SoM closes

January 5, 2010

I’d hoped to have time to blog while the show was running, but I spent my time actually doing the show instead! It’s now over—Sunday afternoon was our closing show—and I find myself sad because of it. While I appreciate the swathes of free time that have opened up in my schedule, I miss the camaraderie of working towards a shared goal.

The run of the show was great fun. We had terrific audiences—very warm and appreciative. Backstage was fun, too, though we always had to be mindful to keep the noise down! Mary, Philippa, Phil, and I made up the “adults’ table” out in the stairwell off stage right during the party scene, swapping stories and trying not to laugh while we waited for our next cue.

I ended up grateful for my nun’s habit because it kept me warm! The weather was frigid and, with two outside entrances/exits, I appreciated the scads of wool! People loved my party dress; the little girls in the cast would tell me so with their eyes shining.

One day/night stands out in particular for me: my birthday. I was standing in the wings before the evening show, talking to my sister who was 200 miles away. It was a bit of a lonely birthday (I turned 42) but I was very glad to have the show to fill the time. I don’t know why that image sticks with me so clearly, but I can practically feel the cell phone in my hand now.

Presents were abundant throughout the run. We had yellow roses and pink carnations on opening night. Lynne Schwartzberg (or “Cookie Lynne,” as Esther called her) kept us stocked up on incredible sugar creations throughout. Philippa gave everyone tiny plastic “flying nuns.” Caroline Dowd-Higgins handmade photo greeting cards for us and gave us them along with cookies from Vienna (she played the baroness from Vienna). Mary gave all the nuns candles as a memento of our pyrotechnics. Nick, who played Friedrich, gave everyone a can of Vienna sausage and a bit of Swiss chocolate along with a clever Von Trapp limerick he invented. Philippa very kindly gave me a cool little handmade dish for a birthday present. Perhaps the cleverest gift was from the ever-gracious Melissa Bohun, who made candies that looked like stained glass window panes. She delivered them in “brown paper packages tied up with string.” What a generous company!

We struck the set Sunday night, carrying big pieces of wood through the freezing wind from one building to the next, taking down lights, and stuffing a piece of pizza in where we could! I feel sorry for the Cardinal staff that has to go through all the costumes and debris to organize everything!

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to perform in this show. I hope to be able to do another Cardinal show in future. The show was good, the experience rewarding, and the people outstanding. I am thankful.

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SoM opening night!

December 23, 2009

Woot! Just home from an exhilarating opening night of Sound of Music. While the show was fun, the best part was the audience! We could feel the warmth and appreciation even through the downstage monitor speakers. Everyone was upbeat and happy, givin’ it all back to this loving crowd. Backstage, we kept crying out, “We love this audience!”

Mother Abbess gave all her nuns yellow roses for the opening, and Esther, our indomitable choreographer, left us pink carnations with a wonderful note. Phillippa, our sister nun, gave each of us three teeny plastic flying nuns that look like they have superpowers. Well, let’s face it, if you were both a nun and a being capable of flying, you’d have to be a superhero!

I remain terrified of the runway (the 3′ wide arc that reaches out beyond the stage) but have determined to conquer my terror sometime before the show is over.

This show has given me so many reasons to think of my Aunt Dolores, who died several years ago. She was Sister Dolores Marie McLaughlin and she was an inspiration and a friend.

She would have loved to have known that I was playing a nun again (I played Maria in high school). If only there were some way to make these things happen faster in life, so that so many who have passed beyond the Veil could still take part—in a corporeal way!

I think of my grandparents and certain aunts and uncles, imagining what it would be like to have them in the audience. It would be such a joy.

With family so far away (or so dead!), I rely primarily on friends to fill that emotional need for someone in the audience to connect with. When they are able to come, there’s no easy way to link up with them afterwards—the Bus-Chum has no green room.

I think it’s so important to have a way to link back up with the audience after a show. They are often hungry to close the loop and give back some love with compliments and kudos. And then you shine it right back with thanks, and it all becomes a big love fest!

The theme of this post seems to be all about love and longing, doesn’t it? I believe Four Things In The World, and one of them is that “love is the best thing.” Take it as you will, but I believe, love is the best thing. May you find it and keep it with you and yours.


What I learned from Richard Perez

June 21, 2009

Richard Perez will be leaving Bloomington 01 August, to the sorrow of everyone who’s worked with him. I have the privilege of calling him a friend, so I’ll leave a personal tribute to a later date (perhaps when I’m good and weepy). But I’ve had Rich as a teacher six times and have learned some fundamental principles that run throughout his excellent instruction. In many ways, they relate not just to acting but how to conduct one’s life.

  • Read the whole play. I would much rather zero in on the scene I’m given and just make something up for the character’s development because I’m fundamentally lazy. 😉 However! Rich’s starting point is always to read the whole play, preferably more than once, even if it’s just for an audition scene. Everything we need to know about the characters is within the script. While plot is also derived from the script, Rich is focused like a laser beam on character, character, character.
  • What are the given circumstances? When developing any character, we often start by affecting mannerisms or accents to define it. But Rich instead leads us to examine the circumstances of that particular moment within the context of the whole play (which, in turn, is the character’s whole life). If the line given is relatively neutral, such as “What did I do?”, the given circumstances tell us whether we should be uttering it in horror or indignation or shame.
  • Make strong choices. This is one of Rich’s favorite things to harp on and it’s one of my favorite pieces of advice. As an actor, you have virtually endless options for interpretation. Many of us opt for easy or mediocre choices that keep things passable. But when we make strong choices, we get heat! That’s where the action is. For instance, when we were working on the monologue Tatiana, Rich asked me for the given circumstances. I decided that it was the afternoon before an important ball. Rich upped the stakes and asked, “What if it’s the day before your wedding?” Yowza! Paydirt! Suddenly the stakes were much higher and my character instantly had more to draw on. In my wimpy choice, Tatiana merely has to endure another uncomfortable ball. In Rich’s scenario, Tatiana is going through a major life change that she is resisting like crazy. It also means all the other characters in the play have much stronger feelings about what’s going on. By amping up the stakes, the text and its interpretation become much richer (no pun intended).
  • Go after what you want. Within the context of the play and the strong choices you’ve made, you still have the option of choosing what your character wants in any scene. Just like in real life, go for it. Choose what you want and go after it. I was in a scene with another actor in Rich’s Intro to Method class and decided (given the circumstances yadda yadda) that my character wanted to be held. She was always the strong one in the marriage, always the dominant one, and usually steered the ship when it came to emotional crises. (No, this can’t possibly be typecasting.) But in this particular case (she’s just learned that her best friends are splitting up over an affair), she doesn’t want to be strong. She feels like her world has just been turned upside down and the last thing she wants to have to do is lead the emotional processing for herself and her husband. But since she has so little experience in being vulnerable, she tries to express her desires in coded messages, hoping that her husband will pick up on her distress signals and simply hold her while she cries. All her actions—all of them—are directed towards this end.
  • Find your trigger. But let’s up the ante, shall we? (Rich loves intensity possibly as much as I do.) Method acting has a bad name because so many people took it way too far, focusing more on “method” than on “acting.”* But the basic principle is useful: In developing character, relate your character’s triggers to circumstances in your own life. For instance, in Tatiana, the line “I see Mama” refers to the point where Tatiana sees her beloved dead mother in a dream. Rather than just stay on the surface and be sort of wistful, Rich had me find a trigger from my own life. I got in touch with my feelings about one of my dead grandfathers and immediately burst into tears. The whole rest of the scene was transformed. Previously coy or wistful lines were suddenly drenched in poignancy and longing—much more dramatically compelling. In another example, in the scene I alluded to in the point above, I decided to change my focus from going after I want to finding my trigger. I sought a memory from a time when my entire world turned upside down in a short period of time. I chose the moment after I shut the door for the last time after my fiancé finally left me. (See, even now I get weepy—insta-trigger!) As soon as I went there, our scene was transformed into a funereal theme. This was perfect, since the last line was, “It’s like a funeral, isn’t it?” It was emotionally difficult to go there, but it definitely created higher drama.
  • No one has to know. The freedom that Rich’s direction gives opens up a number of doors for creative exploration. He emphasizes in all his teaching that no one has to know all this background stuff. What you need as an actor is a way to re-connect with that character in endlessly fresh ways so you can give a powerful performance eight times a week. No one has to know how you do it. Maybe they just think you can cry on cue—who cares? The bottom line is that if you use these basics to develop your craft, you’ll be delivering far more powerful and compelling performances, both for yourself and your audiences.

[*One of my favorite acting stories: Sir Laurence Olivier (Shakespearian trained) and Dustin Hoffman (Method) were in Marathon Man together. One morning, Hoffman showed up on set with bloodshot eyes, scruffy beard, and exhausted demeanor. When Olivier inquired, Hoffman said, “My character’s been up for 3 days so I’ve been prepping for the role.” Olivier waited a beat and then said icily, “Next time, try acting.” I have no idea if this story is true but it’s such a perfect snapshot that it might as well be!]

I will miss Rich terribly as a friend though I’m very excited about the creative opportunities he’ll be pursuing in Chicago. I’ll also miss him as coach and teacher. He’s been phenomenal to work with. Rather than tell you what to do, he asks you questions based on the concepts above. You’re left to draw your own conclusions and try it out. He keeps pushing until you crack the code of character and take your performance to the next level. Many thanks, Rich!


Drilling lines…

June 7, 2009

We had our first read-through for Vintage Scenes on Thursday. We’re supposed to be off-book by Monday. Eek!! 

I’m not used to working this way. In all the theatre I’ve done, we stay on-book until the blocking is more or less set. Then we take everything to the next level. It’s very similar to learning a new song, where we stay with the printed music until we’ve got it solid.

Jim, our director, has a different philosophy. For him, the work can’t begin until lines are memorized. I disagree but I’m open to working the way he asks us to. He’s got some great ideas and I’m looking forward to digging into my roles a little more.

The first is “C” in a 30th-floor-ledge comedy called Nicotine High. I basically play a hyped-up über-cop who’s more interested in code violations than in the fact that “A” is about to jump off the ledge.

The second is “Tanqueray” in the comedy Sheep in Men’s Clothing. I play a Southern lush who delights in leading religious fundamentalists astray. It’s a fun role. I do love comedies.

Altogether my parts make up about 2 minutes of onstage time but oh, what a fun two minutes! We start tomorrow with blocking and characterization, though Tanqueray is pretty much in her liquid groove. 

I’ve made recordings of the other actors’ lines and am frantically running mine until my brain is mush. Is this helpful? Perhaps not. I’m also trying the “move around while drilling” trick, which helps—until my brain is mush. It doesn’t help that one of our actors, Bethany, is one of those folks who can simply glance at a script and have it memorized immediately. A regular Jimmy Cagney. I hate her. (KIDDING.)

Actually, that’s one thing I keep thinking about—in all the great actors’ biographies I’ve read over the years (a thousand? a million?) the two things that are always mentioned are “they knew their lines and they hit their marks.” Utter professionals. Didn’t waste anyone’s time on-set. 

Is there a way to channel Katharine Hepburn?? Okay, maybe I should just bite the bullet and drill the bloody things. Mush, here I come!


First audition in 23 years

April 26, 2009

Today I auditioned for Cardinal Stage Company. It’s a general audition for the season rather than for a particular show. I’ve been rehearsing non-stop for 6 weeks in preparation. 

I did the last 25 bars or so of Gethsemane from Jesus Christ Superstar for my song. For my monologue, I used a short piece entitled Tatiana that was written back in about 2004 by a playwright at the BPP—a playwright who neglected to put her name on the manuscript.

I worked with the lovely and talented Mr Richard Perez to go in with the best possible delivery I could within the time constraints I had. Rich is a great director—he hints at broader ideas or asks questions that lead you to a deeper understanding of the character. Many directors just focus on blocking and line delivery.

We had a breakthrough on Wednesday when I made a new connection with my character’s motivation and ended up sobbing for an hour afterwards. 🙂 I just worked on the song and the monologue lightly after that, knowing I wanted to keep that emotional connection raw.

So of course I went in there and couldn’t establish a connection at all. If I could have paused for about seven or 89 minutes mid-monologue, it would’ve been fine! But alas, alack, and Alaska, the show must go on.

Beforehand, I kept sliding back and forth between terrible nerves and a kind of steely calm. By the time I got in I was trembling all over. Fortunately both my audition pieces are intense, so the trembling worked in my favor!

The audition panel consisted of Mike Price (in whose talent I stand in awe), Randy White (in whose artistic abilities I stand in awe) and two other Cardinal Stage official-types that I’ve seen before but could not place. There was about 5 feet between me and them. I’d been expecting just Randy and maybe one other volunteer hanging out in the audience, with me 25 feet away on stage (this was at the MCPL auditorium). Let’s amp up that tension, shall we?? 🙂 

I did fine on the vocal side of Gethsemane but didn’t communicate the message as deeply as I wanted to. The monologue was the real heartbreaker, though, since I’d been able to play through the sobbing with Rich but had nary a tear in the audition. So while my mouth and body keep going, my brain is spinning at a zillion miles an hour, saying, “Remember, Rich said to just try to re-connect with that trigger” and “Should I fake the crying?” and so forth. Not conducive to calm delivery, but this sort of thing happens all the time in live performance. I thank all the people who taught me “the show must go on” in all its forms!

Talking with BryBry today, I realized it’s been about 23 years since my first “real” audition. Previous to that I auditioned all the time for school and community theatre, but my last high-pressure audition was at the IU music school. I had made the cut to get in, but this audition was with Robert Porco, head of the choral department.

I often think of that audition because he took the time to work with me. My audition piece was Care Selve, a gorgeous Italian aria. He had me go back and sing it again, this time singing the second half “as if you are singing to your beloved.” I knew immediately what he meant—my delivery had been technically flawless but emotionally void. I fell into the song and he nodded yes, yes. 

When we finished, he leaned hard on me to join The Singing Hoosiers (IU’s premiere choral group) but I had a class conflict that couldn’t be avoided. He kept at me again and again. I suppose it’s a sign of my idiocy that I couldn’t find a way to get where he thought I should go. The first of many “bad career moves” in the music school.

As I walked home today, my mind was racing with a deconstruction of every single note, word, and gesture from the audition. I just kept telling myself, “I did the best I could.” That was true. I wish I could’ve done better. But, as I told myself, the only way to get better is to do a lot more auditions! I had no idea until tonight that it had been as long as it had. No wonder I was a wreck!

All I want is to be good enough to make it into the chorus or to get a bit part. I know if I’m given a chance, I’ll get better from there. Each audition was one at a time so I have no idea how others did or how I stacked up. Since it was a general audition, I won’t even hear anything back from them regarding callbacks or rejections for some time. How’s that for I-Hate-Ambiguity Lass?? 🙂

I thank Brighid and Grandpa for sustaining me, and especially Rich for opening up whole new creative vistas! I pray for more opportunities—successful ones!


BloomingPlays submissions

February 19, 2009

I just submitted my first scripts. To the Lora Shiner Studio Series as part of the BloomingPlays festival at the Bloomington Playwrights Project. My palms are still sweating.

While I’ve written a number of scripts and performed them in theatre and video, I’ve never entered a contest before. Consequently, I’m all fluttery in the stomach region.

Winners will go through a workshopping process. One of the scripts was co-written with Lori Garraghty, so we’d go through together if we’re chosen.

That script is called Kindred. It’s about two very different sisters whose conflicts come to light while trying to take care of their ailing mother. Lori and I created it by improvising dialogue and characters when we took an acting class at the BPP in 2004. We taped the improv and then took the script from there. It was a great way to start.

My goal with that script was/is to make both characters believable and sympathetic rather than easily label one or the other. And of course, expose old sibling rivalries. 

Rich Perez gave us the beginning and the ending. The ending is exactly how I ended all my stories in 8th grade, so I’m amused by that. Overall Lori and I think it’s a really good script and a good character study for both actresses (actors?).

I’m much more nervous about the second script. It’s called A Day in the Life. Again, we find two sisters in conflict, but this time everything is much more extreme. Judy, the younger character, is seriously mentally ill but has to keep functioning. Julia, her older sister, works her tail off to keep them together and help get Judy through college. The fact that their father’s trust fund is contingent on Julia’s doing this is a source of conflict.

But larger than that is the rage and despair of a sister-bond gone horribly awry. Judy is capable of communicating only through fragments of songs or quotes from movies. Julia is at the end of her resources. Both women need somehow to keep going.

It’s a very dark script. I have no idea if it’s any good. I asked Rich to read it several months ago but he never got around to it. I’m terrified that it’s just a load of self-involved angst. 🙂 It would certainly require top-notch actresses.

But I’m ahead of myself. There will be so many submissions from playwrights far more experienced (& produced!) than I am. I was afraid to even try. But the scripts are out there, nothing to be done about it, and all I can hope is that they’re not total crap. 🙂 Cross your fingers for me.


Capricorn pride

January 25, 2009

My 14-year-old niece (also a Capricorn) has joined the school drama club after I urged her to do so as part of her training to take over the world. The club recently held auditions for a play. My niece, surprisingly, did not try out for the lead. Instead, she went after a secondary part. Why? “Because it has the most lines.” That’s my girl. 🙂