Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Stage Manager

While tracking rehearsals and the process of producing a play, I will also shed light on some very key roles that are vital to the operation. The first profile will be of Lydia LaGue (great name, by the way), the guest Stage Manager for PICNIC.
I chatted with Lydia to discuss her ideas of the specific role that a Stage Manager plays within a production as well as to find out a little of the history that led her to work with the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.

Lydia views her role as the hub of the wheel, linking the production team with the director and actors. She is the eyes and ears of everyone throughout the rehearsal process, supporting the director's vision while also serving as an advocate to the actors. The Stage Manager is later crucial in the transition that occurs as the play progresses into technical rehearsals and Lydia will also be present for all performances, overseeing that the stage and all props are taken care of in addition to calling the light, scenery, and sound cues and working with the House Manager to ensure that the Theater is nightly prepared for an audience.

Lydia was born the eldest of five children and had a hammer in her hand by the time she was ten, helping her father with repairs at her family's lake house. She gained an appreciation and enjoyment of theater from her mother and as a child would put on plays in the 'proscenium arch' of her parents' dining room. While at the University of Texas she became a Technical Production Theater major, and found her passion at a time when not many females went into this type of study. Later, while working in Kansas City and then at SUNY- Purchase, she found that when working behind the scenes in technical theater that she missed the rehearsal process and strong connection to the actors. This led her to become the Production Stage Manager for the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival before moving to Wisconsin.

Having taken some time off from working in the theater to raise her family of five children, she is now ecstatic to be active with acquaintances that she has not worked with for quite a while, and on a play that she considers to contain great characters and plot. She is further looking forward to calling the performance cues, her talent and experiences providing the essential link that joins the artistic with the technical to present a memorable theatrical experience. Though the audience does not see her, the management and organizational skills that she employs are critical to the success of every performance.

Bein' Pretty Ain't Easy

I can't believe we are only on the second week of rehearsal and already we've run two of the three acts!!!! What an amazing week this past week was. I am having such a great time playing within Madge's world. I feel as if each day I learn so much about this fascinating character and yet I feel as if I haven't even begun to scratch the surface. I don't want to give too much away, but I can tell you this...being pretty ain't easy!
Today we are going back and working through each act to solidify and sharpen what we've already created. I am anxious to get back to work and to continue playing.

'Till Then!


Monday, September 28, 2009

Rehearsal Recap

The first week of rehearsals is over...and we'll start on the second week tomorrow. To catch you up to speed, I'll do a recap of all that has transpired. In a very short time (5 days, count them!...) both Act 1 and Act 2 have been blocked, and this is a tremendous accomplishment. The actors are a bit shell shocked, having spent many hours in the staging and rehearsing of their blocking while becoming comfortable in the memorization of their lines and the dialect in which they are delivered. The complexities of each of the characters are becoming even more apparent as each actor continues to examine their own character's unique relationship on stage to every other character in the play. One evening was also spent on dancing, as a scene requires certain characters to dance with each other. The coordination of counting the dance steps, mastering the jitterbug, and remaining in character while delivering lines can be challenging!

This past week there have also been numerous costume fittings to make sure that everyone's costumes and accessories carry the look and feel of the play. This is the first time that the costumes are examined together, and hats, shoes, gloves, purses, aprons, and hair styles are continually decided upon.

The scenery and props are also adapted to fit the needs of the actors and script and to portray the yard between two houses where the action takes place. Here's a peek at a model of the 'grass' that will carpet the stage:

Here's to another productive week!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mind your Manners

Since its Friday, I thought it might be nice to have a bit of fun... As the actors continue to research and experiment with their own characterizations, one useful tool is to find out as much as possible about the culture and time that their particular character lives in. Often within these investigations, humorous things turn up that provide great fodder for many laughs...

Ah, where to begin?

Ah, where to begin? There are not enough words in the English language to express how excited, elated, thrilled and terrified I am to be playing Madge in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's production of Picnic. Excited, elated, thrilled, because it's an amazing role, in an amazing play, with an amazing company...I don't think I need to explain why I'm terrified. During the first read through, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. Finally, finally it was time to dig into this script and these characters. Not often have I felt the serendipitous energy that I felt on Tuesday. It seemed everything and everyone had fallen into place so perfectly.

In a foreword, written by Inge, introducing four of arguably his most successful plays, he writes, "I think every line and every situation in a play should 'pay off,' too, and have its extensions of meaning beyond the immediate setting, into life. I strive to bring meaning to every moment, every action." Inge has certainly done this with Picnic. Every second of that play is so full of life, meaning and experiences. As Michael told us on the first day, "Everything we say has weight." We've only just begun, and already, I feel as if Madge has traveled so far, experienced so much, felt so much. This is my favorite part of acting. The experiences. The opportunity to experience the character's most important moments. Like Inge, I, too, am striving to find meaning in every moment, every action. To bring life to this beautiful character and what is, in my opinion, the most amazing moment in her life; finding her soul mate. I can only hope to do her justice.

So much more to come. Thank you for coming along this journey with me and all of us involved with Picnic!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Color Inspiration

A powerful influence to the look of PICNIC are the paintings of Thomas Hart Benton, whose colorful works whimsically depicted American life in the 1950s. Two particular paintings, Butterfly Chaser and Picnic (great title!) provide the color palette for the scenery and costumes: the scenery taking cues from the more neutral earth tones and the costumes from the brilliant colors that pop from the paintings. As the production continues to progress, it is interesting to see the impact that all of these factors have on shaping the overall outcome.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day one and two

I was feeling pretty confident and excited about our first read through yesterday. I have been reading Picnic to myself for what seems like an eternity. We all gathered for a delightful hour of snacks and greetings to welcome everyone to the process. And then we read the play...it was just as satisfying as I imagined to hear all the voices of such an amazing cast.

Today we are on our feet for the first time, playing around in character...tons of fun! Had to go because break was over...little frustrated because I keep turning my back to the audience … but I think we've nipped it in the bud...Time for bed!

Putting it Together

The company had their first read through of Picnic yesterday and after months of preparations on their own, read through their parts with the others in the show. It is always exciting when all of the characters are brought to life and begin to interact with one another, their written sentiments becoming vivid. For the first time the words of the script leave the pages and become living and breathing emotions. The context, richness, and depth of each of the characters and their relationships to one another begin to form.

The cast sat around tables and carefully read through the script, concentrating on the rhythms and meanings of the dialogue. Periodically the reading was stopped to allow for discussion and insight regarding anything from a character's motivation to an examination of the themes that are being presented.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Endless Summer

Hi, howd'ya do?

I am Jonathan Zautner, a Directing Intern for the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's upcoming production of William Inge's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Picnic. This blog will take you through the complex and a bit mysterious process of mounting this piece from the moment it was just a twinkle in Director C. Michael Wright's eye right up to its exciting Opening Night. Along the way, I'll also introduce you to the people whose talents and elbow grease will mingle to create the finished product that the audiences will view.

So, back to that twinkle. It would be natural to quizzically ask yourself where a person would even begin to get a production of this sort off the ground. To jump-start this process, several key concepts were considered by the Director to get the creative forces flowing. These include a look into the dramatic life of the playwright: William Inge, the location of the play: small town Kansas, the year that the action takes place: 1953, and the time of year that the play is set: Labor Day. These four details provide a plethora of powerful microscopic springboards that will steer the course of all the pre-production planning, ideas ricocheting through the air at terminal velocity.
It's quite dramatic. For instance, by understanding the life, the depth, and very tortured fiber of Inge, and the way each character represents a part of him, certain character choices taken from the script begin to make sense. Also by examining what life in small town Kansas, particularly in 1953, was like influences many creative choices that will find their way onto the stage. Everything from dialect to the makeup of society, music, costume, commerce, and class will be considered. Collectible Life magazines will be perused to understand the colors and designs that were popular in this era, and everything will be contemplated from the style of bicycle to yes, the delectable Lady Baltimore cake, to remain authentic.
Since the play takes place on Labor Day and the day after, this holiday will have great significance on the tone of the production as well. I think that everyone probably feels a little sense of dread when Labor Day arrives and the carefree, lazy, and long days of summer begin to come to an end. After Labor Day, schedules seem to get busier and days shorter, and the realities and responsibilities of daily life are a bit more apparent. Some of the drama we'll examine in Picnic is due to these startling realizations.

The calendar has officially marked the season as Autumn and the leaves have already begun to turn. With Picnic, it is refreshing to go against nature and spend a few more weeks enjoying the heat and reckless joys that occur before the sun finally goes down on a seemingly endless Summer.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Are we there yet?

Hey everyone...My name is Andrew Voss and I am a senior in the acting BFA program at UWM. I have been given the amazing opportunity to play Hal Carter in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's production of "Picnic." I have to admit that I am a little anxious as the first read through is finally only a week away. I was cast as Hal in January and have been working on the part as much as possible since...meeting about once a month with C. Michael Wright our amazing director, just to play around with some character choices, and keep up a dialogue about the play. The sessions have been incredibly helpful, and I am grateful to Michael for all his wisdom and insight. I am ready, and am counting down the hours...for now it's back to work on Act III! Hope to write again soon.
Thank You for time,

MCT enters the blogging world

Ta-da ... here is our very first post! Rehearsals for our upcoming production of PICNIC start next week and we look forward to giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the process. Plus PICNIC is a collaboration with the UW-Milwaukee Theatre Dept - stayed tuned for details about that and more!