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Aug. 3rd, 2014

Before I start:

I don't know why I started to write this journal.  I'm not known as an autobiographical writer.  Before 2007, the only things I wrote were technical documents, financial analyses and reports.  2007 was one of the low points in my life.  My wife was battling lung cancer, my daughter was battling her physical and emotional issues.

I went to a week long acting training program (which is a topic for another day).  During one of the few breaks in the training program, I was talking to a friend about what was going on inside me and she told me that I needed to write a journal - to sort out and understand what was happening to me.  For the first time (but not the last) she said I was a bomb about to explode.  So I started to write a journal.  For a reason I'll never understand, my journals came out as plays.  Over the next few years I wrote almost 100 short plays and 6 or 8 finished and unfinished full length plays.  Rereading those plays today, I see them as metaphors of what was going on in my life.  Other people usually can't see what is underneath the metaphor but I know.  And that's what's important.

In 2007 I was in New York for several weeks and I got to see the Pulitzer Prize winning play "Dinner With Friends" by Donald Margulies.  I went to see the play in an Off-Broadway workshop production because it was directed by one of the instructors from the training program I mentioned above and I knew one of the stars in the play from the training program.

Anyway, I liked the play far more than I thought I would. (I had read the play a couple of times and didn't see anything particularly compelling about it.)  You've heard me say this before but I thought the playwright and director told the wrong story.  So I set out to write the story I thought should have been told.

I worked on the play for well over a year, getting it to just the point I wanted.  It went through several total re-writes as I polished it.  Along with the re-writes the title of the play changed several times from "Coffee With A Friend" to finally "Husbands And Other Lovers".  When I had polished it to (what I thought was) brilliance, I circulated it to several friends.  That list has gradually expanded to a couple dozen friends.  No one liked it.  Not a single person.  I got lots of feedback on what was wrong with it:  "It isn't funny enough"; "It needs older actors"; "You can do better than this"; "It's trite, predictable and done to death." and so on.  Over the next year I rewrote it a couple of times to address the issues raised but the reviews didn't improve.  I finally realized that the play no longer told the story I originally set out to tell: It had been written by committee.  By trying to incorporate what everyone wanted, it no longer meant anything to me.

I stopped writing.  I made a couple of half hearted efforts to write plays but my heart wasn't into it.  A very good friend finally told me: "This play is eating a hole in you.  You need to get past it.  You run the theater.  Do it.  It's not going to stop eating at you until you get it on stage."

He was right.  BUT . . . After I thought about it I realized that IF it was as bad as everyone said (and I had to give that possibility some credibility - after all they were my friends and if my friends didn't like it, what would an audience think of it?)  So I put the play aside and, though I continue to pull it out from time to time and have made a short play out of what I thought were the best parts, I have finally been able to get past it.  For what it's worth, several months ago I made another rewrite of the shorter version and gave it to a friend to read and told her:  "If you don't like it, just tell me you haven't read it yet."  So far she hasn't read it yet . . . . . (Yes, I have asked her.)

So seven years after writing "Husbands And Other Loves" I am writing again.  But not plays this time.  I don't know why.  Just because.

Before I get back to "Love Song" there is one more thing I want to talk about:  The week long acting training workshop.  In the early days, the workshop took place on Orcas Island.  Called SOAR (Seattle-Orcas Acting Retreat), the program started on Sunday at noon and ended the following Sunday at noon.  There have been a few things that I have done in my life that were really "life Changing".  This acting program was one - even though I was technically a director at the time.

Another was a three day training program about how to negotiate:  How to negotiate with unions, how to negotiate for a new car and how to negotiate when the other entity has all the power (like a government agency).

Without digressing too far:  With a government agency, there is ALWAYS something they want more than money.  You just have to find it.  A case in point is the Bonneville Power Administration.  At the time I was CEO of our local power company.  Every year we paid BPA $2,500,000 for power.  A lot of money?  Yes.  But to BPA, with a $4,000,000,000 budget, maybe not a lot of money.

Every two years, BPA adjusted their wholesale power rates based on projections for the next two years.  During one of these rate cases the overwhelming number of BPA customers were trying to buy as little power from BPA as possible because there were going to be cheaper sources of power (remember Enron?).  BPA was getting a lot of political pressure to let their utility customers buy as little power from BPA as possible.  Our power company (and a couple other small BPA customers) went just the other way:  We wanted to buy all of our power from BPA for as long as they would let us.  BPA was so happy to have a few customers to stand up for them on a regional and national level that they offered us a five year fixed price contract.  We signed the contract along with a couple of other utilities.  When all the dust had settled, our contract was about 60% of what all the other utilities had to pay.  There was something that BPA wanted more than money:  Political support from their customers.

Okay, back to the topic (sub-topic?  Sub-sub Topic?  Sub-sub-sub Topic?):

Life Changing:  The workshop was expensive:  Tuition $500, Room and Board $500 plus travel to get there.  The instructors were world class.  With 20 to 25 students, the class size was 4 to 6 people.  I learned a lot about acting but I learned even more about directing and even more about the world of acting.  After the first year, the class moved off Orcas Island to a small town on the Olympic Peninsula and was renamed to AIRE (Actors International Retreat Experience).

Each day started off with a group breakfast at 7 am, classes 'till noon, then lunch the more classes until 4 or 5 pm, then a break them dinner and a two or three hour session between 7 and 10 pm.  When there was a break, we spent it with our assigned scene partner running lines from the scene we would be doing together.

The after dinner session was always special.  Each instructor had a night, it might be Shakespeare one night; a mystical improvised journey the next and something to do with movement another night.  Saturday was our opportunity to show the others in our class what we had been working on all week.  In the morning were the scenes, in the afternoon simulated auditions for roles we had been studying.  After dinner there was a big party where the students and instructors could do anything they wanted:  Sing, dance, inprov, or whatever.  Great way to end the session.

It was clear to me the there were not enough actors to support the fixed cost of the program.  I worked hard to get actors I knew to attend.  It got to the point where half the class were people I had recruited for the program.

After a couple of years it became clear to me that the biggest problem was the target audience:  Young professional actors.  These actors were, for the most part, not making a living from acting but had day jobs to put bread on the table and actors at night.  $1,500 for a week (including airfare) was more than they could afford.  I suggested to the workshop leader that, between us, we could broaden the group to community theater people like those from Orcas.  Most to the Orcas people who attended were later in their lives and were retired or at least had jobs that enabled them to afford the workshop.  My suggestion was summarily rejected and the program failed two years later.

I tried to restart the program for several years but was always blocked in my efforts.

I'm really sorry that the program doesn't exist any more.  The people who took those workshops are the best actors around here.

That's it for today.  I'll try to get back to Love Song" Next time.

Doug

P1010006

Aug. 2nd, 2014

Had an epiphany last night.  The reason I never got around to talking about my current play "Love Song" is that I didn't know what I was going to write about after that.  I now know.

I also think (that's too weak:  I KNOW) I'm spending too much time on this Journal.  It takes me about three hours to write 1,500 words.  For some reason it takes me two hours to write 500 words.  I think it was Shaw who wrote a letter to his friend and said something like "I don't have time to write a short note so I'll have to write a long one."

On to Love Song.

I've written about it before but I spend a lot of time trying to find the four or five shows for our season.  The vast majority of the scripts I read or shows I see don't appeal to me (at least from a producing or directing point of view).

I have to digress.

Several weeks ago, three of us went to Seattle to see plays.  Between the three of us, we saw five different plays in three days.  One of those plays, "To The Naked Eye" was about  . . . well, here is what the theater company said about their play:

"Six comedic vignettes paint the canvas of our multifaceted perception around the meaning of nakedness. Beauty, innocence, and purity, or corruption, perversion and scandal? This poignant and funny evening ultimately strips away our preconceived notions and reveals three simple truths:

Naked people are funny!

Naked people are beautiful!

Naked people are people!"

Gives you a pretty good idea what the play was about.  Nakedness.  Unfortunately I didn't get to see that play.  Instead, I went to see a show that turned out to be terrible while the two who went to see Naked Eye thought it was good.  Not great but good.  There were some vignettes that were well done and others not so much so.  Anyway it was the source of a lot of good laughs during our after theater comparison of the plays we saw.

Fast forward to last Thursday:  A dozen of us went out for the third birthday party for one of our group.  (Like my wife said as I was heading out the door:  How many birthday parties are you going to have for her?)  We're actors.  We party.  Get over it!!!  ;-)

As you might guess, the topic of the Naked Eye came up and engendered a lot of laughs.  We talked about the impossibility of doing that play here.  After all, we are a VERY small community.  Who would get up on stage in front of your friends and neighbors without your clothes on?  Well, if I can trust the show of hands, three of the women and none of the men would do it.   Can I ever cast it?  Probably not.  Am I going to get the script and read it to see if I like it?  You bet!!!  I love pushing the envelope.  Does that make me weird?  No.  It's really all about good theater.  Really!!

Back to Love Song.

In the 15 years I have been running our theater, I have read hundreds and hundreds of plays.  Out of that number, there have been a half dozen that just screamed "do me".  "Lend Me A Tenor" was one.  I read LMAT when I was in the middle of directing a run of the mill farce and wanted to stop directing that and do LMAT instead.  Unfortunately, we were too far along so I had to wait two years before I could fit it in.  Same with "Arthur:  The Begetting" which I have written about previously.  "Wait Until Dark" was another.  Same with "Love Song".

When I read Love Song for the first time, I thought I really had something I couldn't wait to present.  It was one of those plays that just grabbed me right from the start.  I read all the reviews of prior productions of the play that I could find:  Chicago, Off Broadway, London's West End and a couple smaller theaters.  The reviews were really mixed:  What I would call either two stars or four stars (on a five star basis).  No one seemed to be lukewarm.  They really liked it or really didn't like it.  When you see reviews like that (with almost universal praise of the actors involved) it tells me that it is a play that the director will make or break.

When I read it, i was just coming off a couple of plays that, while successful, did not draw the audiences I thought they deserved.  ("Arthur:  The Hunt" and "Moonlight And Magnolias").  In between those two plays a good friend had directed the very popular "Almost, Maine".  I was second guessing myself.  Had I changed so much in my taste in plays that I had lost our audience?  Had I lost my ability to pick good plays?  I talked to a lot of people who had not come to see my recent plays.  A lot of excuses not reasons.

I passed the script around to several friends for comments and got almost universal praise for the play.  There was some concern expressed that the language and themes would require a "mature audiences only" warning.  In itself, that didn't bother me - after all we had done the play "Torso" which had language and nudity issues - but I didn't know if if I was emotionally ready for another low attendance show.

We had an upcoming Board of Directors meeting for our group so I put it on the agenda.  We had a wonderful discussion - one that left me on top of the world for a long time.  We are one of the few theaters that make money without relying on donations.  While we don't solicit donations (except for specific items) we gratefully accept them but never use them for operations - donations go to capital projects:  New seats, new lighting fixtures and so on.  Since we have money in the bank we have the luxury of not letting financial considerations be the overriding factor in decisions we make.  The loud and clear message from our Board was the need for high quality theater.  As long as we are providing high quality theater and tell the audiences what to expect (mature audiences), go ahead and do what I thought was best.

Will finish this tomorrow. . .

Aug. 1st, 2014

You'd think that, by the time I reached 72 years old, my life would be predictable and in order.  Not so.  Just when I think everything is going well the whole picture explodes throwing burning pieces all over the place.  Last week was one of those times when my life exploded.  Over the last week I got most of the small fires stamped out but there are still a lot left that aren't in my purview to put out that can flare up again.  This is just the most recent in a long string of problems that goes back 20 years or more.  Here is where I insert a long string of expletives but that would make our wonderful moderators unhappy so I'll pass.

I regret that I lost the momentum that I had with my writing.  I was really proud of the posts on this journal.  I was very prolific (for me) and now I have to get back into the writing zone again.

Today I am finally going to get to the play that started this Journal:  "Love Song" but first ...

This really does pertain to "Love Song".  It's about blocking.  Blocking refers to how the actors move around the stage.

When I tell the story of the play, I have a number of arrows in my quiver:  First is the script.  We'll set that aside for now.  Next is the set itself:  Is it realistic or suggested?  Look at the photo's I've included on these posts, most of the sets are very realistic.  They look like the house or the room where the action takes place.  I will attach a couple of photos from the play "Noises Off" where you can see the front of the set (with 7 of the 8 doors needed) and a photo of what the set looks like from the back.  (In "Noises Off" the set is actually turned front to back so the audience can see what is happening back stage during the second act of play.)

Other plays like the Arthur series and Torso have minimal sets - often just a pieces of fabric hung from the ceiling.  The set is very important in telling the audience of the time and place of the play.

Lighting is very important in telling the story of the play.  Think of "Wait Until Dark" where the absence of light tells us about what it feels like to be blind.  In general, the lighter the story, the brighter the lights:  A comedy will be brightly lit and a drama will be much dimmer with lots of shadows.  If you've ever seen a play, you will have seen dozens to hundreds of lights, and each one can be individually controlled.  By using filters we can set the tone of the scene:  Rose colored filters make the scene warm and loving.  Blue makes the scene look cold and confrontational.  Amber will make the set look old and candle lit.  It all goes into putting the audience into the mood the director wants in that portion of the play.

The next arrow is sound.  In this case, I'm not talking about music to accompany singers but sounds that are part of the plot:  Thunder, cars starting and driving away.  Not too many years ago, sound was generated live:  A piece of metal would be shaken to generate the sound of thunder, doors would be slammed off stage to simulate actions that did not take place on stage.  Fifty or sixty years ago, with the advent of easily recorded sound effects, the use of sound on stage took a small leap forward:  We started to use recorded ambiance during the play:  The sound of crickets outdoors at night; the sound of diners in a restaurant; the sound of a car starting and driving away.  In the meantime, movies were using music throughout the movie to set the mood.. Think of the theme from "Jaws" to see what sound can accomplish or the soundtrack of "Jurassic Park".

Over the past few years I have started to use sound inside my plays to set the mood.  We used a penny whistle and drum in the first Arthur play, a flute in the second.  "Torso" used sound throughout the play to set the mood of the scene.  Purists don't like sound/music in a play.  It can easily be overdone but used properly, I think it helps a lot.

Costumes help more than you might imagine.  It will tell the audience a lot about the character:  Is she wealthy?  Is she organized?  Does she have taste?  What is her age?  What is the period and location of the play?  The French Revolution?  The wild west?  Medieval Britain? and so on.

There are several other arrows available to the Director:  Makeup, furniture, paint colors and so on.

What I want to talk about is blocking.  Next to the words of the script and the delivery of the words by a actor, blocking is the most important element to telling the story.  A well blocked play will tell the story without any words.  How do I explain it?  I need to back up and brag a little.

Each year Lincoln Center Theater in New York, invites 60 or so directors from all over the world to a "laboratory" to investigate issues facing the theater.  In 2007, I got a copy of the invitation to apply.  They were looking for directors early in their directing career.  At that point, I was early in my directing career even though i was retired and 65 years old.  I applied and was accepted.  (When I got there I was at least twice as old as any of the other directors.  They have since changed the application to ask for "young directors early in their careers"  >:(

Anyway, the Lab was life changing for me.  It validated what I did and what I thought about in the theater.  I remember one discussion the group had with the famous British Director, Richard Eyre.  He was describing his career.  He said that early on, he would build a model of the set and move little paper actors around on the set to figure out what to do.  I did that too!!

Then he reached the point where he could pretty much see the set in his mind and envision how the actors moved around on it.  I did that too!!!

Finally, he reached to point where he let his actors find their blocking.  He said to his actors: "Show me what you got" then he would adjust what he saw from the actors until he got the picture he wanted.   That's what I do!!!

To this day, I always let the actors find their way through the scene first then make adjustments.  I repeat:  A well blocked play will tell the story without any words.  Do the actors move closer to each other?  Further apart?  Do they look at each other?  Each sentence in a well written play will have an obvious movement associated with it.  The one thing I want to avoid is "talking heads":  Two people sitting or standing and delivering their lines without any movement.

Another (short) digression:  The first task we undertake when rehearsing a play is the rough blocking.  The actors are in the process of memorizing their lines and the real work can't begin until the memorizing is done.  During this period we work on the rough blocking of the play.  The amount of blocking accomplished varies greatly: Sometime we will spend six hours on one minute of the play, sometimes we can do 15 minutes of play time in three hours.  Another problem is that we work out the blocking then may not revisit it for a week or more.  To keep track of the blocking we use our Stage Manager to record what is going on.  During these rehearsals our Stage Manager writes all of the movement of the actors in the script.  A good SM will have developed a shorthand to record all the movement on stage.  I have the luxury of working with an extremely  talented Stage Manager who can record every nuance of what is happening on the stage.   Always writing in pencil so it can be easily erased.  I'm a director, that means I can change my mind.   ;)

Notice that I call it the "rough blocking".  With experienced actors, as they find their characters, they will start to find things that work for them that was not the way we originally blocked it.  (Remember our discussion of the hard working actors?  They will experiment with many things, including blocking, throughout the rehearsal period.)  I always get my Stage manager BIG erasers!!

There are literally thousands of ways a play can be blocked.  There are hundreds of ways to communicate the story to the audience.  There are a few ways that are really good but there is only one way that screams "this is the right blocking" to me.  Sometimes I can see what we need to do.  Sometimes we have to look for it.  Sometimes, it may not appear for weeks.  Sometimes even after the show opens.  Sometimes I'll find it, sometimes the actors will find it.  But when it is right, everyone can see it.  it's like a great light bulb turns on.

I'm almost out of time for today but I will tie this to "Love Song".  At our last rehearsal a husband and wife are discussing her brother - something she doesn't want to hear right now.  I had her walk away from her husband.  The direction I sent her in took her between the chair he was sitting in and a coffee table.  Instead of walking away from him, she got closer to him and knelt beside his chair to press her wishes.  Very different that I had envisioned but far more powerful.  It was the perfect action - not to say there isn't an even more perfect action - but that one moment made the rehearsal for me.  I was a happy camper!!!

More next time.

Doug BNO6
NO21
A friend (not in the theater) asked me how I bring a play to life.  Here is my response:

I have to start out by saying that plays are very different than books or movies.  A play only exists at the moment it is being performed.  Unlike a book which you can put down and return to later or a movie where you can put it on pause to do something else, a play starts and runs to its conclusion.  Even more interesting, to me at least, is that you are watching real, live people saying real, live words.  That intimacy is what compels the audience to sit there for an hour and a half or longer to watch the characters say words that someone else wrote for them.

I think of books as being about ideas, large and small.  Movies are about pictures.  Plays are about words.  Other than moving around on a fixed set, all the actors can do is relate to each other.  They can dance, they can fight, they can laugh, they can cry but whatever they do, it must be something that the audience can see or hear.

After writing for a couple of hours, I realized I was answering the wrong question.

So here we go again.

To bring a play to life, I will spend two months reading it.  I will read it from the perspective of each character.  I will read one scene at at a time, I will read it cover to cover without stopping, I'll look for sub-text, I'll look for what every character wants in life, in the play, in the scene, in the beat.

I will make notes on what each character says about themselves and what other characters say about them.  I read reviews of previous productions.  I'll start to see the set.  It may not be what the playwright describes because of our stage constraints.  I'll set the rehearsal schedule: 35 to 45 three hour rehearsals depending on the length of the play and it's complexity - and hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half of rehearsal for every minute of the play.

I'll start to get an idea of the characteristics I want in my actors.  Casting is the single biggest issue in the ultimate success of the play.  I obsess over it.  I'll start calling actors I want to look at in auditions.  Ultimately, I'll have a cast.

The first rehearsal is easy and relatively short.  All the actors need to get to know each other, particularly those with close relationships on stage (husband and wife sort of thing).  We will read the play.  Interesting fact:  That first read through will give me the best estimate of the final running time of the play until about a week before opening.

The second rehearsal is when the real work starts.  The script says:  As the lights come up, "A" is sitting on the sofa and "B" enters from the bedroom.  I start to ask the actors questions.  I hardly EVER tell and actor what to think.  I NEVER tell them how to say a line.

Why are you sitting on the sofa?  What are you doing?  What were you doing five minutes ago?  One minute ago?  Do you know "B" is coming in?  What do you think about "B"?  What do you want?  How do you feel about "B"'s arrival?  For the next two months I am going to ask thousands of questions of each actor.  If the answer is not what I want to hear, I ask them another question and another until they start to get a picture of their relationship with their character and all the other characters.

Here is an example:

Me:  How do you feel about "B".

"A":  I don't like him.

Me:  Why not?

"A":  He's not nice to "C".

Me:  Why isn't he nice to "C"?

"A":  "C" stole his girlfriend.

Me:  Well, that wasn't a nice thing for "C" to do.  Put yourself in "B"'s place.  How would that feel?

"A":  Pretty bad, I guess.

Me:  Wouldn't it help if you were nice to "B" to help him get over his girlfriend?

"A":  I guess so.

And so on for hour after hour.

While this is going on, we are working on the rough blocking (how they move on stage).  The actors are also memorizing their lines.  This lasts about a month (half the rehearsals).

As they start to understand their characters and the interrelationships, I add "personalizations":  Find someone in your real life who you feel about the way your character feels about "B".  Never reveal who you have personalized.  Don't be afraid to change it if how you feel about "B" changes.  Don't pick someone close to you:  Spouse, sibling, child:  Those relationships are too complicated.  Pick someone from TV or a movie, someone you would like to know, someone you know casually.  Those simple relationships project well off the stage.

The next break comes when we take the scripts out of their hands.  It's a crisis.  They have lost their security blanket.  The next few rehearsals are going to be terrible.  Actors can call "Line" and the stage manager will give them a hint.  This process will go on until about two weeks to ten days before opening when we don't let them call for lines any more.  Another crisis time.  They have to say something.  The audience hasn't read the script so as long as they are the character they can say pretty much whatever they want.  There is usually another actor on stage who can help bail them out.  It's an art to be able to work through those moments.

Once they are comfortably "off book" (no scripts), the real work on the play can start.  More questions, finer blocking (It's hard for an actor to carry two glasses of champagne when he has a script in one hand.)  By now the actors are sounding real as they speak their lines.  They sound like two people really having a conversation, just using words that someone else wrote for them. For me, as director, I start to hear lines that don't ring true.  I'll ask:  "Why did you say that?"  Nine times out of ten, the actor will respond "I don't know".  More questions.

Now we start to address the hard parts that we left for now:  Fight choreography, crying, undressing, kissing (far harder than you might think), and things like that.

By now we should have a set (depending on the theater) so the actors can go up or down stairs, the doors are where they're supposed to be.  We find out that actor "A" doesn't have time to exit through door #1 and run around back stage to enter door #2 on time.  The sofa the prop people got doesn't fit in the space allowed for it.  Changes have to be made, the actors have to adjust.  On top of all of this, the character development is just about complete.

Realize that in all this time I have never told an actor how to say a line:  Be happy here, you are sad here.  Those are results.  The actor will act the results and it will look and be false.  If I want the actor to be sad, I have to find a way that they can really be sad.

Crying is particularly hard to address, particularly for men.  I tell my actors:  It isn't whether you cry or not, we need to see you struggle to not let us see you cry.  Then you can win or lose the battle and either will be right for the audience.  I suggest to the actor that they find something in their life that makes them want to cry, the death of a favorite pet, the loss of a loved one.  One actress who could cry easily, always cries when she thinks about how we are destroying the earth.  Whatever works.  I also tell my actors not to worry if a trigger no longer works, sometimes you have just expunged the devils in that moment.

Now the theater lighting is added, another throw for the actors.  The costumes arrive.  OMG!!  They make me look fat/skinny/jaundiced.  They're too tight, they're too loose, I don't like the color.  "A"'s dress is prettier.  Why can't I wear . . .  My shoes don't fit.

In spite of all of this somehow we get to opening night and everything works just like I envisioned it months ago.

That's how a play comes to life.

Doug B

Jul. 22nd, 2014

I want to continue the topic I started yesterday.

Acting is clearly an art.  The actor creates a performance for their character, just as a painter creates a work of art in their painting.  But:  In both cases, there is a craft to the art.  The painter needs to understand the differences in different media, the actor need to understand the craft of acting.  That is where many aspiring actors fall short.  Yes, you can learn to act by getting on stage and learning on the job.  A painter can also learn about media and styles and brushes by trial and error.

As the director of a play, I spend a good amount of time teaching the newer actors the basics of theater.  Time I really don't have.  Today we are going to talk about actors who have talent and have taken significant amounts of training.  Some of the actors I work with majored or minored in theater in college.  A great start.   Others, who may have found acting later in life, are able to take ongoing acting classes.  Also a great way to learn the craft.

Several years ago, I was holding auditions for a play.  One by one the actors came on stage to read from the script.  One actor, was rolling around on the stage floor as he read his lines.  I cast him and later asked him what he was doing during the audition.  He said that in college there were so many people auditioning for each role, you had to do something to catch the directors eye.  I told him that he caught my eye but I cast him anyway.

The naturals may be good but it is the hard working actors that form the spine that makes a play work.  Rereading what I wrote yesterday, I made it sound like the Director did all the work.  Not so.  The director is the guide but it is the actor who finally develops the character.  Early on in rehearsals,the director understands the character better than the actor.  There comes a point in the rehearsal process where the actor understands the character they have built better than I do, and I yield to what they think (usually).

Hard working actors take risks.  It's scary to be on stage, particularly when the scene calls for crying, kissing, sexually suggestive scenes or partial nudity.  Some actors skate around the edges, hoping that the Director will forget about it.  Others just jump in.

A few years ago, I directed a play that required an actress to strip to her bra and panties and climb into bed with her scene partner.  These were not granny panties but something a young woman would actually wear (she used her own clothes).  I was nervous about it and was holding back.  One night a good friend (and great actress) came to the rehearsal and said we needed to get it on, we needed to get past the giggle stage.  She was right and we did it.  By the time the show opened, the actor was so comfortable in her bra and panties she never even thought about it.  That is brave.

Several years ago, we presented "Wait Until Dark", a play based on the movie with Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin about a blind woman who is terrorized by criminals looking for drugs.  The woman who played Suzy, the blind woman, actually taught herself to not see.  She was able to ignore the visual signals from her eye the the point that, a couple of years after the show had closed, she was in a Costco about 40 miles away and a man came up to her and said "You can see."  She had no idea what he was talking about.  He explained that he had been on Orcas and had come to the production and thought it was wonderful that we had cast a blind person in that role.  That is a hard working actor!!  (Also one of my top five all time plays.)

As long as I am talking about "Wait Until Dark", I want to digress and talk about some of the things we did that made it such a wonderful play.  Digress?  Me?

All great plays start with a great script.  At least a script the looks and sounds great to me.  A great play needs great actors.  Besides the actor who played Suzy, the actor who played Roat was just perfect in that role.  Really scary.  Really believable.  The other actors were also very good but the play is about Suzy and Roat:  Who will live and who will die.  Talk about high stakes!!!

Like we did with "Almost, Maine" we made a road trip to see the play at another theater about 150 miles away.  We learned a lot about what worked but even more about what didn't work.  For example, in the second act, when Suzy knows the Roat will be coming to kill her, she breaks or disconnects all the lights in the room to put them on an even footing.  In the off island production we saw, the light in the tech booth spilled out and we could see everything that was happening.  In our production, I spent three days making sure there was not a bit of light in the entire building.  We even had people holding up signs to block the light from the exit signs.  We turned off the monitors on the computers in the tech booth.  One of the reviewers said that she could understand what it felt like to be blind and know what is happening only by the sounds of people moving around.  When Roat opens the refrigerator door and the room is lit by the light in the refrigerator, people in the audience screamed.  Every night.  Even those who knew what was coming screamed.

The script has three scenes in Act II.  I the off island production we saw, one of the bad guys (the good bad guy) is killed by Roat.  In the scene change, we watched the guy who was killed get up and walk off stage.  Every time you have a scene change the audience drops out of the moment of watching the play and it takes three to five minutes to get them back "in the moment".  I didn't want that.  Once the tension starts to build in Act II, I didn't want to let the audience to have a chance to release the tension.  We did Act II as one scene.  It took us a long time to figure out how to kill Talman and get his body off stage without stopping the action.  Finally, after Talman has shown his good side and is trying to help Suzy, he starts to exit.  He opens the door, then turns back to Suzy to say his last line.  All of a sudden, we see Roat's face over Talman's shoulder.  The audience gasps and Roat stabs Talman.  Then as Talman collapses, Roat eases him off stage while Suzy screams as she is trying to figure out what is happening.

The other scene change is to cover a 20 or 30 minute period as Roat goes on a wild goose chase to get the drugs.  We covered that time with about three minutes of time with Suzy preparing for the inevitable return of Roat.  No one ever noticed the time disconnect because they were so engrossed in the play.

I loved how we made the audience scream.  I have been looking for another really scary thriller ever since without luck.

Now back to the main point (no not, "Love Song" but we are getting closer):  Types of actors.

The final group are those who don't have a clue and don't seem particularly interested in getting a clue.  They are actors who stay "in their head".  Think back to yesterday when I talked about all the questions I ask actors.  What I am trying to do is build a internal world inside the actor that their character inhabits.  That is the only way that actors can be truthful.  A friend calls it:  "Being truthful in the imaginary circumstances of the play".

People who are "in their heads" try to figure out how to say their lines - a mechanical process at best.  Something that will never appear real on the stage although those actors believe they are saying their line right.  I have had several of this type of actors tell me:  I know my lines, I know my blocking.  Why do I have to come to rehearsals?  They don't have a clue.

I also need to add that some actors are just not able to get out of their heads no matter how much training they get.  There  is something inside them that will not let go and needs to be in control all the time.  They have a clue but still aren't good actors.

Which reminds me of a story:

When Jack Nicholson was just beginning in the movies, he was doing a scene in a movie.  His director kept telling him "Less, Jack".  Nicholson would do the scene again and again the director would say "Less, Jack".  Finally after several iterations, the director said "Less, Jack".  Jack Nicholson told him:  "If I do any less, I won't be acting at all."  "Precisely", said the director.

Don't act:  Just Be.  Be the character.  Something I tell my actors all the time:  "Trust the work and just say your lines."  If you have worked hard, it will be right.

A photo of Wait Until DarkIMG_9504-Version2

Jul. 21st, 2014

Orcas Island (where I live) is a retirement community (and tourist destination in the summer) of about 3,000 people in the winter and lots more in the summer.  I think I read somewhere that the average age on Orcas is in the 60's!

In my experience, there are three types of actors (I use the phrase "actor" to include both male and female actors).

First are the naturals.  Those who just have it. Maybe they are born with it, maybe they develop it early in life.  The Bravo channel on TV has a series "Inside The actors Studio" where Jame Lipton interviews famous actors, writers and others involved with movies and the stage theater.  I have learned from this show that the overwhelming number of famous actors had a childhood that was not happy and supportive.  Something must happen internally during that period that gives them the tools they need to inhabit other people.  I'm an example of someone who had a great childhood and isn't (and will probably never be) an above average actor.

Theatrical directors will never miss a natural.  You can see it a mile off.

I've talked about it before but I want to revisit it:

Sometime around 2005, I saw a presentation of the second play in the King Arthur series:  "Arthur: The Hunt".  I was so impressed with the play, I sought out the playwright and got a copy of the first Arthur play:  "Arthur:  The Begetting".  I loved it.  I can't tell you how much I loved the story.  It was (and still is) one of the  two or three best scripts i have EVER read!!  I mean it was really good!!  Get the idea???

It is the story of Igraine, Arthur's mother, from her teen years until Arthur is born.  The last line in the play (I still remember it after all these years.  Emrys (The Merlin) faces the audience and says:

"And the next year, in early summer, to Uther and Igraine, a child was given, a child she and I knew would be the hope of the people, a king like none before him.

When the boy was but a twelve-month old, she came to me, and on that same hillside, she gave me him to raise, and bade me call him...Arthur."  That is the first time in the entire play that the word "Arthur" is used.

Jeff Berryman, to my great joy, writes love stories with a strong female lead.  Igraine in the first play, Arthur's half sister Morgan in the second play and a new character, Sinead, in the third.

As you can see from the above, the language is uses is just beautiful:  Rich in sound and tone.  Fun to say and fun to listen to.

In "Arthur:  The Begetting", Igraine is married to Teyrnon, in love with her childhood lover Emrys and meets Uther Pendragon.  For two hours we watch the story unfold.

Anyway, I knew I needed a special woman to play Igraine.  I didn't have that actor.  I had a couple coming along that might have been able to pull it off, but they needed more experience.  The trouble was that, for a number of reasons, they kept moving off island.  After waiting for five years with this play burning a hole in my heart, I decided to go ahead and do the play with what I had.  I hoped that out of a couple young women, I could find someone to play Igraine.  I had lots of options for the rest of the cast.  So I announced auditions.

This is an aside:  Every time I start to write something, I keep having to back up and tell you something else before I can continue my story.  I feel like I'm telling the story backwards.  Remember this journal started out to be about the play I'm directing right now "Love Song".   I have the feeling we will end up at the Big Bang before I'm done.

Anyway, I need to talk about auditions.  I hate auditions.  Actors hate auditions.  Actors hate auditions because they are going to be judged and, most likely, rejected.  I hate auditions because I am going to have to tell many people that I did not choose them.  I need to have a reason why I rejected them (Well, technically I don't HAVE to tell them why, but I feel I owe it to them).  And many times there is no reason other than a gut feel that one actor will do better than the other.  These actors have become my friends and it is very hard to tell them they didn't get the part.

There are many other considerations besides acting ability that come into play:  I'm going to spend hundreds of hours with them over the next three months.  Is this a person I want to spend that much time with?  How is this person going to fit into the ensemble I'm going to build?  Can I trust them?  Will that person walk through fire for me?  (There are always parts of a play that the actor isn't going to be comfortable with:  Kissing, sexually suggestive scenes, partial (or once total) nudity.  Are they going to go outside their comfort zone for me?  It's always a risk.  I try to explain it to them before we start but they'll say anything, agree to anything to get the part.  Then reality sets in.  "Arthur:  The Begetting" required Igraine to profess her love to three different men.  Lots of effort to build three sets of sexual tension.  Really hard for young women in their 20's to handle.  Most plays have a leading character.  Once that character is selected, it constrains my choices for the other characters due to age, height and so on.  In "Love Song" (see I haven't forgotten) I have a brother/sister combination.  The ages need to be believable.

I've tried several different ways to hold auditions.  All are okay, none is perfect.  For "Arthur:  The Begetting", I decided to just have people sit around a big table and read from the script.  My plan was that every ten minutes or so, I'd switch the actors to a different role.

Anyway, I always start auditions, rehearsals and performances on time (actually three minutes late).  My motto is "If you are ten minutes early, you are on time.  If you are on time you are ten minutes late."  First, it is inconsiderate to the rest of us to wait around for the last one to arrive.  Secondly, I never have enough rehearsal time and every minute is important.  The other side  of the equation is also true:  I will let the rehearsal out on time.  Period.

So about a dozen of us (ten actors, my stage manager and me) are sitting around the table just about to start.

In walks a beautiful young woman. (Photo of her as Igraine casting a spell is attached).  She had never been on stage before it but always wanted to try.  I had already passed out the scripts for the first group of readers.  Some of the actors were doing well.  The heightened language threw some of them.

After about fifteen minutes I re-distributed the scripts for others to read the parts.  This new woman got to read for Igraine.  She was a natural.  Never been on stage before.  About three minutes into the reading the other actors started looking at me.  It was a really big "WOW" moment.  A natural.  I couldn't have found a better actor.  Not only was she a great actor, she was a leader of the cast:  hard working, serious about her work.  That cast was one of the best ensembles I have ever worked with.  Turns out she was 37 with four children.

All this to talk about "natural" actors.  Those who are borne with it.  Not many of them but they are sure a wonderful find.

Next time I'm going to talk about actors who get there with a lot of hard work.

The photo below is Igraine casting a spell during the performance.

IMG_5073
Our small community theater usually presents five full productions a year.  I usually direct three or four of them.  I used to direct all of them but my Board of Directors is getting concerned about a succession plan in case something happens to me, (I don't think 72 is THAT old!) so I have slowly been getting others to produce and direct our shows.  As I said above, it takes me about five months to do a play so doing four or five in a year keeps me pretty busy.

Over the last fifteen years that I have been running our theater, we have pretty much settled on what kind of play to do in what season:  In February, we do a comedy or a farce (people want to have fun during the long winter months), in April, we have our festival of locally written plays, in July something simple (because we are already well into rehearsals for our September play), in September we do something off beat; something that may not have broad appeal to our audiences ("Brilliant Traces", the two Arthur plays, "Torso" and now "Love Song").  We usually have another play in November or December that can be any genre  - often Holiday oriented or family fare.  "Tracers" is an exception which we did in November.

See?  I told you I would get back to "Love Song".

But I need another digression first:  How do I come up with the plays we present?

It's hard.  There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of plays out there that have had several productions and listed are in the catalogs published by the royalty houses.  Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service are the two "biggies" although there are dozens of smaller houses.  Many of the smaller houses specialize in the type of plays they list: Religious plays, plays for younger actors and so on.  If you want an idea of how many plays and playwrights there our there go to www.doollee.com.  As complete as that list is, I know a handful of produced playwrights who are not listed.

I have family in Florida and get to see them every two or three years.  I usually spend half time visiting them and half my time going to the theater.  I have a string of theaters that I visit.  I also get to Seattle two or three times a year to watch plays.  I usually find something to follow up on.  Sometimes it is just finding a playwright whose work I think has merit even if I don't like the specific play I saw.

There are many theaters that do the kinds of plays that appeal to me.  I keep an eye on them looking for plays that I haven't heard about.  We've all done "Noises Off" and "Arsenic And Old Lace" and "The Odd Couple".  I'm looking for something I've never heard about.  A recent example was the new play "When Bullfrogs Sing Opera" by Carl Williams.  I was visiting family and drove up to Ocala Civic Theater because I know they do good work.  I saw the play and was intrigued.  It is a sophisticated comedy with a serious undertone (mindless or stupid comedies of farces usually play better to our audiences but they aren't a lot of fun to direct.)

When I come up with a play that might interest me, I go on-line and read the reviews of other productions (preferably at larger theaters where the reviews tend to be more unbiased).   If I'm still interested, I purchase a review copy of the script.  About one out of every thirty scripts I read appeals to me after reading.  Occasionally, the play appeals to me but I realize that I'm not the person to direct it.  In that case I pass it on to a director whom I think will do it justice.

Remember the play "Tracers" I mentioned?  It's a gut wrenching play about Viet Nam written by a group of Vets who had been there.  They managed to catch the good, the bad, and the horror of being there.  The problem is that the play required nine young men able to play soldiers.  I am old enough to have had friends who fought and died there but there aren't a lot of 20 year old guys that fit that mold any more.  I passed the play on to a woman who is very active in veterans affairs to look at it.  She loved it.  It took her a few years to get enough young guys interested in the play.  She went so far as to post audition notices in the men's rooms at our local bars (there comes a time in every man's life when you just have to stand still so you might as well read what's on the wall in fromt of you).  Anyway she came up with a cast, trained them to be soldiers, as a group they studied the Viet Nam war and the political and social environment of the time.  The result was wonderful.  The play opened on Veterans Day weekend and was a smash hit:  The old timers came to remember what it was like "In Country" and the young people came to see their friends.

The same with another popular play "Almost, Maine".  "Almost, Maine" consists of 8 short plays that take place in the imaginary town of Almost, Maine.  It barely made my "maybe" list but I passed it on to a director I thought would like it.  Shortly after that a very small theater did the play in a nearby community.  Four of us, who would be involved with the production if we did it, made a road trip to see it.  It didn't impress any of us but the potential director saw great potential in it and we went forward with the play.  Another big hit.  Also another play that had a lot of young actors it it.

Another source of plays comes form our local playwrights.  Our theater sponsors an annual festival of locally written plays.  Each year we select seven short (ten minute) plays (out of 15 to 20 submissions) and fully produce them. By the time we present the plays we have almost 50 people involved:  7 or more writers, 7 directors, 14 to 20 actors, 5 on the stage crew, 2 or 3 in the tech booth and associated house managers, ticket takers and on and on.  By the time 50 sets of friends and family come to see it, it's always a big hit.  Next month we will have the world premier reading of a full length play by one of our local playwrights.

The wild card in finding plays to do come from unsolicited plays.  I regularly get query e-mails from playwrights offering their most recent work.  If the query contains enough information on cast size and ages and the subject of the play, I might ask for a full copy of the script.  I read about 50 plays a year from this source.  I have developed a pretty ruthless way to sort the wheat from the chaff with these plays: I print out the first 25 pages and carry them with me to read when I have a moment.  If I'm still interested after the first 25 pages, I print out the next 25 and so on, until I give up on the play or get to the end of it.  I probably get all the way to the end of the play in 10% of the plays I read.  If they have had a prior production we might do one of them every couple of years.

Over the years I have come to know (on-line) several playwrights who I think have great potential.  They regularly send me work and I comment on it for them. 

Now a wrinkle:  It takes lot of extra time to get a play from a new playwright ready for the stage - more time than we can spend.  "Torso" was in rehearsal and rewrites for two YEARS before it opened in Seattle.  We have just begun a program of public readings of new unproduced plays.  When I hear them read out loud I get a much better feel about the potential of the play.  It helps me generate comments that I can share with the playwright to improve the play.  When I am excited by a play, I will ask a couple of actors to read it to me so I can hear it.  That's how I knew that "Love Song" was a real winner.

It's still a struggle to keep enough good plays in the hopper.  Sometimes I don't know what play I'm going to do next and other times I have plays lined out far into the future.  Sometimes a play just jumps out at me and I have to drop everything to do that play.  That's a really exciting time in my life.  That's what happened with "Love Song".  (See I haven't forgotten about "Love Song"; I'm just working up to it.)

I have a staged reading of Jeffery Hatcher's wonderful play "Three Viewings" that opens tomorrow so I'll be busy for the next few days.  It'll give you some time to catch up on your reading.  By-the-way, Jeffery Hatcher has written my favorite book on play writing:  The Art And Craft of Play Writing.  If you think you might like to write a play, get it!!!  I've bought a half dozen copies.  I loan them to people and forget who I gave them to.

See you in a couple of days.

Doug B
I will get back to "Love Song".   Really.

But first, I need to finish the discussion of two person plays and honoring the playwright's intent.

A few years ago, I heard about a two person play by  Cindy Johnson: "Brilliant Traces".  The play was written around two characters in their 20's: He was a hermit who had given up on life and lived in a cabin in the wilds of Alaska; she ran away from her wedding in Arizona, got in her car and drove and drove until her car broke down.  You guessed it:  At his cabin in the middle of a blizzard.  For the next ninety three non-stop minutes we watch as these two lost souls struggle with the changes in their lives.  The playwright calls for a suggested, simple set.  The play is very popular on the college circuit since the ages are appropriate and the set is simple.

I heard about the play when I talked to a director from a nearby university who had just finished a very different approach to the play:  Five universities from Boston to Washington State, rehearsed the play at the same time.  Then the female actors went to another university for the performance.  Think about it:  When the female actress opens the door of his cabin, she is on a set she has never seen before, facing an  actor she has never met.  Knowing her lines but having no idea how the blocking (movement) will unfold.  Imagine how scary that would be.  The next weekend the actresses went another university until, on closing weekend, she was finally back home acting in the play she had rehearsed.  A wonderful concept - something I have tried to figure out a way to do it locally but maybe on a smaller scale.

Anyway, I got the script to see what it was about.  I really liked it but . . . I saw a very different play than Cindy Johnson had in mind when she wrote it.  First I saw older actors, actors tho had a lifetime of experiences to bring to their characters.  Actors who have experienced more than a pair of 20 year old actors could ever experience.  I also saw a very real set.  The raw wood boards that make the walls, a small cabin where someone could hide from the world.  I knew that if I went forward with the play, I would have to be true to my vision of the play.  I've attached a photo of the set and actors.

I passed the script on to a woman around 60 years old to consider the female role and suggest a man she would like to work with.  She recommended an actor in his mid 60's who had attended several acting training programs but had never been in on stage before.    We got together and read through the play a couple of times and I loved the way the two actors worked together.

Another digression:  Rehearsing a play.  For the most part, amateur play production rehearse around an hour for each minute of the play:  A ninety minute play will have ninety hours of rehearsal.  (Professional plays may have two or three times as much rehearsal time).  The larger the cast the longer each rehearsal can be.  In a two person play an hour and a half to two hours is about it:  The actors begin to tire.  In a large cast play, rehearsals can stretch to three or even four hours.  We decided to rehearse two afternoons a week for two hours each time.  (I had other plays in rehearsal at night so that option was out.)

We started rehearsing in the fall of 2008 without having a firm performance date.  We were going to rehearse it until it was ready.  In early 2009, we set a performance date in the fall of 2009.  By the time the show opened, we had almost 300 hours of rehearsal.  Our small 60 seat theater set an all time attendance record with this play:  We had an average audience of 71 people.

In 2010 we rented a theater in Seattle and did nine performances there.

Did I honor the playwrights intent?  I think so.  I think the ultimate intent of a playwright is to write a play that moves people.  "Brilliant Traces" definitely did that.

I have directed somewhere around 80 plays; "Brilliant Traces" is one of my five favorite plays.  "Enchanted April" is another.

Maybe we can get back to "Love Song" tomorrow.

Doug BP1050451
I'll get back to "Love Song".  I promise.  But first i want to talk about another play.

I think the hardest play to direct is a one person play.  I have never had the opportunity to find the actor/play combination that would work.  First, the time commitment of the actor in a one actor, 90 to 120 minute play is monstrous:  Memorizing the lines, finding ways to make it visually interesting and most importantly the ability to become all the other characters in the play makes the challenges almost insurmountable.  In a multiple person play, the actor has someone on stage with then they can rely upon if they go up on their lines or lose their place in the play.  It's a whole different situation when you are on stage by yourself.

I have directed a couple of two person plays and find them really challenging.

I need to digress for a moment.

One of the rules for directing required the director to honor and illuminate the "intent" of the playwright in presenting the play.  In some cases ("Arthur:  The Begetting" and "Torso", for example) I have built some degree of a relationship with the playwright and can ask them when I have questions as to their intent in a specific part of the play.  Other playwrights are too important for me to bother (Me?  Call Neil Simon?  Never happen.)   And still others are dead.  (Hey Will (Shakespeare), what did you mean in this scene?)

In 2007 I directed the play "Enchanted April" by Matthew Barber, from the novel by Elizabeth von Armin.  Here we have a double layer of interpretation:  My interpretation of Barber's interpretation of the von Armin book.  I went back and read the book and I disagreed with some of Barber's interpretation of the story.  What do I do?  In this particular case, I had seen two other productions of the play:  One at a very small theater in Olympia, Washington and one at a large  community theater in Ocala, Florida.  In both cases, their interpretation of a specific part of the play was the same but I thought then and still think seven years later that their interpretation was wrong.  Not just a little bit wrong but, to me, wrong enough to ruin the impact of the play.

I know I'm wandering from my main point but I want to follow this thought.

Enchanted April takes place in London and Italy in the 1920's.  Four women, who all have major troubles in their lives meet and spend a month in Italy, ultimately solving their personal issues that make the play tick.  One of the women, Rose, had become distanced from her husband for (initially) unknown reasons.  In his loneliness, he socializes a lot without his wife.  He has met a beautiful, young woman (Lady Caroline) who, unknown to him, is one of the four women going to Italy.  In the first act (which takes place in London), we see the growing distance between Rose and her husband.  We see that he, at least, loves his wife very much but together they are unable to bridge the growing distance between them.  In the second act, we see how sad Rose is and how much she misses her husband and how unhappy she is.  One of the other women (Lottie) assures Rose that her husband will come to Italy to be with her.

Now to the point of all of this:  Late in the second act (just before Roses husband arrives to meet with Lady Caroline), Rose tells Lottie that the reason he won't come is because she (Rose) can't love him.  Rose bases this on the fact that they had a child that died.

Now my interpretation:  Rose can't love him (in a physical sense, not the emotional sense) because she can't stand the pain of losing another child.  Remember, this is in the 1920's when birth control was no really available.  Anyway in both the Olympia and Ocala productions, the two actors were sitting on the floor in a remote area of the stage during this discussion (as called for in the script).  In my production I had the two actors standing at the very edge of the stage, as close to the audience as i could get them.  I had Rose, with tears streaming down her face,  shout her line:  "Lottie, I lost my child."  Lottie used her thumbs to wipe away Roses tears as she assures her everything will be okay.  Of course, everything does end happily.

At the very end of the play, Lottie faces the audience and tells them "That they all gathered in Italy again the following year and . . . there would be a new child. . . ."    Without my interpretation that last line doesn't mean anything.

A very different interpretation but who is to say that mine isn't the way the author intended it?

When I direct a play, I spend two months in heavy study and analysis of the script, then two months of rehearsals then one month of performances.  For me to spend this kind of time on a play, it has to have a message that I MUST tell people.  It is that vision that I HAVE to bring to the stage.  It is the lesson the audience MUST learn.  That's one reason that I read close to 100 plays in order to find one that moves me to the point where I HAVE to direct it.

King Lear is in that boat but I haven't found the right actors to populate it and probably never will.  One Bucket List item that will never get checked off.

But enough wanderings for today.

Doug

g BIMG_7230
Want to start out by talking about the play I am currently directing:  "Love Song" By John Kolvenback

Over the past fifteen years, my taste in plays has changed.  I'm the first one to tell you that making money is important.  Art is great but without money, there is no theater and without theater, there can be no art.

I have always been good at picking plays to produce and direct.  Early on they were comedies and farces - playwrights like: Neil Simon, Milmore and VanZandt and Michael Parker - people loved them and our attendance grew rapidly.  I soon branched out into well known dramas: "Wait Until Dark", "Enchanted April" and "Arsenic and Old Lace" to name a few.  Again, popular pieces that have withstood the test of time.  Our theater has become very successful (far beyond my greatest expectations) with plenty of money in the bank and great support from the community.  (Our success is also a burden but that is a story for another day.)

Things began to change in 2006 when I saw the play "Arthur: The Hunt" by Seattle playwright Jeff Berryman.  I was very impressed with the play which was the second play in a series of seven plays which tell the story of King Arthur.  I tracked down the playwright and got a copy of the  first play in the series:  "Arthur:  The Begetting".  It read far better than the second play was on stage.  "Arthur: The Begetting" follows the story of Arthur's mother, Igraine, from her early life until the birth of Arthur.  What excited me about the play was the approach:  A strong female lead wrapped around a three way love story.  The two Arthur plays we have done to date are not the Camelot we have all come to expect.  They have sex, violence, mysticism and difficult themes (like incest).   The play broke attendance records.

Somewhere between presenting the two Arthur plays, I saw a play the play "Torso" in Seattle.  "Torso" was also written by a Seattle playwright, Keri Healey.  I attended it because I knew the Director and one of the actors.  Had I known what the play was about I probably would not have gone:  Two different stories loosely joined together.  In one story, a brother and sister (Margo and Dominick) plan and carry out the murder of their other brother (Anson).  Late in the play, Dominick returns from killing his brother, covered in blood.  While we watch in horror, he is stripped naked and the blood washed off him as he graphically describes beating his brother to death with a baseball bat.  WOW!!!  Audiences stayed away in droves but those who came were enthusiastic and the play made money.  There was not a single complaint about the nudity.

Shortly after "Torso" came "Tracers" a blood and guts story of soldiers in Viet Nam.

What we learned from these plays was that they appealed to a totally new audience:  Younger people.

Today, the under 35 age group is the fastest growing segment of our audience.

I will get to "Love Song" soon.  I need to present some background on how I came to select this play but that's it for today.

Photo from TORSO:
P1080116

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orcasdoug
orcasdoug

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