Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Geoffrey Tennant Moments

Every now and then the theater will give you one of those moments that alters your perspective on life. If you are luck enough to realize it, there can be nuggets of wisdom to be gained. And while I would never wish my last 72 hours on any director, I am grateful for the "Geoffrey Tennant"  moments I have had this past weekend.

I had to go on for an actor who had landed in the hospital with pneumonia. Thankfully this didn't turn into a Charles Kingman moment, but was simply Geoffrey going on for Terry. And it's fun to go on as an understudy or impromptu understudy - you get to play the part without all the tediousness of rehearsals or the pressure to do well. Your job is to fill in to keep the play going. In this instance, however, it was hard because of the circumstances under which I went on. You never want to go on because of someone else's misfortune - especially in such a serious case as this was. No play is worth your health as I told this actor and another actor earlier this year who also caught pneumonia. The going on stage and doing the role was the easy part - the stuff around the edges was hard.

We went to visit the actor in the hospital last night after the show. He looked much better and was in good spirits. Hopefully he will be released as scheduled today and we'll all be able to live happily ever after.

The second Geoffrey moment came a day after I had to go on for our sick friend as another actor called me and said that she was "too sick" to perform at the closing performance. This was more of a "Clare, Clare, Clare with the hair" thank goodness she fell off the stage moment. I didn't even try to find out what "too sick" meant. I just said ok and moved on. And what a response it was. The actress who went on in her place, script in hand, was terrified but did a bang up job. The cast was there to support here through and I got to play Geoffrey supporting Terry through the Scottish play or Jack Crew through Hamlet. I tell you there is nothing more thrilling as a director. It's seldom that we have to be put on the spot like that - that's usually the performer's job. But when it happens, it feels good to be needed.

But in the end, the whole thing was made easier by the fact that this one wasn't life and death. It really makes you stop and think about the reasons we do this and really anything when someone's life hangs in the balance. And yet the bond that forms when you go through something like this with a group of people is really special.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Talent Pool

I am directing a show for a community theater in Wisconsin and I've run into a new problem; not enough auditionees. This is a new experience for me. Well not completely. In my 11 years working in Chicago, occasionally there was trouble finding appropriate age or character types, but then you would put out calls to friends and bring in a coupe people who might not be a great fit for the role, but they will work. Here I don't have that luxury - I haven't built a network yet and the company I'm working for is pulling out all the stops trying to get people in but they don't seem to be having any success.

The show we're producing is a musical that has 22 speaking roles and chorus (I'll let you try to figure out the show by those numbers). Now you expect having trouble trying to find an adequate number of men, especially young men, but in two days of auditions we've seen 14 actors. And yes, this community theater does have enough people to pull from; two years ago they did a show with over 50 people. And yes, the show we are trying to cast is a big name show that often does well in community theaters.

That's my problem. We have another night of auditions so my producers and I are making some calls and keeping our fingers crossed. But what I really wanted to talk about is talent level.

Coming from the Chicago store-front theater scene, I'm used to seeing over 100 people in two days for a show that needs maybe 6-8 actors. The talent ranges from actors who in a couple years will be working for the regional houses downtown or shipping off to New York, to people who are doing this after work as a hobby, to people who have no business auditioning in the first place and within two years probably will have given up. That's a wide range.

Here I may not have seen any equity level talent, but everyone was competence and passionate there with a smile on their face and willing to give it their best shot. Because they get to be in a play. What a marvelous notion. And unlike Chicago, there aren't 20 other auditions they could sign up for this week. This is their one chance at doing a play in their community this fall. They want to be here. They know it's fun. There's no ambition beyond that.

Just like the Chicago actors, these are people who work a day job and come to rehearsals afterwards. For both it's an escape. The difference is in Chicago, the actor will introduce themselves as an actor and downplay their day job. Here they are contractors, teachers, office managers, and many other walks of life and then they get to go and be in a play after that. What could be more joyous than that. It's fun. It's a community experience - everyone comes together to see your work at the end of the process. They appreciate both the talent and the effort. Everyone is happy just to be there.

It think some of the professionals lose that. It's a different passion that drives them - and if that isn't fulfilled it can be frustrating and depressing. You take roles just to be working so you don't have to face the fear of not working and the boredom that comes with it. But that can suck all the joy out of the work. Plays become less about playing and more about working. And you can tell the difference. You can't give your full self when that's happening. You fall back on your training and you start making "interesting" choices. But that is not the stuff that life is made of and the productions lose a certain vitality.

Community theater is as grass roots as it gets. It's theater by the community and for the community. Perhaps you won't see the earth-shattering plays that ask the probing questions of our time (and yes, those are super important) but what you will see is a celebration of neighborhood, identity, and a true love of the game.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Always be Networking

Here is a story of why you should always be networking. I was eating lunch in a downtown restaurant a couple weeks ago and reading a Shakespeare play preparing myself for a directing interview. Halfway through my meal my waitress asked my why I was reading Shakespeare - whether I was taking a class or something. 

I asked her if she was an actress. She said she was so I told her about my up upcoming interview. She wished me luck and moved on to her other tables.

When she brought the check I left a bigger tip to support a fellow struggling artist - but I also left her my business card and a note to feel free to email me her headshot and resume. I debated in my head for a while whether or not I should do this, but I figured, what could it hurt.

A couple weeks later I did get an email from her and it turns out that she has training in Red Nose Clowning and is currently rehearsing a clown show. Now clowning is a hot commodity that I hope for in any actor who comes through my audition room so this was a very fortuitous connection to have made.

Now this may never work out for any work relationship or anything like that. But the networking worked. I found a new actress that will definitely call in should the right opportunity arise.