Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Leiris/Picasso: 04/28

Hello Dear Readers and Followers of Brimmer Street Theatre Company!

This is Melissa Powell - a name I'm quite certain you don't know. I am a NEW member to Brimmer and the very FIRST non-Emerson graduate of the bunch! I'm terribly proud to have been granted membership to such a phenomenal group.

In any case, I shall be playing the role of Dora Maar in this play; a role I have studiously prepared for. Dora is best known for being Pablo Picasso's lover for some 10 years. Upon further research I found that both Dora and I are brunette, from Jewish families, speak Spanish, and are brilliant famous photographers. Okay, I might be stretching it a bit there on that last one... Nevertheless, she was a woman of unique strength and character. My aunt even had jewelry made so I can better channel Miss Maar's intense energy. A set of bangles with some of Dora's poetry on it, and earrings with a famous portrait Picasso did of her.

Yes, she was a woman of remarkable brilliance and intellect in her own right. Exactly as she is portrayed in the play -- wait, she is also known in the play as "THE TART?" And is seen galavanting the set in nothing but her knickers and blonde wig?! And essentially throws herself at men, always eager to TAKE OFF HER CLOTHES?! Hmmmm....well, I can see Dave has taken some..."liberties" in adjusting things to make for a more comedic play experience. But I am up for the challenge! Surely, it shall be difficult for me to focus my intense acting ability to harness all that I can to portray a floozy. What's that?! It was ME who suggested we try some new scandalous blocking requiring I display my shocking flexibility???? Did someone just cover their mouth, coughing, "TYPECASTING???" Strange...

In any event, rehearsal last night was fast and furious. And we got so much done! After initially being afraid to make any choices for fear of my NYU drama teacher's voice looming inside my head, ("Whatever you do, Melissa, just don't fuck it up".) I finally loosened up a bit (perhaps thanks to Amy's African sing-along warm-up), and was able to start enjoying this dynamic cast of characters. We found some great moments and everyone works with great focus and energy. I was amazed at how much we got done in such a short period of time! This promises to indeed be a wild ride.

And I say, Let the Love Affair with Leiris/Picasso Begin!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

In a Creative Place

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

Ten Long Years

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 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?)

"Man of La Mancha" (2000??) (I don't remember what theater....)
(note the bandage on my foot! I broke my toe mid-performance and wrapped it up in some cloth to get through! What a fucking trooper!)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hitting the Reset Button

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

Leiris/Picasso: 04/14

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.
jenich out.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Leiris/Picasso: First Rehearsal

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.