Thursday, October 28, 2010
About a year ago, the members of Brimmer Street began the first ever Blueprint Series: a development workshop that brings writers into our actor's studio with the goal of creating new work for our ensemble. From that series four plays were born including Leiris/Picasso, which we presented earlier this year.
We're very proud to announce the mainstage production of the second of those projects, Summer in Hell, written by company member Miles Brandman. The team has been hard at work bringing this play to the stage...you'll recognize company members Tyler Jenich, Amy K. Harmon, Dan Gordon and Melissa Powell on stage, as well as the directorial stylings of our own David Jette.
Join us over the next two weeks here on our blog as we take Summer in Hell from the rehearsal room to the stage. We'll include stories, photos and videos about the rehearsal process, set build, tech week and finally the performances themselves. We encourage you to comment and let us know what you want to see...and when it's up and ready to be seen, we hope you'll also join us at the theatre!
Thanks for tuning in,
PS: Find out more about the show on our website: www.BrimmerStreet.org!
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
NEW REVIEW GO LEIRIS/PICASSO "We try not to have [too] many guests. It disturbs what's left of the neighbors," says Michel as he stumbles around his Paris home in the dark, falling down stairs, knocking over crudités, and scalding himself on a hot teakettle. It's all rather amusing . . . until you realize that it's 1944 and there's a Nazi patrol outside.
This [is] just the sort of dark humor that characterizes writer and director David Jette's farcical take on an actual evening at the house of Michel Leiris (Michael Bulger) when notable members of the French Resistance produced Pablo Picasso's final work: a play entitled Desire Caught by the Tail. Picasso's play itself is nonsensically awful (but oh, how the man could paint), so Jette has instead created a play about the circumstances surrounding its production, a sort of play without a play, except that we do see part of Picasso's piece during Act 2. What comes before, however, is the preparation, as Leiris, his wife Zette (Jenny Byrd), Albert Camus (Tyler Jenich), Jean-Paul Sartre (Patrick Baker), Simone de Beauvoir (Amy K. Harmon), and Picasso's mistress Dora Maar (Melissa Powell) scramble to set up while they wait for the master. Besides their own petty but hilarious squabbles, they also have to deal with a Nazi (Joseph L. Roberts) who keeps popping up, as well as the leader of the resistance, Sam Beckett (Dan Gordon); Beckett's men steal a six-foot swastika from the Louvre and bring it as a gift for Picasso. When Picasso (Fred Ochs) finally arrives, the craziness comes to a climax, and costumes are handed out in the staging of a ridiculous work that features characters such as Onion, Big Foot, Fat Angst and Thin Angst.
Jette's direction keeps all the moving parts well synchronized as the actors enter and exit Juliana de Abreu's well-designed, multi-door set, complemented by Sarah Krainin's properties and [Andrew] Thiels' set dressing. The ensemble is strong overall, though Baker's over-the-top bombastic caricature of Sartre's and Bulger's sincerity as the put-upon host stand out. And while Jette's work doesn't pretend to be historically accurate in the least, it succeeds for that very reason because, as Camus says, sometimes "happiness feels better than truth."
Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 24. (213) 290-2782. http://www.BrimmerStreet.org
Reposted from LA Weekly: http://blogs.laweekly.com/stylecouncil/stage-news/stage-raw-a-memory-of-what-mig/#more
LA Weekly Home Page: http://www.laweekly.com/
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Tonight we open our show to the public, and I couldn't be more excited. I have never been more confident about a piece of theater I've been involved in, and although the true measure of entertainment is determined by the audience, I am positive that we have succeeded. I could not be more proud of our company, our designers, our supporters, and yes, of myself.
Theater is a niche art, especially in Los Angeles. The next six weeks will bring a different kind of stress - we will have to work our asses off to bring people into the theater to actually see this play. I do believe we have an advantage over most other plays - we can all but guarantee our patrons an hilarious evening that is thought provoking and spectacular - but even with our magnificent cast, a madcap design with a high production value, and a script that lives well on the stage, we cannot overcome the natural ceiling for live arts in Los Angeles. That is, we can't do it without your help.
All the work we have put into this production is for you. Sure, it feels good to get something up, and obviously theater is fun (why else would people do it?), but our focus throughout this entire process has been to produce the most entertaining and meaningful evening for the people who commit their Thu, Fri or Sat night (and $15-$29) to share an experience with a room full of people. The only thing left to add is you, your friends, your co-workers, anyone you know who may like to come and laugh and have a beer or two after the show. There are many things to do in this city on a weekend night. There is a whole world of fascinating media to consume, (and most of it don't require you to find parking on Beverly at 7:55 on a Friday. Come early and you'll be glad you did!)
If you are anything like me, then you want to see it all. Make Leiris/Picasso a part of your summer, and I pledge to you, that when the night is done, you will have a greater treasure than one-hundred thousand Picassos. I pledge this to all of you!
I'll see you tonight.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
In the days before airplanes, steam engines, and nuclear power, it took months to cross the ocean. Anyone hoping to travel between the hemispheres knew they were in for a voyage that would take so long that they would hardly remember life on their former shore. Most people who made the trip would do it only once in their lives, so when they stepped off the boat in their new home, in a new world, they were transformed not only in space in time, but in mind and spirit as well. It was at this moment of disembarkation that their real journey began.
For the cast and crew of Leiris/Picasso, land is in sight. It's an exhilarating and terrifying thought that after eight months of writing, rehearsing, planning and building that we will soon set foot on a distant shore we've imagined but never truly known.
Although it's hard to bear, these feelings of insecurity, stress, and doubt are a very good thing. After last night's dress rehearsal, the cast was downtrodden. They dropped lines, forgot props, missed cues, and generally had a bad night (by their lofty standards). When I walked into the dressing room to give notes, everyone seemed ready for another beating. I told them right away how proud I was of all of them for making it this far and for committing themselves so completely to what is an incredibly ambitious project. Putting all the pieces of this play together is a massive undertaking, and while the designers and I have the advantage of sitting in the dark while mistakes are made, the cast must maintain character, voice and energy. All things considered, it was a remarkable success. That everyone sees the cracks shows me that we have a team of people so focused on quality, so married to every detail, that this play has not one or two parents, but more than three dozen. It takes a village to raise a child, and this play is no different.
So while the 18-hour days, the set backs, the terrible food, and the impending tidal wave of observers that (hopefully) will flood our theater this week all take their toll on the mind and spirit, I am almost comatose with anticipation for the next phase of our long, long journey. We have nearly arrived.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
We then moved to the dressing/green room in the basement and began sorting through the various set dressings and costume pieces from past shows that seemed to be everywhere, like a rainbow jungle of cloth, formica, and plastic.
The ladies sort of took control of the situation and chose their side of the dressing room first without much consideration for us guys. We took the space we were handed, and that worked out just fine, because it turns out that the ladies side of the room has some mysterious rank odor. We couldn't recognize what it was or where it was coming from. It smelled like rodent death to me.
Then we moved on to the run thru of the first act, which went very well in my estimation. The coffee we drank did its duty I suppose because we started off sharp and focused. I'm sure it was a really cool trip for all of us to be on the set for the first time, and especially one so real and elaborate. And five doors to slam! That was a special pleasure, though there were no handles on the back stage side of the doors and I sliced my finger open when I tried to open it. I played the scene though. Blood was everywhere. No big deal.
At lunch I got a bean and cheese burrito and went to the bathroom. We came back and there was this guy there named Cameron who I met at 4100 bar a few nights ago. He helped us work through some of the fight choreography, which needed some f**kin' work, lord have mercy. But we ironed that s**t out. Cam really knows what's up. After he left, we started in on ACT II much in the same way we went at ACT I and I was surprised because the quality of work was never compromised toward the end, like it usually is when we wrap rehearsals at 11:30 pm and we all wanna shoot ourselves. Great energy from everyone.
We took a dinner break. I took a smoke ; ) We talked about the oil spill in the gulf. We all pretty much agreed that we have no idea what to do about that : (
We came back to a special treat: rehearsing the closing number and curtain call. This is something that always gets left unrehearsed until right before the opening performance, in every show I've ever done, which is probably why they always look like a frickin' mess. So this time we did it differently. Patrick Baker is featured prominently. F**ing hysterical. But I really can't describe it here and I didn't take any pictures. You gotta buy a ticket to take the ride.
We got cut an hour early. Score.
Michael and I drove home in a red Mercedes. As he drove, he remarked at how nice it felt to be doing what we are doing, working and creating in a theatre all day. What a great job to have, to do that every day, he said. I know it's hard to believe, but I'm hard pressed to find a better way to spend my days.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Today was a hectic day for me personally, but there is major progress on all areas of our show. Dan and I went to the absurdly huge CTG prop warehouse today where Andrew and Sarah passed off the bulk of our plays props and set dressings. Among them was the massive swastika which you see above resting against our half made set. It is quite gigantic.
We have doors, furniture, guns, giant swastikas, windows, lights and a cast that's primed to rock. We're working around the clock to do this show right. (There are only a handful of days before we invite you people in.) Somewhere behind my aches and pains a sense of danger is starting to set in.
Last night we all gathered at Dave and Jenny's house for one final rehearsal before we begin tech on Saturday, and I've got to say, it was a really nice treat. Jenny and I spoke about making this a tradition - a final read through at someone's home, where we can relax and focus on the words and our voices, before we have to start thinking about things like spike marks and door slamming.
I was reminded of the very first time we read the play, back in October of 2009. I remember walking away from that reading thinking "wow, this is going to be one hell of a show" - and I still believe that 100%. Our audiences are in for such a treat.
We have exactly one week until our first audience arrives at the Bootleg, and a lot of work to do in those seven days. But I've never been more sure of this team than I am right now.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Bright and early this morning, I made the trip to CalArts to meet Alan, our Technical Director, and Lizzie, Fran and Thomas, the carpenters who are building our formidable set. We loaded the show's 15 some-odd flats, six door casings, assorted lumber and nonsense into the truck and made the lug back to Los Angeles. It took us most of the day to erect the eight platforms and 15 foot walls that make up the epinimous home of Michel Leiris. The set is coming together, although you can't tell from this photograph.
Tonight, the cast meets at my place for what I've half-jokingly titled a 'drink-through'. Really it's a trap to make them say their lines perfectly and to make sure I'm a part of all their inside jokes. Fred is coming back tonight and we'll have our whole family again. Tomorrow, I bring in the furniture.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Our show is in the home stretch. The actors are well prepared, the set is on the make, we've spread the word and invited the fancy guests. Everything is hurtling toward completion with no hope of turning back. For me, tech week is heaven - it's the culmination of months of both careful and reckless planning. This is the week when most of our show's ever desperate budget is spent, it's when characters and action are solidified, decisions and compromises are made, and eventually, an audience is invited to see the result. (see also: 'the show must go on')
In art school they taught us that 'liminality' was the moment when a piece of work actually comes into being, a state between potential and being where the normal limits we put on our own thoughts and actions can be transcended. Theater is a live art, it is shaped for months and months but is only finished at the point of exhibition. In other words, every hour of work is more important than the last. This is especially true this week. Everyone is buzzing, everyone has things to do. I like to be in the thick of it, but in a show like this, there are more qualified people doing all the detail work. It's an incredible feeling to be completely unnecessary on the set of your own show. I feel like Zap Brannigan.
Right now, we're hanging lights and our set is being finished up. Tomorrow, we'll load it into a truck and bring it to the theater. Thursday we get the furniture and props, we'll paint and continue building. Saturday the actors arrive and we block combat on the set and run through the show with doors (very important in a farce). We'll rehearse every night until previews on Thursday (which is also Michael Bulger's birthday, fyi.)
I'm going to try to blog everyday to hype our show and keep our lovers and friends around the world up to date on what will likely be Brimmer Street's best show yet. We hope you can come and love our show. We'll be just finished by the time you get here.
Buy your tickets today: http://www.brimmerstreet.org
Opening night is June 12th, Emerson night (with comedy by the lovely and hilarious Iliza Schlesinger) is June 17th, Gastrobus on Thursdays, parties every night, I will see you there.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Wednesday’s rehearsal was held in the play room of a children’s after-school center on the Westside. We found ourselves in a very colorful, smallish room with a floor padded with familiar blue matting and toys all around. A chain for a tire swing hung from the low rafter, and the rehearsal was full of cheese wedges, toy noodles, and dodge balls (and breaks complete with Goldfish and Malted Milk Balls.) In some respects, it was a perfect location; we took off our shoes (except for Amy :) and got to work (play).
This was a unique rehearsal, as I was not myself. Many of our cast members are in and out of Los Angeles, most flying to the east coast for this or that wedding, as it is the season. I spent the evening filling-in for Patrick, who is in Raleigh at the moment. My goal for the evening was to be helpful and not get in the way. This was more or less a blocking rehearsal, so I did my best to channel my inner Patrick Baker and move around the stage as he may be inclined to do. I did my best to communicate with Dave about what my instincts were, what “my” Sartre might want to do or where he might want to go, without necessarily taking ownership of the role.
It was a unique experience. In one way, I was released from the responsibility of doing anything “right” because I had no responsibility of working toward a finished product or performance. Typically, I would have an eye on a super-objective of creating a finished product to be put in front of an audience; but without that long-term goal, it may have been easier to focus on moment to moment instincts. I also wasn’t trying to learn or remember my lines, so planting my nose firmly in the script gave me one less distraction. On the other hand, I was creating blocking for someone else, and I did want to make sure that I was being truthful so after I go through the blocking with Patrick he’ll be able to jump into the scene seamlessly. Also, I’ve got a responsibility to the other actors in the scene. Our time is a premium, and this was the opportunity for the other actors to work through their blocking. When they rehearse the scene with Patrick, if they have to start all over again, then the night was a waste.
All in all, it was a great rehearsal. It’s not all the time you work with a company where anyone can fill in for any role in a rehearsal. A big thank you to Creative Space for allowing us to come and play; it’s rehearsals like these that remind me that this is still my favorite thing to do.
- joseph l. roberts
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
It has been ten long years since I have have acted in anything longer than fifteen minutes...and man is it a lot of work! I totally forgot! The day after the first rehearsal I was absolutely destroyed - my legs were sore, my throat hurt, I was exhausted. WTF? (To be fair, the first ten minutes of this play are basically spent with me running back and forth across the stage, tripping many times, getting punched in the face and falling down a flight of stairs...so let's not be too harsh.)
I used to do shows quite a bit! I was involved with a company in Pittsburgh throughout High School and was cast in a couple of their mainstage shows in some really nice theaters. I used to train six days a week from noon to 5pm, then have rehearsals from 6 to 11 - I was a musical theater machine! However, all of that went wayside when I stopped pursuing acting and started pursuing the production side of things (not that the production side doesn't come with its own challenges, mind you).
Anyway, I'm happy to report that after a week of rehearsals, I'm starting to catch my breath. However, last night's rehearsal (while less physically taxing) was a good reminder of what still lies ahead. Despite the incredible amount of work it will require, I cannot wait to begin the truly farcical sequence in this play: the utterly chaotic (and hilarious) play-within-the-play at the top of the second act. We have set the stage for some great magic and some incredible comedy. Let us make the soup!!
PS: Here are some photos from shows I did ten years ago!
"Annie" at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh (1999 maybe?)
Monday, April 19, 2010
As an actor, rehearsals are the only time in the run of a play that I can be both an actor and audience member in my own production.
Leiris/Picasso will make its premiere on June 12. Opening night will be the culmination of over a year of work in putting this show together -- from project's origins, through its writing and ensemble development, countless workshop sessions within the company, a public reading as part of the Blueprint Series, and rehearsals. Our ensemble has been reading/performing this show in table read-type sessions for months and yet we have just begun our rehearsal process just last week. So even though our audiences will be experiencing this production for the first time in June, as a cast, we have practically cemented much of the show for ourselves. And that is a bad thing and the focus of last night's rehearsal.
We have all grown accustomed to saying our lines with certain rhythms and hitting jokes with the same inflection. Because they worked and because we didn't have a director calling us out on it. Last night Dave worked with us to first recognize our habits with these lines and then to break us out of them. What followed was some really wonderful and exciting work.
When someone said a line in a way that sounded too familiar, Dave said, "Yes," which told the actor to repeat the line. "Yes." Say it again but in a new way. "Yes." Again. And so on. I noticed a pattern with how we responded to Dave's "Yes" exercise. First, comes surprise and being slightly thrown off by someone yelling "Yes!" in the middle of our rehearsal. So I repeat the line, thinking I mumbled or something. "Yes!" Now the problem-solving kicks in. "What was wrong with the way I said it?" I don't know. No time to think. "Yes!" I wasn't even paying attention when I said the line that time. "Yes!" Maybe I'm tired so I'll bring up the energy. "Yes!" Lower the energy. "Yes!" Shake my hands. "Yes!" And so on. What the hell does he want from me? I look at Mike, say the line, and --- nothing. That felt good. And no "yes" from Dave in the first row? Let's keep going!
The stuff that's fun to watch on stage is the stuff that's fun to do on stage -- discover, play, and connect. When an actor is having fun and really taking in what the other actor is giving them -- the give and take of the scene -- THAT is what's fun to watch and be a part of as an audience member. Seeing that give and take between two actors fighting for what they want right in front of you brings me a joy that is unique to live theatre.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
this is tyler jenich blogging.
we had a great rehearsal tonight. this was our first crack at the script on our feet and I must say it is a relief! months and months of reading this play glued to a chair is enough to make anyone pull their hair out, so yes it was satisfying on many levels to get up and move with the words. and all that reading showed. it was as if we've been dogs on a leash, pulling and pulling forward, and now the leash is magically gone and we can run wild. and it was very wild. rehearsals to come will surely emphasize focus, clarity, and diction, no doubt. a very strong start to the production process, indeed.
Joseph found some funny. Dan really sank into some moments. Jenny tried a few things. so did I. Michael was pretty much all over the place, getting the job done proper. if there was an audience there, they would have been rolling in the aisles.
we set a really good pace tonight.
my new favorite line of the play: Eine kleine moment please!
i will now annoy the entire cast and crew, especially Michael, by saying that line over and over again, intermittently and in non sequitur fashion.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Since this is the first post of our rehearsal blog for Leiris/Picasso I feel like talking about beginnings and fresh starts and potential and seedlings and infants and promise and the future. But Sunday's rehearsal was not the beginning, not of the play or of our journey with the play, the characters, the hijinx nor each other. Brimmer Street is infamous (among ourselves) for taking WAAAAYYYY too long to complete projects. We work from start to finish on almost everything we do, from an idea to a finished work, as a group and over months and months of meetings, drafts, preparation and self-inflicted agony and boredom.
But in the end, it usually rocks.
Leiris/Picasso is an example of that process. For those of you who are reading who may not be familiar, Leiris/Picasso is a farce based on a real event during the Nazi occupation of Paris. As the story goes, Picasso wrote a play and gathered the greatest minds and artists in France together in he home of Michel Leiris to read it aloud in defiance of the Nazis. We take that story and make it into a slamming-doors sex farce that makes fun of art and intellectuals while paying homage to our favorite pretentions of avant-garde theatre.
When Mariana Carbonell sent me a copy of 'Desire Caught by the Tail' with its accompanying introduction (and a few letters between Sartre and de Beauvoir, from which I drew the pet name 'Beaver', which I love) I knew right away that whatever this turned into would be in my 'wheel house'. When I brought Picasso's play to the group we thought it was ridiculous. How could any one have risked their lives to read this silly play? Then it me - make it a farce and parody the time and the seriousness of the whole affair and we might just hijack the credibility of war time France and suit it to our present purposes. This was almost two years ago.
Wednesday Night, at the Home of Michel Leiris, a Reading of the Play
'Desire Caught by the Tail' by the Painter Pablo Picasso.
Yes, that is the actual title.
Writing a play about characters like Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Dora Maar, and Pablo Picasso (George Bataille very nearly made it into this play as well) was an Herculean task if only for the amount of reading required before I could feel any sense of totality about my knowledge of the subjects. I mostly skipped that part, of course; there was no way I was going to read Being and Nothingness and I certainly didn't want work too much of that stuff into a comedy. Joseph read far more than I did. He gave me the crib notes. I did read my share, including most of de Beauvoir's accounts of her pre and post war relationships with Sartre, Camus and their interminglers. I read tons of accounts of Picasso and Dora, Leiris and Bataille, Leiris and Picasso, Camus and Sartre, all the fun and storied relationships that make up this play. Just like in Witkacy, I bastardized these anecdotes and shoved them all into a single night for the sake of unity and changed whatever details didn't suit the action. C'est la jeu.
I didn't start writing a word of the play until September of last year. Brimmer Street, seeing that after Less than Three* we had no projects ready to go, opened our studio doors to local playwrights who had new ideas for plays but wanted to develop them with an ensemble of actors and bring them to the public. I entered Leiris/Picasso into consideration and the company graciously accepted. After a few weeks of improv and discussion, some brainstorming and plenty of late night red wine benders the ensemble and I worked out the basic gist of the play and started writing. I had it done in time for our first reading in November, which was a great success.
*blogger is not letting me use the 'less-than' symbol. wtf, blogger.
Immediately following the Blueprint Series, we got together and chose our upcoming season: this play and Miles Brandman's Summer in Hell (which I'm also directing, yippee!). We officially added Austin Sayre, Melissa Powell, Jason Sperling, Miles Brandman, Ian Garrett and Marie Lively to the company. And we started production on this beast.
The humble exterior of our magnificent space, Bootleg Theater.
Jenny and the rest of the production team jumped into action right away. We started interviewing designers, looking for venues, nailing down dates, the whole schpiel. It was incredibly difficult to find a 99-seat theater that could support a two-story stage, was available for the dates we needed, and was within in our price range. Eventually we found a home at the Bootleg Theater, and I couldn't be happier. The space is incredible and it will elevate the level of our production. We started to hire our fantastic design team, including Juliana de Abreu and Priscilla Watson. We also started casting, auditioning outside the company for the juicy role of Picasso himself. It took three weeks of auditioning to find the right guy, and again, I couldn't be happier.
And now, after reading the play aloud at least fifty times, and after months and months of development, planning, agonizing, and hope, we begin rehearsals. Sunday night was a fun little soiree. We have a tradition of bringing together the entire cast, production and design team in for wine and cheese and a 'kick-off' reading of the play and this time was no different. The designers got to hear the play aloud, and the actors got to read the play again, this time with a clear sense of who they were playing and how this project is going to unfold. We're already well on our way to opening night, and even though there are some big question marks left (like how the hell do we raise the money for this monstrosity?) it is absolutely clear to me how lucky I am to be a part of this team and to have this play in production. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be the best work I have ever done, and my hope is that it can bring our little company to another level. It will be entertaining and thought-provoking, hilarious and witty and all the things we hope for our plays.
Now we just have to do it.