Friday, August 5, 2011

Put your back into it.

Last night's rehearsal for "Love's Labour's Lost" was, perhaps by some peoples' standards, a bit hard to sit through. We did a line-through, and a fast-paced one at that. We open a week from today, so line proficiency is crucial at this point (this, of course, goes without saying.)

There were times during the rehearsal, however, where I found myself lacking focus. Thoughts and questions ran through my mind as to the point of doing a line-through instead of a regular rehearsal. I understand the reasons for it -- We were missing a few key cast members due to other commitments, etc. But thoughts creeping up into my head such as, Why don't we just get up and do this? This isn't helping me, sitting down and saying my lines and not getting into character, couldn't be helped. As a result of distracting thoughts, I missed a cue and spoke the wrong line and consequently flubbed up the actress who was to speak after me. Everyone got over it and moved on, but I couldn't help but feel responsible for passing the infection of my lack of focus onto someone else.

After rehearsal, a cast mate that I respect very much approached me. He said to me, "I just wanted to let you know something. You may have said that the Scottish Tragedy kicked your ass in the past, but let me just tell you, you've made Berowne your bitch." It was a very humbling thing for him to say. True, when I played Macbeth in college I did get my ass handed to me. But I used that as my motivation to attack this play and this character full on. I feel very humbled that someone gave me a compliment such as that, a compliment that I've been looking for, but perhaps I don't necessarily deserve at all times.

As long as I've been doing theatre, I've been attempting to hold myself to ridiculously high standards. Every success story of every famous actor that I know stems from them holding themselves to such standards. So far, I can only truly say that I know for a fact I threw everything I had into only 1 production: My first ever at Olathe South, "The Foreigner" by Larry Shue. Ever since then I've told myself I'm going to have the kind of focus and exuberance I had for that show for every show. But things happen. Life happens. Shit happens. Work happens. School happens. But this time, with this show, I've been closer to my goal of "complete emptying of self" into a show than ever before with any other show. And I can tell you why I think this show is special and allows such an outpouring to happen.

In the collaborative art of theater, every single person counts. The efforts and passions of every hand that that touches the show makes it better, or worse. Your hand in the show -- no matter how big or small the movement it makes -- either helps, or harms. This show has been such an amazing example of so many people doing their best in every aspect of the show that it's really quite inspiring. When one person starts doing their best, it's a domino effect, and suddenly I see myself and more people putting in a concerted effort to do their best as well.

What I'm trying to say is -- to all those who work in the collaborative arts -- put your freaking back into it. Do your best, put yourself forward, don't concern yourself with what you perceive as short-comings of the others involved, and you might just start a chain reaction in the other artists to move themselves to new and higher levels of art. The artists in this show have done such inspiring for me. Encourage your fellow collaborators, dawn them with deserving praise, hold yourself to higher standards each show you are in, and I promise you, because I'm seeing it first hand, the collaborative art you are in will flourish with more beauty than you thought was possible. And I can also say, speaking from experience, that if you hold yourself to average standards, if you say to yourself "I'll do my best next time...", if you don't push yourself in whatever part it is you have in the collaborative art -- NO MATTER HOW SMALL THE PART IS -- that art will suffer, whether or not you are aware of it.

I myself am guilty of many things that harm the arts I love so much, but I can do nothing but acknowledge those faults and try to move on and be better in the future, and, more importantly, be better in the present. So, too, I ask this of you, artists. Acknowledge your faults and promise to yourself in the future -- and right now -- that you're going to try to do better. Your best is all that can be asked, so put that in, sit back, and relax knowing you did your part to the fullest.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Spelling Bee" - A comparison of 2 productions

Long ago and far away, my good friends at She&Her Productions informed me they were directing a production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at the Olathe community theater. As we worked tirelessly on moving our theater from one floor to the next, and drove from place to place in tired stupors, they played the music from the show for me. My response was to cringe and bear it.

But then time passed and I offered my services for their production, seeing as how I lived in the area. I helped build the set, got to know the cast and crew, and overheard the rehearsals as I worked. The overhearing turned into interest, the interest turned into enjoyment, and soon I was sitting down and watching rehearsals more than I was working. I had, indeed, fallen in love with the show.

It's hard not to. In case you don't know anything about it, "Bee" is about a group of kids who are participating in the county's 25th Annual Spelling Bee. Sounds simple enough, except that all the kids have issues. Hilarious, ridiculous, entertaining issues. Oh, and so do the two faculty members running the bee. In fact, the only character who doesn't seem to have issues, the comfort counselor, is a felon on probation. Ok, so everyone has issues.

Whilst working with this production, a good friend of mine from long ago informed me that the Robidoux Landing Playhouse in St. Joseph, MO was also doing a production of the show. My love of OCTA's production made me a bit skeptical at first, but I knew the show itself would hold its weight, and I eagerly saw their production.

What results is as follows: a comparison of two amazing productions of one amazing show. Here are some bullet points, and I'll elaborate more after that.

Direction: More like a "play" than a "musical."
Cast: Characters were vibrant but not over-the-top.
Design: Set was simple and effective. Lights were very colorful and well executed.
Misc.: Musical pit was excellent, albeit a bit overpowering at times. Dance choreography was very well done.

Direction: More like a "musical" than a "play." More campy musical-theatre moments.
Cast: Very vibrant, over-the-top, but in a fun campy musical-theatre way.
Design: Simple and effective on all fronts.
Misc: No music pit, but piano was used effectively. Dace choreography was not emphasized as much as one would expect a campy musical-theatre show, but had some strong and memorable moments.

From now on in the review, if you haven't seen the show, you might be in for a few spoilers. Here we go.

No two characters in each production mirrored the other. Every actor played such a different and unique performance than their alter it was startling. OCTA's Barfe' was a nasally challenged,  overly confident yet socially inept child while Robidoux's was an intense, angry genius with a short fuse and a lisp. OCTA's Marcey Parks was a young, confident, snide prodigy while Robidoux's was a stiff, sheltered, spelling-powerhouse who tapped out each letter in a beat on her thigh. OCTA's Vice Principal Panche was a cheery, perky man whose facade could be easily shattered come the nearest reminder of his inadequecies whereas Robidoux's was a serious, often monotone gentleman whose robotic voice worked hilariously when reading off words and definitions. Most notably, though, were the differences between the Lief Coneybears. OCTA's was a clueless, often blank-faced and simple boy who practically needed to be shaken in order to get his attention. Robidoux's, however, was the polar opposite. Constantly shifting around in his seat, constantly making goofy facial expressions to himself, their Coneybear was a mentally challenged and loveable child, but the type of child that everyone has encountered at some point in their lives -- if he hasn't been prescribed ADHD medication yet, give it another month at most.
As previously stated, the direction choices were very different, and each show emphasized different moments than the other. Olive's infatuation with Barfe' was much more emphasized in Robidoux's production, as well as Olive's story-line in general. The "I Love You" song was a tear-jerking, heart-wrenching piece that gave me goosebumps. "Magic Foot" made Barfe's character a star with its execution, and the use of giant feathery fans made the number unforgettable.There was also a sense of tightness to the show, where each and every movement and line felt quick and very well rehearsed. It added to the whole "professional quality" feeling of the show.

In contrast, OCTA had a strong emphasis on improvisation and keeping the show's content fresh and up-to-date. Their much more elaborate choreography and very colorful lighting design made the show very engaging to the eye, al-be-it a little overwhelming at times. It would be unfair to say this was most aptly proven during "Pandemonium" because the number is supposed to be, well, pandemonium. But achievements in the show's choreography were most notably shown in numbers like "The Rules", which had an elaborate hand choreography; "I Speak 6 Languages", which had Marcey Parks doing everything from karate to basketball to salsa dancing to rescuing a cat out of a tree; and the dance number in which Barfe' falls for Olive and the two dance about the stage ridiculously, and hilariously.

Line for line, song for song, these two productions did their scripts justice, and I loved watching every moment of both shows. If you had a chance to see either, count yourself very lucky, because in my opinion, shows of the kind of quality exhibited by these two theaters don't come around that often. Congratulations and bravo to all those involved. You made me fall in love with another musical (as difficult as that is to type.)


Friday, April 15, 2011

"Thom Pain (Based on Nothing)" Review

Trevor Belt and Scott Cox are back for a revamp of their hit show "Thom Pain (Based on Nothing)" at the She&Her Production space in the West Bottoms. This time, they mean business, because it's a fundraiser for Relevance Productions.

Scott Cox as Thom Pain

I had the pleasure of seeing this show opening night. The crowd was small but lively. My only impression of the show was from reading the script (which I did not, unfortunately, enjoy very much). But if there's one thing I can say about me, it's that I love being pleasantly surprised.

Thom Pain is a man just like you and me, only worse. He's wracked with painful (and joyful) memories that he simply can't keep inside anymore. The observance of his life stretches into the observance of human nature, and although perhaps not all of us have experienced all the pain there is to endure in life, Thom has gotten pretty close.

As he recounts the loves and losses of his life, the audience is thrown backwards and forwards and side to side from laughing, frowning, and sitting in painful silence. I've personally never experienced so many emotions in such rapid succession while watching a show. Scott Cox and Trevor Belt have created a production that focuses in -- painfully, so -- on one man and one man alone. One man who feels sorry for himself as many times as he counts himself as blessed. One man a lot like you and me.

His reminiscings can become warnings, and it all wraps up into one bleak yet somehow hopeful package. Is life worth living in the end? The constant struggle? The incessant pain? To quote the man, "Big things going wrong, but a million little things going right"? By the end of the show, I couldn't help but smile, the smile was *forced* upon my face, and I liked it. A lot.

This show might not be for everyone, but I encourage everyone to see it. See it with an open mind, don't expect or anticipate anything. I promise, if you do, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the impact it can have on you.

(This review has been posted on

Thursday, February 24, 2011

the wooden plank in my eye


I write to you today in comlpaint of recent unfortunes. However, pointing out the splinter in your eye would be ignoring the plank in mine. I shall be frank:

We're not supporting the arts enough.

There are many reasons for this. The first, the foremost, the most essential: Money. The arts needs money to survive, we don't always have money to give them. Budgets are tight, no one knows that more than me. $10 for a really cheap show in Kansas City can seem like an unnecessary luxary. But then when it gets up to $15? $20? $30??? Please. Not to mention the gas, especially if you live in the suburbs. It just doesn't seem necessary or plausible to go see every show or view every art gallery in Kansas City.

But when a theater company or any other arts company goes under because too many people said they would support it, but then didn't ...Well, there's another issue.

Theatre. Is. Dying. It's a dying art. The movie industry and music industry have nothing to worry about in regards to money. I don't care how much they bitch and complain about "pirating", they're still raking in ridiculous amounts of cash. It doesn't matter how many people promise Paramount Pictures they'll come see their next new big-budget film; chances are, they're still going to make a killing off of it. But if 50 people promise their friends in a theater company they'll come see a show, or visit their friend's art gallery, and only about half of those people actually go... Well, needless to say there's major losses taken.

We can use any excuse we want: There isn't enough time, My weekend is booked, I don't have that kind of money right now, Why would I want to go see that, etc etc etc. But never forget what the arts is here to do: Open our eyes, educate us, elighten us, entertain us. Maybe you owe it to yourself to go see more art. Maybe you haven't even realized yet how important a role it can play in your life.

Or maybe you'll read this article and not have changed a bit.

The risk all artists run when they create something to be consumed.

Thanks anyway,

Monday, December 20, 2010

1 week, 1 million dollars... 1 good show

I had the privilege of going to The Met this weekend and seeing one of my favorite plays: "The Dead Guy" by Eric Coble.

I have a special connection with this show. I've worked with it a little bit and I love the script. This could've either helped or harmed me: I could've just loved the show no matter what, or I could've held it to a higher standard than it should've been held (you know, that whole "it was better in my mind" sort of thing). In this case, I would say that this particular production was so different than the one I had imagined when I read it that it really couldn't compare. I emphasize the word different, because I will not say it was better or worse than what I had imagined. It had its own life, its own style, its own direction, and it ran with it very well.

A quick review of the plot: One man has one week to spend one million dollars before the audience at home  votes on how he dies. Yes, it's not a matter of "if," it's a matter of "how," and through Eldon Phelp's last week on earth, he can either find meaning in his existence or squander it all away.

The set was simple. In fact, couldn't have been any more simple: bare stage, flat screen TV in the back that showed whatever the cameraman onstage was filming in real-time. The play traveled to all kinds of locale, from bars to homes to hotels to Disneyland (and many more). Set pieces were flying in and out very smoothly. It was understandable that the set be so simple, especially because I think there might've been some "double-booking" of the space by The Met, but I guess I would've liked to have seen just a smidge more creativity in the design. Maybe make it look more like a bare television studio? Maybe more TV's showing us the action? Then again, maybe all that would've been too distracting... but I myself am a guy who loves to see all kinds of different theatrical creativity when I go see a show. For what it was, it worked great. And the video segments were stellar, too.

I had the distinction of knowing a few people involved in the production. It's always nice to watch people you know work, to watch them grow as artists, and I was not disappointed. Peter Macy as Eldon blew my mind. Coming from a guy who knows the script, as soon as I got a glimpse of his character, I said to myself, "Eldon sure has a long way to go before he becomes the man he is at the end of the play." And indeed, Peter's Eldon struggled and fought and grew and changed right before everyone's eyes from a man with no meaning to a man who finally had some purpose in life. Matt Katzenmeier played Dougie amazingly, taking a character that could have easily been overlooked into a character with depth and importance. No one ever thinks of the camera man when they watch their favorite TV shows, but an aspect of this show that makes it so cool is that we see the camera man, his reactions, and his person as he makes a difference in the show (the TV show, not the show show --- ok that just got confusing moving on). Matt played that part so well it changed the outlook I had on the play entirely, and in a really good way.

Trevor Belt's direction to the show was, as I said, very unique. The script is, intrinsically, very funny, and could've gone into two different directions (particularly with the ending): a crazy, out of control, light-despite-the-gravity-of-the-situation; or dark, serious, and more contemplative. Trevor, in my opinion, chose the later. I wouldn't say that I particularly preferred it this way, but he definitely pulled it off well.

As far as everyone else I don't know, I certainly enjoyed watching them as well. Brett Alexander playing the bumbling dork of a brother was very good, bringing a very likable quality to the character that was essential to the show. Nicole Hall was excellent as Christy, the on-again-off-again romantic interest of Eldon. Peter and Nicole played exceptionally well together as a couple and Nicole herself did a great job portraying multiple characters on stage. Jayme Overstreet was one of my favorites. She seamlessly went from caring, loving, abusive mother to Disney hooker and back again.

Gina was a very important character, and Laura Jacobs had quite a challenge ahead of her when she took this role. By the end of the play we have to wonder who the protagonist was: Eldon, this total loser whose life gets revived by this opportunity (and, subsequently, extinguished) or Gina, a struggling producer at the end of her rope who is willing to do anything to save her career. As far as drive goes, Gina seems to have the most, literally sacrificing a human being to stay afloat. When I read the play, I saw lots of dips and dives in her character, lots of struggles. Would she really go through with it all? Does she ever really care about Eldon, or is Eldon just another step up the ladder? The words seem to suggest this struggle, but I don't think I saw it the whole time in Laura's performance. She was certainly excellent, I'm not denying that -- but there were times when I was left wondering if the character on stage had gone through any struggle or change from the beginning. She seemed to be the same throughout the whole play, like she knew everything that was going to happen from the start, and I think the character could've lent itself to more struggle with the matters at hand. Maybe that's what she intended, maybe it was the direction, I don't know -- I'm just sayin'.

The actors worked great together in the smaller, more intimate scenes -- 2 characters, 3 at most -- but whenever they were all together it seemed a little chaotic and lacking focus. A few scenes (the hospital scene in particular) seemed less rehearsed than others, and I just wasn't sure what I was supposed to be paying attention to. Maybe they were trying to play with chaos, that crazy reality-show-disorder, but I think in a play you should never leave the audience wondering if you'd rehearsed enough. Improv is one thing, but I just expected it to be a little tighter from 3 weeks or more of rehearsal.

Then again, they didn't even really get their stage at The Met til, what, a week before opening? I know this because they worked the majority of their rehearsal time at my space (and I assume without many, if any, props and set pieces.) Bearing that in mind, I think they did a great job with the time and resources they had.

This got a lot longer than I thought it would, so I'll wrap it up by saying that I did love the show despite my minor criticisms. I'm new to the whole professional world of theater and maybe what I'm saying is petty or out of line, but these are just my personal observations and feelinsg. Overall, the show was excellent, and I really look forward to seeing more what Relevance Productions has to offer in the future.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Exactly what it says it's about


I've been continuing my journer into Edward Albee's late career. This next play sounded at first like it might be a metaphor, or a simile, or ... hyperbole? Something. I didn't think it would be about what the title says. But it's exactly like what the title says. I happily present my next little review of...

"The Man Who Had Three Arms"
by Edward Albee

(Ok, this is not the cover art, I couldn't find any. But I thought this was kind of approriate. Kind of.)
Our play takes place on a stage where a Man and a Woman are starting up a lecture. They are disappointed to announce that none of the original speakers could make it there tonight so the best they could get on such short notice is a man who needs no introduction --

And, indeed, who does not get one, as he struts out into the stage and begins bombarding the audience with his story.

In Act 1 we don't actually find out too much besides what we can deduct. We know at one point this man had three arms, but we can obviously see he doesn't have that any more. He establishes himself as a has-been celebrity, but is still doing lectures and telling his story despite the fact that no one really cares about him since he became "normal" again. It isn't until Act 2 that we really start to find out what happened.

At one point in this adult man's life ("Himself" as his character is named in the script) he grew a third arm. Just grew it. Started out as a tiny, tiny little hand with tiny, tiny, tiny little fingers and then sprouted out from there. And then his life of celebrity burst forth into full glory, where he met everyone who's anyone from the President to the Pope. And then, as quickly as it had grew, it shrank.

I'm not going to tell you where he grew the third arm because he waits to tell you that, which creates a lot of suspense that I don't want to ruin for you if you decide to read it.
The Man and Woman play parts as other characters in his story as he lectures about it. As soon as they get done playing the wife, or the doctor, etc, they're back in their seats off to the side as the nervous mediators to this "group" or "club" that the audience is supposed to represent. Are they aware of their transformations? Are their transformations real? Do they play these 'parts' so that the play wasn't just one guy up there telling his story of rags-to-riches-to-rags again? I'm not %100 sure yet but I think yes.

It's hilarious. It's witty. And if I hadn't read the author's intro I would have a hard time finding its meaning. But what Albee says the play is about is critics and how ridiculous their role in society can be. How they can raise up someone to god-like status and just as easily destroy them. He's an incredible playwright for making the message interesting without taking it literally. Can you imagine how boring it would be if the play was about a writer who made it big because of the critics, then they tore him down and he was nothing again? Lame! But a story about a man who gets famous because of a third arm? Genius!

And the ending. The ending!  I haven't been so happy about an ending in a long time. Wonderfully written from start to finish. A rarely read or even heard of gem from one of the best playwrights in the modern age.

If your experience with Albee stops at "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" you're missing out on a lot.

And you can take that to the bank!

(hah! get it? 'cause I work at a bank? I make myself lol.)


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Prickly thorn but sweetly worn

Oi. Hello there.

I have a wonderful and amazing person in my life who has gifted me with Volume 3 of The Complete Works of Edward Albee. I'll be reviewing a lot of his plays as a result. I am filled with nothing but joy at the thought of this.

The first play in the anthology is... Eh...

by Edward Albee

I couldn't find the cover for the play version...

I had only heard of the book back in my college days, so when I found that the first play in this anthology was based off the book, I had mixed feelings. If perhaps you haven't heard of the book, let me give you a brief glib of the only thing I knew about it going in:

It's about a pedophile.

I'm not the kind to shy away from shady or disturbing subject matter. Sometimes I embrace it (perhaps more often than I should). But this was going to be an exception. Murder? Sex? Drugs? Gangs? Psh, kids stuff. But this was gonna be... Weird. I braced myself for the worst at first, but then I remembered that this is a book read and studied by hundreds and is embraced as a classic in literature. Ok, I thought to myself, then it must have something else going for it besides a guy doing unspeakable things to a little girl the whole time.

To my relief, yes, there was more to it than that.

Humbert Humbert is a man who has been struggling with pedophilia for most of his life. His first love was at the age of 12, and since then he hasn't been able to break himself from lusting after anyone who isn't 12. A French professor, he is looking for a place to live whil he teaches at the university when he finds the house of a desperate widow and her child, Lolita. He falls instantly and uncontrollably in love/lust with her.

As he tells the audience what he wants to do to her - what he swears, indeed, he will do to her - waves of awkward and uncomfortable can and will sweep through readers and viewers. And this is where the "author" character (named in the script as A Certain Gentleman, or ACG) plays such an important part. He is our link, but he relates to our feelings. He calls Humbert a sick, sad and disturbing man. We feel a little more comfortable with him on stage expressing our outrage.

Humbert's quest to win Lolita is a story filled with anger, revenge, murder, lust, and pity. He truely is a sick and disturbed man, yet a man who seems frightfully intelligent, articulate, and sharp. He is aware just as we are aware that his desires are disordered, but he will not admit that his love is anything but pure. From the moment he is first seen to the moment his part is completed, a sick sense of fascination and pity swept over me, and although he is a rare breed, his character had much to say and teach about the human condition.

The play version of this story takes on a new life (I would imagine) than the book. Most characters interact with the audience, some for long lengths of time. The forth wall is continally broken if non-existent, making the audience always aware that this is just a play and not something trying to imitate real life as in a straight realism play. This method of playwrighting and production is intentionally done so that the audience tries to pay more attention to the message of the play rather than it's production as a realistic and imitative-to-life piece. This play would've been infinitely uncomfortable if it had tried to play itself as realism.

Overall, I did enjoy it. Albee is a tremendous playwright and his characters are all stunningly vibrant and infintely interesting to imagine. If I ever get the pleasure of acting in one of his plays some day, I might just die a very, very happy man. My overall recommendation is that this play is not for the weak of heart, but rather a play for someone looking to challenge themselves in their reading. And trust me, you will be challenged.