplish the progression of plot or action, actors should not be permitted to purposefully change or add words to a script. The other reason it is important to be accurate with the words is that your line is a cue for something else – another actor’s line, a point of action or a tech cue depends on speaking the right line.

I would now like to draw your attention to Donald Margulies, the author of Time Stands Still. Mr. Margulies is a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and Time Stands Still was a Tony nominated play. Believe me when I say the man has a way with words. He also has a way with the cadence and musicality of natural language, which includes a lot of interjected words. The writer in me loves this style but the actor in me is all the more challenged as I try to find not only the traditional cues but the cues where I interrupt or overlap with another actor’s lines.

As far as the lines are concerned, this show is definitely testing my memorization skills. Despite the time away from the stage, there are some habits you don’t forget. This process is a bit like learning to ride a bike. Once you learn, you never forget. Here are some tips that have helped me learn my lines over the years:

Read The Play
Sure, this seems like common sense but I cannot stress how important it is to read the play outside of the rehearsal space. When you are in rehearsal, you tend to be focused on acting, blocking and trying to get off book. Invariably, when I go back to the script, there is a parenthetical that I missed, a line that I memorized incorrectly or something I missed during scenes I’m not in. Being aware of the play in its entirety helps an actor to tell the story.

Highlight Your Lines
Invest in a new highlighter in your favorite color and highlight every line your character has in the play. Sometimes I will even highlight my action/blocking or, in the case of this play, the cue lines for the lines involving overlap or interruption. Doing so makes it a lot easier to find your place in the script during rehearsal and when working on memorization because it helps you to visualize the line on the page. I also go through with a pencil and indicate my cues, like so:LineUnderstand The Lines
Sometimes the lines are written in a way that doesn’t come naturally to you. Here is where I find it helpful to understand the primary purpose or theme of the line. Doing so can help you to remember the line’s context, which can help trigger the words in your muscle memory. For example, Sarah has a line in Times Stands Still where she says, “I live off the suffering of strangers.” For some reason, in rehearsal, I always have a hard time finding that line. So I’ve given myself to prompts to help remember the line: (1) Sarah’s previous line talks about killing which prompts me to think about suffering. (2) The line is a play on Blanche Dubois’ line in A Streetcar Named Desire, so I remind myself that the killing line is the prompt for the Blanche Dubois line. This is my own personal way of correlating the line, which helps me remember it.

Say The Lines Aloud (Over and Over Again)
While this is obviously something that is done at most rehearsals, it is critical that you find ways to say the lines out loud outside of rehearsal. The more opportunity you have to say the lines aloud, the more easily they will be embedded in your memory. If you can find someone to be on book and read the lines with you, that is the most helpful, it is even more helpful if that person can be a scene partner from the production. If you don’t have someone to read with you, I find an index card masking the cue lines to be a helpful alternative and one that I tend to use when I don’t want to be saying the lines out loud.

Make A Recording
When I was in college, back in the days of cassette tapes, I would record everyone’s lines into a tape recorder, pausing in the spots when my lines would be delivered. I would listen to them on my Walkman (gasp!) or play them on my stereo before I’d go to sleep (see Study Your Lines at Bedtime). While it is always better to have someone on book, this helps with listening for your cues and fitting your line into the flow of the dialogue. For Time Stands Still, the actor playing Jamie recorded the four of us reading the script allowed and the recording to CD for us. This has proven to be extremely helpful because we have the benefit of a “read aloud” tool but also the rhythms of how the actual actors in our production read the lines.

Listen
While much of line memorization is achieved by rote, it helps to pay attention to what else is going on in the scene. Very often the other lines and action in the scene can prompt you. Clearly, it is important to listen for the actual cue but participating in the scene and understanding the dialogue can also help you to remember your lines. Listening is also a building block for developing the scene and the character by requiring that you engage with what is going on around you.

Ignore Punctuation and Parentheticals
Sometimes an actor can get bogged down by the punctuation or described emotion that is attached to a line. Certainly some punctuation makes common sense but when you allow yourself to give the line different nuances, you make it your own. If the find yourself obsessing over every pause and exclamation point, you may lose an opportunity to bring new light to a line.

Study Your Lines at Bedtime
Studying before bedtime is another trick I discovered when I was in college. Gleaned from a proven study technique, research shows that if you read something before a good night’s sleep you will retain the information better. This is particularly effective is you are trying to learn new material. As you go through the line memorization process, especially early on, time spent with your script before falling asleep can help cement the lines in your memory.

Despite the many years that have passed since I’ve last had to remember a significant number of lines, line memorization is still a skill I’m pretty good at. We are meant to be off book for the entire show tomorrow night. While there are still those few pesky lines that don’t want to come, I am confident that very soon the lines will click and I can sink my teeth into character development.

Becoming Sarah: Part Two

Back to School

As you can imagine, I have a lot of friends who are in theatre. Over the past decade or so, I have heard a lot of them use the phrase “first day of school” to describe the first day of rehearsal. I only recently started to use the phrase, being the lemming that I am, and I find it a perfectly suitable analogy for the rehearsal process.

Will the teacher like me? Will I know anyone in my class? Will the other kids like me? How much homework will there be? Am I smart enough? What will the classroom look like? What kind of grades will I get.

As I stated in Becoming Sarah: Part One, I haven’t been on stage in quite some time and I haven’t experienced a legitimate rehearsal process as a performer since 2006. The first thing I learned is that It is very different starting a new class being the student, as opposed to the teacher. The first day of school as a student is pretty nerve wracking but it can also very exciting. If you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself in a class where you can grow and thrive.

The cast for Time Stands Still is comprised of four actors (the other three being Aaron Kaplan, Will Jeffries and Erin Shaughnessy). Fortunately, none of them are performers I’ve directed, reviewed or acted with. It really is nice to have a clean slate upon which to start the rehearsal process. It truly gives us the chance to explore and learn our personalities and characters together. This is also the first time I have worked with the director, Sonnie Osborne, as an actor.

School
We had our table read a couple weeks ago. Being the Type A person that I am, I spent the time prior to the rehearsal highlighting Sarah’s lines in my script. I was so prepared, so excited and ready to begin. Then, around lunch time that day, I had a major panic attack. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced them in the past. Fortunately, those experiences have helped me to tell the difference between a panic attack and a cardiac episode. A few hours and a Xanax later, I was right as rain and on my way to the “first day of school.” As my friend Will pointed out, this return to the stage might have induced a little more anxiety than is readily apparent. Perhaps he’s right.

As I write this, we are about to begin Week 3 of rehearsals. Thankfully there have been no more panic attacks. I am happy to report that I like the teacher, the kids in my class are pretty awesome and I’m loving the material. I’ve a feeling this is going to be a class where I learn a lot – about myself, about my character and about the relationships I will be cultivating with my classmates. And I can’t wait to see all of our names on the Honor Roll!

Becoming Sarah: Part One

As most of the people reading this know, I am a theatre person. That is to say, I am not just someone who likes theatre. I am someone who loves it, who is passionate about it. Theatre has always been my jealous mistress and her art, from page to stage, is something that will always tug at me, pulling me to her. I spent my formative years hanging around my father’s theatre and as soon as I was able to be a part of a production, I was hooked. I did shows through middle school and high school, graduated with a Theatre/Musical Theatre double-major from Ohio Northern University and have continued to pursue it in some way, shape or form since I left college.

I spent most of my educational theatre experience on the stage. However, the latter part of my college years saw me dividing my time between performing and stage managing/directing. The older I got, the more I found myself shifting from the performing side to the artistic/production side of things. Since the mid-90s, my resume is largely comprised of directing and producing credits. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve appeared onstage since 1994.*

I don’t audition for shows because I truly love directing and, generally speaking, my directing schedule eats up a good chunk of my calendar. The other reason is because there are few age-appropriate roles that resonate with me. Being the mother of three with a full-time job, I have to be selective about the projects I take on. As it would happen, a few theatres were producing shows with roles that piqued my interest: Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire and Pam in Oblivion. As luck would also have it, my directing schedule calmed down a bit. So I auditioned for both and was cast in neither. I was disappointed, yes, but as a director I am very pragmatic and truly understand the casting process. I was able to lick my wounds in short order and move on. As my husband says, “There will always be shows.”

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Then in November 2014, TheatreWorks New Milford announced that they were doing Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still. The play is a drama about a photojournalist and her reporter boyfriend dealing with their changing relationship while she recovers from injuries sustained in an Iraqi roadside bombing. The role is Sarah Goodwin, which was originated by Laura Linney in both the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions. I auditioned and, miraculously, a few weeks ago I was cast in that role.

Gulp!

With great excitement, I took to Facebook and posted the obligatory humble brag.

I am so excited to announce that I will be portraying the role of Sarah Goodwin in Theatreworks New Milford’s production of Donald Margulies’ riveting play TIME STANDS STILL! This is my first significant dramatic role in over 20 years and I am thrilled (and terrified) beyond measure to sink my teeth into this one!

Roll your eyes as ye may, I felt this instance warranted a little boasting and could be withstood by my friends and acquaintances, most of whom are theatre people. Naturally.

The reality is, after reviewing my performing resume, I haven’t had a leading role in a play in over 30 years. Not since my high school production of Life With Father. I’ve had leads in musicals and some great supporting roles in plays but not a principal role in a play. The last time I was cast in a lead was in 1995. Ironically, it was as Sarah in Children of a Lesser God at TheatreWorks. Sadly, the production ended up being cancelled and I never had the chance to portray Sarah. Now, 20 years later, I will bring a different Sarah to life on the TheatreWorks’ stage.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my thoughts about easing out of the director’s chair and returning to the stage. I will also be discussing the process of developing a complex character from both the technical and artistic perspectives. What lies before me is one of the most challenging and invigorating experiences of my life: Becoming Sarah. And I can’t wait!


* Ensemble in Barnum and Assassins and Annie in A Christmas Twist. Due to a shortage of men, I portrayed Gladys, a gender-bent role in a production of The Diviners that I directed. I also stepped into a production of My First Time that I was directing when one of my actresses had to leave the production the night before opening because of a family emergency. The last two I don’t really count, since my primary purpose for being there was not to act.

Z is for Zed: Blogging from A to Z Challenge

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As we get to the end of the alphabet, it becomes more challenging to find interesting things to write about. Letters that begin with “X” and “Z” are pretty much “givens” or medical terms. Nobody wants to hear me talk about zebras (although I would have made a clever Grey’s Anatomy reference) and I’m not an expert on Zumba (although I have to say I quite like it and after my foot heals I’m going back).

So I am going with zed. As in the end. It is the end of this challenge and, almost a month past the deadline, I want it to be over so that I can write about the other things that have been coming to mind.

It has been an interesting journey and perhaps next year will bring about a bit more discipline. I am thankful, however, that I finished and that this challenge has limbered up my writing muscle. Onward we go!

J is for Jealousy: Blogging from A to Z Challenge

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I work for an amazing company and over two decades ago, shortly after it it went public, growth was rapid and profits were abundant. The CEO would have these awesome company meetings where, after announcing another great quarter, would randomly tape $100 bills to the bottom of our seats, give away tickets to the Superbowl or have cash machines from which employees could grab at bills of varying denominations. One year, a colleague of mine won $5,000 in some sort of “Let’s Make A Deal” type game. I was in my late twenties at the time and my husband-to-be and I were in the process of planning a wedding that were paying for, mostly on our own. I really needed money. I remember being so envious that this woman, who lived in Darien and drove a luxury automobile to work, won this money. I was happy for her but, at the same time, the green-eyed monster reared his ugly head. I remember saying something about it and my friend saying, “Alicia, don’t be jealous. That isn’t flattering at all.” And she was right.

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I try so hard not be be jealous. But i am not perfect and I shamefully admit that it is the deadly sin that I am most guilty of. As my Facebook feed is flooded with people on their Orlando-bound flights, I find myself wishing that I wasn’t spending my spring break working. Then I realize, jealousy is really about timing, isn’t it? I am a very fortunate person, my family and I have had some wonderful spring vacations to Québec, Disney, Pigeon Forge and Barbados. As we are posting our photos from our vacation we aren’t feeling so envious, are we?

I’ve had a lot of single friends become deeply depressed after their social media feeds were flooded with engagement announcements, wedding photos and baby pictures. I suppose the same would hold true for the unemployed when they see others are getting promotions or raises or the high school senior who gets rejected from every school they apply to while their peers get full rides from their top choices.

As someone who is active in the theatre arts, the opportunities to be jealous are omnipresent. It is especially difficult in a tight-knit community, where the people you are competing with are usually friends. As friends announce landing their dream role, or getting their first Off-Broadway/Broadway play produced, or launching their first CD, or publishing their first book, there is envy waiting in the corner of my mind. Anyone who says they are never jealous is lying. Again, it is all about the timing. For theatre artists, if you aren’t creating something, if you aren’t performing or writing or directing, you invariably find yourself wishing you were. When you are fortunate enough to have your creative outlet, it is amazing how quickly you forget to feel jealous.

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There are two things I am constantly reminding myself of when envy creeps her way into my thoughts. First, did I make the choice to put myself in a position of longing for another’s good fortune? If I chose not to do the work or invest the time in developing my creative endeavors, I have no right to be jealous. If I don’t write something, there is nothing to publish. If I don’t audition, there is no role to be had. If I don’t submit for directing opportunities, there are no productions to helm.

The second thing, and the one I find saying most often, is this: Another person’s success does not equal my failure. If anything, another person’s success should inspire me to succeed. So quit your bitchin’, Alicia! Work harder. Work better. And remember when you succeed, be gracious enough to inspire and give thanks. Be the person that other people are genuinely happy for.

And that usually kills the green monster.

The Alignment of Storytelling Stars

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In this post, three separate stories will converge into an evening of events that I choose to give more meaning than I probably should. These three stories are depicted in the photo banner above.

Photo #1
In 1988, I attended an American Theatre Wing panel discussion that featured Michael Crawford, Judy Kaye, Blythe Danner, John Lithgow and B.D. Wong. I was so taken by the discussion of M. Butterfly that I scurried over to the TKTS Booth afterward and purchased tickets to the show, which I would be attending with my father. Following the show, he and I went backstage to meet John Lithgow, as my father had met him back when he did The Changing Room. I was all of 19 years old at the time and when I handed my Playbill to Mr. Lithgow for his autograph, he inscribed upon its cover: For Alicia, We’ll work together soon. John Lithgow.

Photo #2
In 2008, I saw a musical that changed my life: [title of show]. I learned that creativity, perseverance and talent can, in fact, get you to Broadway. Shortly thereafter, I arranged for Susan Blackwell to teach her Die Vampire, Die! creativity workshop at the theatre I was affiliated with at the time. I need to say this: Susan Blackwell is my spirit animal. She has taught me how to unleash my creativity and how to kill the vampires. She is also one of the classiest ladies I’ve ever met. I don’t know if she realizes what a tremendous impact she has had on me. But I think she does.

Photo #3
Also in 2008, shortly after In The Heights won the Tony Award for Best Musical, I braved a virtual hurricane to see my friend Robin de Jesús in his Tony nominated performance. Minutes before curtain, as I raced to the Richard Rodgers in a torrential downpour, I lost my wallet on Manhattan street  Despite this unfortunate turn of events, I was blessed to have experienced the original cast perform the work of a fresh, new voice in American musical theatre: Lin-Manuel Miranda. After the show, when I was telling Robin my tale of the lost wallet after the show, Lin stopped by to nuzzle Robin’s neck and posed for a picture.


On Sunday night, my husband and I had the enviable pleasure of attending a performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton at The Public Theater. The sold-out run has extended three times prior to its scheduled opening on Febuary 17th. To say it is the hottest ticket in town is an understatement.

When we arrived at the theatre, my husband and I were commenting on how large the stage looked compared to the last time he had been there, which was for another contemporary musical with an historical figure as its focus, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. I mentioned that I was taken by the size of the space when I went to see Fun Home there last year. He asked me if I saw it alone and I reminded him that I saw it after I attended Susan Blackwell’s full-day creativity workshop in January.

As we sat in our seats reading our programs, my husband leaned over to me and said, “Isn’t that Susan over there?” Sure enough, a few rows in front of us, Susan was taking her seat. It was a little freaky, actually. As much as I respect and admire the woman, I assure you that I don’t frequently find myself bringing her up in conversation.

During intermission, I ran into Susan and we exchanged the brief pleasantries suitable for the ladies room. Afterward, I hastened to the bar to grab, appropriately, an ale to enjoy during the second act. As I placed my order, I looked up and standing there, in all his tallness and grandeur, was John Lithgow.

I shit you not!

I wanted to say, “Hey, remember that time a quarter century ago when you said that you and I would work together soon?” Instead, I averted his gaze and thought to myself, “Oh my God, he’s the Trinity Killer!”

I am going to reserve my review of Hamilton until the show opens one week from today. I will, however, say this: this show alters the landscape of contemporary musical theatre in ways you cannot imagine.

So, to Mr. Lithgow, who gave a young girl the hope that she could have a career in this crazy business of show, I say, “Thanks for letting me believe that I have a shot.”

To Ms. Blackwell, the loveliest vampire killer I know, I say, “Thanks for showing me how to have faith in the words that will allow me to take the shot.”

To Mr. Miranda, the man who has raised the bar for every theatre artist living today, “Thanks for inspiring me to stop throwing away my shot.”

Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?

I now know the answer. Here I go.