Saturday, November 13, 2010

Dinner Break....

Just got back from the dinner break for Tech.

For those of you who care - I had a BBQ Chicken Wrap and it was very tasty.

The afternoon was spent working with lights and cues - working with actual beer bottles with liquid, working with actually making toast onstage and burning waffles. It doesn't sound like much - but all those little things add up to a big ole helping of awkwardness onstage.

When I was in college and working a summer theater job a girl I was working with that summer stopped mid-scene and simply said, "acting's hard." It was something we quoted for the rest of the summer, and years to follow until we graduated college. I find myself saying it every once in a while jokingly, but now out of context and away from those who heard it first and are in on the origin of the joke - it has taken on a different meaning. Mainly, a much more serious one.

Acting IS hard. It is a series of choices. And a lot of them. And to make something that is theatrical seem like it is an everyday scene from the lives of three people is an incredibly difficult thing to do.

Tami Workentin has the hardest job, I believe. As the Mother in this 1946 setting, she has to deal with serving Mr. Tasse and I breakfast - not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES. And none of them the same way. It is a delicate dance of bringing 2 cups, then 2 spoons, then juice, fill coffee, drop bread in toaster, and so on and so forth. Jim Tasse and I only need to eat, drink and talk. I commend Tami for being able to do all of those things and make it seem effortless and just another part of the daily life of these people.

I think a lot of time people don't realize just how much work goes into the 'small things' onstage, or the 'business' that the actor is doing. Often times in talkbacks we will get the question, "how did you memorize all of those lines?" But in a play like this - or any American Realism play - the business is just as much of the magic and craft.

To give you an idea how much thought goes into this stuff. A waffle iron is used for one breakfast. This waffle iron is placed in a cabinet - and it could have been placed in the closest one for convenience, but what story does that tell? Instead, taking into account that waffles are the son's 'favorite' and he has been away at war for two and a half years, the waffle iron was placed in a cabinet high above in the kitchen. So high that Tami has to get a step stool to reach it. The story that we tell with that simple shift in location is huge.

It shows first off that waffles are not an everyday thing. It is an event. One that does not happen often. It also tells the story that since the son has not been there for two and a half years, it has moved to a place for items of disuse. The mother put it away until her son's return, and this is a morning that she has been thinking about for quite a while. So by placing the iron in that location - that simple choice speaks volumes. Does it read onstage? Yes. Will you notice it? Probably not. But for the keen observer and the good storyteller, all of it lies in the details like that.

Heading to Tech

I am writing this about an hour before we head into Technical Rehearsals for 'The Subject Was Roses.'

I admit I have been neglecting my duties as of the last few weeks of rehearsals, so over the course of Tech, I will try to fill you in on the many happenings of the last few weeks, a bit about the process, the props, and other enjoyable tidbits that you might not otherwise have the chance to hear about or see in the final production.

To begin I should introduce myself to you. My name is Nicholas Harazin and I am an actor. In ROSES, I play the role of Timmy, the son who comes back from WWII to his parents house in the Bronx. I last blogged for Sweetest Swing in Baseball - so you may have read some of my ramblings there as well - for the sake of all involved, I will try to be as eloquent and terse as possible.

I will be bringing my computer with me to Tech and reporting from there when I have the chance. For those of you who do not know what Tech is, it means that it is a Technical Rehearsal, in which all the elements of design come together in the space. The Set is done, and tweaks will be made here and there as we work on it. The lighting is going to be set, we will work on setting levels, as well as working with some 'practical' cues onstage - where one of us actors has to turn on a light switch or a lamp onstage, and the lighting designer has to light the room as though that were the only source of light in it. The costumes will be worn today for the first time and we will see how everything fits and works in the space. And the sound designer will be adding his elements throughout the play.

The actors have had weeks to rehearse this play, and now, essentially, it is the designers chance to rehearse their play with us and see how we all come together to make what is sure to be an incredible production.

Report back soon.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

If the shoe fits!

You might remember me as MCT's Audience Development Coordinator, but this time I am wearing another hat - designing costumes for THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES! It is a big job to design and produce period costumes (this play is set in 1946). The smallest details are so important - especially in the Studio Theatre!

Today my biggest dilemma is that I can't decide which shoes to buy for my leading lady, so I have to buy three pairs. Thank goodness for places like Zappos that have super speedy shipping and free returns! Now I can bring three pairs to my fitting and determine the perfect shoes with the help of the most important person - the one wearing them! After she decides, I will return the other pairs. Tami Workentin (Nettie) will be wearing these shoes for a few hours every performance for the duration of the run. As a designer, when I am thinking about which shoes to provide, not only is it important that the look is correct, but that they last the duration of the run and provide comfort for the actor. Many actors have been on their feet all day and the last thing they want to do is come to their performance after a long day and put on a pair of uncomfortable shoes! So, even though it would be nice to save some money and go to a cheap shoe store, I have to splurge a little for the actor's sake! Instead of buying multiple cheap pairs of shoes, I will buy one good pair. This also benefits the actress when she has quick changes and doesn't have to worry about changing her shoes!

So there you have it - a little insight on shoes from the costume designer for today. Now, I am off to my favorite vintage boutique - Vintageous in Bay View, to continue my search for Tami's (Nettie's) wardrobe!

Munro American Maria Soft Style Angel II Trotters Jeanne

Friday, October 8, 2010

do you know where you're goin'?

Hello MCT blog-world!

I can hardly believe MAIN-TRAVELLED ROADS is officially one week from opening! Time certainly flies when you are doing what you love most in the world, especially when you have the support of such a wonderful team. When I accepted the part of Aggie about one year ago, I thought that fall of 2010 was eons away, and here we are about to head into tech week after a great rehearsal process.

My experience at MCT is unlike anything I have had the opportunity to experience. From the initial audition and throughout this entire process I have felt so welcomed and at home with the MCT family. Everyone is so genuinely invested in creating something special and I feel blessed to share this experience.

I’ve learned a lot in rehearsals, from the scene work to charming music. The most challenging aspect of the show so far has been learning the “air piano.” There is a certain scene in which I get to play an imaginary piano in space, and let me tell you it is not as easy as one might think! Unlike jamming out on an air guitar, (a skill that many can claim they have mastered) “air piano” requires acute concentration and precise execution of finger placement. I gave up learning piano at an early age, a decision I regret as I prepare my “air piano” debut. However, I have the advantage of getting to play with the awesome Scott Haden during the scene, so I’m not too worried. Wish me luck. :)

I recently heard a writer on NPR say something to the effect of “At the very end, life is the story you tell.” This idea made me so excited to be apart of MAIN-TRAVELLED ROADS and have the opportunity to share Hamlin Garland’s touching stories. At our first reading, Michael said these stories were 'old world Wisconsin.' I grew up visiting Old World Wisconsin on school field trips, where I could live out my Little House on the Prairie dreams. This play reminds me of those stories I fell in love with as a little girl and live out the make-believe world of a simpler but more difficult time.

More about Garland’s stories later…which everyone should read! They are fascinating and it is so great to see how Dave Hudson translated the stories to the book/lyrics. I was surprised to see how much was taken directly from the text and how it adds authentic truth to the play.

Happy Friday! :)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Minnie the Moocher


Tomorrow at about two thirty in the afternoon, Jeeves and I will be having tea with many of the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's patrons. If it were entirely up to my Aunt Agatha we would solely be drinking "oolong" tea. She would also try her utmost to make sure that I get nowhere near the piano, or sing a song of any kind. Therefore, I will be doing just that. I have been fooling around with "Minnie the Moocher" - some 'Cab' fellow wrote it, or some chap wrote it in a cab... I can never be certain - either way, I will be playing that ditty. The words still don't make all that much sense to me, but I think I will get Jeeves to explain their meanings. I might even ask him to join in on the chorus. He's never been much of a musical person and it's nice to know that I can at least best him at one darned thing. Hopefully everything will turn out to be a smashing success.

See you then!
-- Bertie

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

One endeavors to give satisfaction, sir.

Although one takes great pride in executing one's duties faithfully, one is not often used to seeing one's praises enumerated in print. I had not considered the amount of fame I might incur by being a part of this production. I do not wish to alarm Sir Rupert or Mrs. Spencer-Gregson, however, it seems members of the press have not only been invited to our theatrical, but have written about it, effusively.

Our skit has become somewhat of a critical darling, and now, I fear I will never hear the end of it from Mr. Wooster.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Such Potential

Our little production of one of my exploits is finally open and ready for public viewing! It was ever so delightful to run around on stage in front of so many Americans. The show went off without a single hitch (even Bassy somehow managed to come away without a single blunder - his first time since we began this whole rigmarole) Even if something were to go wrong, I'm always assured knowing that Jeeves is right there with me. He certainly is quite the marvel. The audience was laughing the whole way through, and I think they rather enjoyed it! It's an honor to be working with my friends and family for the next few weeks (even though Aunt Agatha is a bit of a dreadful woman - always staring at me and judging my every move). This is only the very beginning of the process and I cannot wait to continue this romp. Unlike Bassy and myself, It has such potential.


- Bertie

Friday, August 13, 2010

Gad, what a time!!!

Dear Mr. Blog,

Tonight we previewed our theatrical endeavor for a real, live audience! I don't know why they call it a preview, because we did he whole thing for them. At any rate, they seemed to enjoy it almost as much as I did. I must say, it took me a few tics to relax and become comfortable, speaking infront of so many people (I'm told that even more people will be at the actual "run.") Once I settled in though, the show seemed almost to run itself. All that "rehearsing" really pays off, when you're a sweaty, panicky mess, grasping for your next "cue."

Speaking of sweat, I must say, one would have to travel to the jungles of South America to simulate the conditions on that blasted stage. The lamps used to illuminate us are quite powerful and give off considerable heat. That, coupled with woolen garments and our quite aerobic spectacle, turns me into bit of a mobile sauna. There is little relief upon leaving the theatre, as the outside conditions are very similar. I was told that if I didn't like the weather in Wisconsin, America, I would have only to wait, and it would change. Well, I'm waiting.

Dearest Mr. Blog, I am overflowing with excitement for your and the Mrs. attendance of our endeavor. If you do or do not have children, please do or do not bring them as our show is appropriate for the whole family, that you may or may not have. There is love, laughter and some pretty solid lessons. Above all, Mr. Blog, please remember that the only reason we are performing is to make you laugh. It really is a cure-all.


Eustace Bassington-Bassington

Thursday, August 12, 2010

You may rely on me, sir.

Last night we completed our final practice session for our theatrical. This evening we shall endeavour to give it the first public performance.

Over the last week we have smoothly integrated the technical elements of the production, including adding lighting effects, timing the sound of the wireless, acclimating to the three-walled representation of Mr. Wooster's flat, and learning to change clothes much faster than any human should, by right, have to do. Our intrepid team of director, designers, stage managers and crew agilely navigated through the, I am told, sometimes treacherous waters of technical rehearsals, and we seem to be quite ready to share our adventures with an audience.

It is my sincere hope that ill effects of the revelling in which Messrs. Wooster and Bassington-Bassington no doubt took part following the rehearsal will have subsided by the time doors open this evening. If not, it proves lucky that among the very first actions I take in the presentation is the handing of a refreshing glass of Gentlemen's Relief to Mr. Wooster.

Remarkably, some things never change.


Friday, August 6, 2010

I did think perhaps the circus was in town.

I must admit, my perception of Mr. Wooster's habits may have been forever altered by the event I just experienced.

Mr. Wooster gave me the morning off, and I have just returned from a sojourn to what seems to be an American tradition: the State Fair.

The fairgrounds are a strange mix of Picadilly Circus, Covent Garden, The Drones Club, and a barnyard, dotted with numerous livestock pavilions, carnival attractions, and food stands. I was taken aback at the simultaneous ingenuity and propensity to disgust exhibited by the myriad stands devoted to foods on a stick, which foods ranged from the ridiculous (Irish Stew?) to the sublime (Caramel apple). I was treated to the fair's official treat, the cream puff, and admit that I was quite taken by the silky pastry wonder. In fact, one imagines the entire culinary enterprise of the fair could have been devoted to dairy, pie, and various sausages without any sticks whatsoever, and still have been a success, without the humiliation of spaghetti-and-meatballs-on-a-stick. (I note that as an Englishman, I may not have much room to speak on this subject.)

I was able to watch the judging portion of some sort of bovine competition, although one would be hard pressed to elucidate what, exactly, the criteria were upon which the beasts were judged. There was rather a great deal of lowing and cud-masticating, but I do feel certain the animals were judged on other points, as well. Additionally, I took in the majestic splendour of the magnificent Clydesdale workhorses, and the somewhat silly attitudes of the braying goats and sheep. Although Mr. Bassington-Bassington encouraged me to find the poultry pavilion, I admit the task was daunting, and I was unable to comply.

I have never in my life been accosted by so many people in such unfortunate suits of clothing. If one did not know any better, one might infer that some of the gentry were completely blind when selecting their costumes from their closets, or, at the very least, were dressing as circus clowns to better enjoy the festivities.

There were a number of spectacular mechanized contraptions upon which patrons could enjoy wildly spinning out of control. This, combined with the odor of the livestock, the fried-cream-cheese-and-bacon-on-a-stick, the seemingly free-flowing taps of beer, and the omni-present flourescent T-shirts went, one imagines, a long way toward what must have been the intended goal of making oneself ill.

Certainly, nothing compares to this in England, nor do I expect anything ever shall.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Strange Air-tight Box of Room

On Tuesday the second of August, I was driven to a radio station to record an advertisement for our upcoming theatrical. It was a small building filled with even smaller cube-like structures that held people of all kinds - mostly using the telephone or small computron devices like I am using this very moment. We snaked our way through this office maze and they locked me inside a strange air-tight box of a room. The walls were padded, and for a brief moment I thought that I may have been coerced into admitting myself into a psychiatric hospital. (Something that Bassy has tried - and failed - to do to me on many occasions.) Luckily, all I was asked to do was read from a piece of paper through what appeared to be a silk stocking. I completed it satisfactorily in what a very kind gentleman with ear coverings called "one take." He could hear me perfectly well even though his ears were entirely blocked. He then complimented me on my "accent work," I thanked him kindly, then laughed knowingly that I never do any work of any kind.

Tune your dials to 93.3 FM beginning Monday the ninth of August to hear my voice over the waves. I do hope that they play it during The Champion Spark Plug Hour or The Clicquot Club Eskimos Show, as I will be listening at those times.


-- Bertie

Monday, August 2, 2010

It would seem a most daunting task, sir.

Yesterday we completed the first fortnight of our rehearsal process. The day was capped with what is termed as the "designer run," whereby all of the ladies and gentlemen who are recreating Mr. Wooster's flat and the lighting and musical effects therein gather to watch an entire "run-through" of our little story.

Knowing we would have to make this presentation, we spent the last several days rehearsing both acts, by running long segments and then repeating them, over and over, not unlike a polo or rugby team repeating plays out on the pitch. Also not unlike rugby, there was a great deal of grunting, falling over, gnashing of teeth, and rending of garments. Fortunately, all of the furniture remained intact over those days, so we were able to continue using it for yesterdays presentation. When the rehearsal process has come to a close, I will certainly need to send it for reupholstering and repair. More likely, I shall just have it replaced altogether. Mr. Wooster will never notice the difference, I suspect.

The designer run, remarkably, was quite well received. I do believe it was the first time our full complement were able to recite our roles without the help of playscripts, though certainly we all required a little help now and again. There is a most curious habit in the theatre whereby a participant who has misremembered a segment may call out "Line!" in the middle of the showcase and it will be repeated to him by stage management. I wonder: if Mr. Wooster were able to call for "line" in his life, would I be able to more efficiently deliver him from trouble? Too often I am forced to rescue him (mainly from himself, might I add) by some sort of secreted means.

The designers, one hopes, were able to start to see how the entire production might look. I will admit it has been rather strange to rehearse in a facsimile of the flat which only represents Mr. Wooster's sitting room and hallway. It is my understanding that while that facsimile will gain more verisimilitude upon moving into the theatre, we will still be without the basic structures of bedrooms, dining room, parlor, foyer, and kitchen. Further, we shall be able to see the innards of the walls from the "offstage" at all times -- it is pure façade, as if we are living inside-out. What a strange world this is. Although, as I think about it, no stranger than the life Mr. Wooster leads. One cannot help but marvel at the sheer volume of backward situations in which he finds himself.

Next week we shall continue running the play in its entirety to ferret out scenes in need of fine-tuning. At week's end, we move into the theatre proper. One can only imagine what Messrs. Wooster and Bassington-Bassington will turn topsy-turvy down there.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

From Eustace

Dear Mr. Blog,

I hope this electronic letter finds you well. We are halfway through our "rehearsal process," and it is going splendid. Although I must admit, some nights I leave the rehearsal hall with my brains more scrambled than my morning eggs. Our director tells us that we must not only say our "lines" but do so in a way that furthers the "plot" to the "audience." This sometimes involves saying something that means the opposite of what it appears to mean. I have been informed that this is called "irony," and that it can be quite funny...even "comedic." I think you and Mrs. Blog will appreciate it.
We are having a ripping time and much anticipate your attendance. We are apparently going to perform the skit more that once. So you will have many chances to join us and possibly view variances between each night's performances. (Although, I'm sure it will work out exactly the same every night.) My best to the Mrs. and your possible children.


Eustace Bassington-Bassington

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Freddy Widgeon would be proud.

Yesterday, during a twenty minute resting period between rehearsal blocks, I found myself coming up with a cunning way to pass the time. Being here in the United States of America, I have been educated with the ways of their American "football" - although the "foot" is hardly ever utilized in the game. Using the rules that I have become familiar with, I simply folded up a piece of paper into a perfect equilateral triangle. Bassy sat across the table from me, and held up his fingers to form "field goal posts." We then spent the next twenty-odd minutes trying to finger flip the triangular football through our own hand-made posts. (Secretively, I was actually trying to knock Eustace on the nose with it) Quite the jolly way to spend the interval.

-- Bertie

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hidey Hidey Hidey Ho, sir.

Last night, after our rehearsal, I accompanied Mr. Wooster and Mr. Bassington-Bassington to the pub. This particular establishment had been converted for the evening into a makeshift music hall of a sort. Patrons were encouraged to choose a popular song and sing it to those assembled, while the wireless pumped out the accompaniment.

Mr. Bassington-Bassington and Mr. Wooster are both accomplished vocalists, and had the pub cheering with every selection. Their decorum, on the other hand, left something to be desired.

After a libation, the gentlemen convinced me to try my hand at what the Japanese have taken to calling Kerry-Okey, or "Empty Orchestra." I chose a song, informed the young miss operating the wireless, and proceeded to deliver. Even in my school days I was loath to take the stage, but the liquid encouragement allowed a modicum of esprit de corps, and I led those assembled in a rousing sing-along.

Mr. Wooster seems to be feeling the ill effects of last night's endeavors. I don't imagine he'll stir much before noon; I shall be sure to mix him a dram of my patented Gentlemen's Relief upon his awakening.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

With remarkable frequency

Over the past week, Mr. Wooster, Mr. Bassington-Bassington, Mrs. Spencer-Gregson, Sir Rupert, Miss Winklesworth-Bode, and I have been running through the first half of our little skit, working out what seems to be called stage business along the way. We have run through the first half now a number of times, each time adding a small bit of action here or removing a bit there.

This afternoon we will embark on part two, wherein all manner of things go wrong before I am able to right them. I do hope at the end of all this I will be able to have a bit of rest and relaxation, though I suppose the only way to ensure that would be to find my way out of Mr. Wooster's service. Even on holiday, he has an incredible knack for finding himself in a scrape.


Sunday, July 25, 2010


Right. Bertie said I should write a few words to you. We have never met, but my name is Eustace Bassington-Bassington. I live in London. I enjoy rugby and dogs. What do you enjoy?

This past week I have been participating in what is called a "theatrical endeavor." It is where we all tell a story out-loud and move around as well. It is very difficult to remember what to say and when. Lucky for me, the story we are telling is about me. So, I know a lot about it.

I am quite looking forward to the day we shall perform our endeavor on a real live stage, and you and I will meet. I promise to do my very best for you. My best to Mrs. Blog and your children, if you have any.


Eustace Bassington-Bassington


What, ho! What, ho! What, ho!

Bertie Wooster, here! And I am so very pleased to be able to punch out a few tid bits into this little machine and share them with the entire planet.

One full week of hard work is behind us and I cannot stress more how tired this whole process has made me. I am currently sipping on a new whiskey concoction that Jeeves whipped up of his own making. The only thing left to do today is take my nightly bath, which Jeeves no doubt is drawing this very moment.

I wonder how Bassy is coping with the so very close proximity of his Uncle Rupert. My Aunt Agatha is a fire-breathing dragon, but ever since Sir Watlington-Pips found out that we would be performing a theatrical, he has been quite the handful. He seems to think, that in the process, Bassy will manage to disgrace his family name. He no doubt will, but after filling Sir Rupert up chock full of lies, he seems to be warming up to the idea.

I have finished my beverage, and Jeeves has just informed me that my bath is at the proper temperature. Somehow, he always times it out perfectly. I had better go.


-- Bertie

Thursday, July 22, 2010

As you say, sir.

Yester-eve we commenced to staging our theatrical. Even in the service of Mr. Wooster, I have never been involved with such an undertaking. The sheer amount of information one must retain is staggering: one must remember the words coming out of one's mouth, recall where one is to stand or walk, imagine different furnishings and properties from the ones at hand, and, perhaps most importantly, attempt to prevent one's master from diving headlong into the soup. I haven't the slightest notion how professional actors do such a thing year in and year out.

We started, as one does, at the beginning, with page one of our our playscript. Sir and I begin our skit together with a rather elaborate routine of cat and mouse, which one might mistake for farce if it weren't so very grounded in the reality of our past. After an hour and a half we had covered a grand total of five pages (out of 91). Things were looking a bit grim. However, we had a lovely turnabout when Mr. Bassington-Bassington arrived to begin work upon his section of the play. Although he and Mr. Wooster often needed separating, I am very pleased to report that due to the pacifying effects of Mr. Bassington-Bassington's need to perch on the sofa, the next section progressed swimmingly, and we were back on schedule by the time Mrs. Spencer-Gregson and Miss Winklesworth-Bode arrived. Here things took a slight turn for the worst, again, as Mr. Bassington-Bassington's tongue-tied, stumbling antics created quite the obstacle to our forward progress. After numerous suggestions by those assembled, and a great deal of rehearsal, and re-rehearsal, we were finally able to solve a number of questions. (Or, at the least, have them solved "-ish", as our fearless leader, Ms. Tami Workentin-Snoose so quaintly puts it.)

Fortunately, although I was often required to do a sort of juggling act one rarely sees outside of the Variety Theater or Picadilly Circus, no China was broken and no furniture needed to be sent out for repair. Of course, one should never be so thoughtless as to presume a streak of one day will extend the six and one-half weeks stretched out before one, but I shall endeavour to do my very best.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Good afternoon, sir

Allow me to introduce myself: I am Reginald Jeeves, personal valet to Bertram Wooster, esq. It is my distinct pleasure to write in this electric journal for the next several weeks to share with you the trials and tribulations of the Wooster household as we prepare for a little theatrical representation of our lives.

Yesterday, at tea-time, I had the rare (mis)fortune to meet Mr. Wooster's school-chum Mr. Eustace Bassington-Bassington, along with Mr. Bassington-Bassington's uncle, Sir Rupert Watlington-Pipps, Mr. Wooster's aunt, Mrs. Agatha Spencer-Gregson, and her god-daughter, Miss Gertrude Winklesworth-Bode, as everyone gathered at the new flat to discuss preparations for our little adventure. Also invited were a number of sir's friends, including (but certainly not limited to) Mr. C. Michael Orville-Wright, Ms. Tami Workentin-Snoose, and Ms. Judith Farnsworth-Martel, whose birthday was also being celebrated. I had set out a lovely luncheon of fruits, cakes, and cucumber sandwiches, which were summarily snapped up by all present.

We commenced to bat around a few ideas for our presentation, including how to dress up the flat to show it in its best light, which suits would be most preferable for sir to wear, and which furnishings should be used. We then set to reënacting a particularly engaging account of one of sir's misadventures with his friends and relations. This particular story almost kept us from enjoying a scheduled holiday in the Riviera, but it (once again) fell to me to keep Mr. Wooster's head above water, and in the end, all survived and went on swimming as if nothing had ever chanced.

After we concluded the skit, most of the guests returned to their homes, and the remaining few fell to relating stories of how and when we met, and what has happened in the intervening years. Sir Rupert regaled us with tales of the Jute business, Mrs. Spencer-Gregson took great pains to mold Mr. Wooster, Mr. Bassington-Bassington told of his life of leisure on the golf course, Miss Winkleswoth-Bode waxed rhapsodically on German philosophy, and Mr. Wooster sat, as usual, stunned. I, of course, took copious mental notes of all that was said so as to better explain it to Mr. Wooster in the morning, after the effects of his Martini had worn off.

We agreed our little tale of mistaken betrothal and false ownership would be a fanciful one for American audiences, and decided to meet again this afternoon to begin work in earnest. I will be sure to keep you up to date with all the goings on at the flat, as I am sure there will be plenty upon which to ruminate.


Monday, April 26, 2010

What one can find on the internets.....

So after a second week of shows and a fine lot of audience members, I found myself relaxing and surfing the web. I was in the midst of researching roles and plays for this coming summer at American Players Theater, but also for fun, I just happened to google 'baseball playing chickens' and this lovely 1955 article found its way onto my screen.
The wonders of the internet never cease to amaze me. I have shared it with the cast and crew already - but now I figure I should share it with our audience as well.
It's crazy to think they actually DO exist.
Check it out. Enjoy.,1544577

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Our home opener....

As many of you know we opened Sweetest Swing in Baseball this past weekend. It was great to finally get an audience in the theater and to hear their reactions to the show.
It is the addition of you, the audience, that really creates the theatrical experience. You are what makes theater happen.
A lot of times you will hear people talk about adding the audience as the final 'character' or the final 'element', and this is absolutely true.
The thing that makes live theater such a vital experience and something that film and television will never come close to doing is that we share the same space, breathe the same air for a brief moment in time while we share a story.
And that makes the audience just as vital a part of the experience as the actors, technicians, playwrights, directors, and designers.
We cannot exist within a vacuum, creating our art on our own, for our eyes only. We need to share, and we need to share with a community, to complete the circle.

And this opening weekend felt like just that. So I thank all of you who came out this weekend and shared the show with us. Those of you who laughed, moaned, stood up and cheered, I want you to know that makes all the difference. We feel that onstage. It feeds us. It teaches us as actors. We are there live in the room with you and we are listening and reacting to you as much as you are to us.

And to those of you who have not yet made your way out to Sweetest Swing, we have two more weeks left of performances and plenty of chances to see this wonderful show. The reviews are out if you want to check them out online. But I think maybe you should just take my word for it and stop in to see this show. ;)

On one final note, I really must say once again - it is the audience that makes the show. You are the finishing touch. And as we continue to perform you teach us how to hone moments from rehearsals, where to hold for laughs, what makes you cringe. Mary even said there was a moment this weekend when somebody in the audience blurted out "oh, no. please don't", when her character starts inquiring about her doctor's failed dance career, and Mary said that it kind of put that moment in a new light for her. In that instant, that particular audience member's reaction, shined a light on a part of human experience that we maybe missed in rehearsal. And moments like this happen more often than you think. We will walk offstage and head to the dressing room and think 'why did they laugh at that?' - 'Why that reaction?' - and it helps us to better understand a moment and hone our craft as artists and hopefully better understand the human condition and the story which we are telling.

So I thank you once again. I thank you for supporting Milwaukee Chamber Theater and live theater in general. It is vital to the idea of community in a day and age where interpersonal communication is brought to a minimum in pursuit of the most efficient, almost always electronic, mode of delivery. Any coffee shop in the nation, you will find a lot of people in one room connecting to their online communities, paying no attention to the community around them. But that is a story for another time.
I am happy to say that Milwaukee has a community - I think - that sees the value of live theater, and the importance of that storytelling ritual that makes a community whole and vital. Thank you.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Speaking of the set...

Read Nick's post below about transitioning into the new space, and then to see what he's refering to watch John McGivern's Footlights Minute in the link below!

Transitioning to the Space....

As I promised, I am back and I wanted to quickly talk about the transition from the rehearsal room to the stage. I began talking about it before but did not get too far into the subject.

No matter how you look at it - even if it looks easy - Art is hard.
Partly the simple act of putting yourself out there to be judged and criticized.
But also the creative act and process itself.
In theater, in particular, it is a struggle to tell the story in the best possible way that serves the author's vision and director's intent. And we spend weeks in a room working through scenes, sculpting each moment beat by beat, tracking the progression through to the very end.
We make good choices, and sometimes we make very bad choices. I am one who is just getting used to making the bad choice to make certain it WILL NOT WORK. And that too is beneficial, as afterward, I can mark that choice off the list completely.
And over the weeks of rehearsing and sculpting scenes, we get used to the surroundings, the intimacy of the small rehearsal room, the warm wooden floor and the rest of the 'white noise' in the visual background behind our scene partner that we, as storytellers, really begin to connect with the language and the person with which we are speaking.

And then .... Tech week strikes!

We move into the theater and we begin adding all of the technical elements to the show. Lights, sound, the set, and costumes. All of a sudden, the intimacy of the tiny wooden floored room is gone, and we a thrust into a larger space, surrounded by the all white set, bright lights and a sound scape we are not entirely used to. And even though we knew this was going to happen - and we knew the set was going to look the way it does, and things were going to sound like they do, we are all of a sudden out of our element.

Peter Reeves and I have told each other - "acting really shouldn't be that hard. All we have to do is walk and say some words" - but somehow, that simplest little thing is sometimes an impossible task.

And it is somewhere within the transition from the rehearsal room to the stage during tech week that we end up losing a lot of the work that we did in rehearsal to simply get used to playing in this new space - with all of the new elements added. And it becomes a process of getting back to that comfortable place again, where you are able to become used to the 'white noise' of a towering set, or costume pieces that you have not seen before. After that happens you can again begin focusing on the text and telling the story. Which is why we are there in the first place.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

In Tech.....

Today is our first ten out of twelve. Which means we work from 11am -11pm, with a 2 hour break for dinner. Hence the term Ten out of Twelve.
We have been in the space for three days now, on a BEAUTIFUL set, with great lighting, and a really solid and at times chilling sound scape.
Walking into the space the first day and seeing this all white set was amazing. And then when any of the actors come out onstage - you literally cannot take your eyes off them. Any shred of color in costume just pops out against the white. It is truly going to be a beautiful.

And now it is a matter of us all getting used to playing on the set - used to the sound cues and the shifts, and making sure we are still telling the story. More on that a little later, Judy Martel just called us back from break.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Designer Run....

As many of you are probably already aware of, the designer run is NOT a 10k or anything, but rather an opportunity, often the first opportunity for the designers working on a particular show to see how far it has come along.

It allows the designers the opportunity to see the play in a full run, before they have to add their individual technical elements. It also allows us actors the opportunity to follow our character's arc through the whole show - sometimes for the very first time in sequence, since the original read through.

I can say that this particular designer run was one of the best of which I have ever been a part. 'Line' was called by actors made three times - and we were all on top of our game. Listening, telling our story, making sure that moments hit when they needed to land. That everything was in place to take our lead character Dana along her path, to help her end where she does in the play. It was also great to hear people reacting and laughing after being alone in the room for two weeks.

There have been other designer run-throughs that have not been as lovely as this one - and I think that this one, is a testament to the artistic team that Michael has assembled for this project - and how we all jump into it 100%.

So, the function of a designer run, is not only for the actors, but as I mentioned before but moreso for the designers. It allows a sound designer to see how actors are playing certain moments, and how their sound design might support those moments. If there is something that is particularly soft, then maybe a music or sound cue will not be inserted there. Also, if there is shift music between scenes, I can only assume, seeing what note a scene ends on, helps inform what music gets put between that scene and the next to help further the story.
I can only assume that for a lighting designer, it is incredibly helpful to see how the stage space is being used as far as blocking, so they know exactly how much of the stage they need to light and when. For a set or properties designer - I can see how it would be beneficial to see how the actors use the set, if tables are being stood on and need to be braced, if chairs are being thrown against walls or knocked over -and sometimes, not as extreme as that.

But the point I am trying to make, is that these designers sometimes only get this one opportunity to see the landscape of the show before tech week when all their elements get put into practice. And it always amazes me that they are able to design the show well in advance of the first rehearsal, see a run through like this, and then make the alterations needed (if any) off site, and come back a couple weeks later all set to go.

And it reminds me just how collaborative an art form Theater is. How one story, relies on so many different elements working together, in tandem. How, much like I mentioned in an earlier blog that the building of a character is a sequential string of choices, the technical elements of a play, from lights, set, props, costume, and sound, are all themselves created in that similar sequence of choices to support the same story the playwright set down on the page.

So once again, I tell you that this production is going very well. I am extremely proud to be part of this cast and this process, and I cannot wait for you to see the final product.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

And we are on our way....

Today rehearsal starts at 5pm so I thought I would drop a quick line before heading in.
Last night we finished blocking the entire show. So now from top to bottom we have a frame work of how the show is going to play, and now, we are charged with the task of playing moments, and filling out the story.
I can say that personally, these next couple of weeks are key for me. I need this time to actually ground myself more within the world of the play and the life of my character. Solidifying choices, and sequences to help tell the story of Michael and Brian, but also to support the overall arc that the character of Dana needs to travel. As a supporting role in a show, it is always a fine balance I try to find. I want people to be engaged by my character and want to see more of them, but I also know that I cannot distract from what the story of the play really is. Whatever choices I make should help showcase, in this case, the story of Dana. The playwright has placed all of the characters into this story to serve a purpose, teach a lesson, form a choice, that will eventually lead Dana from the beginning of the play through to her final moment onstage.
And this is what makes the job of being an actor enjoyable and fun for me. To have that challenge of telling my own character's stories, while at the same time I am staying true to the author's intent.
On a similar note, I have decided since my character of Michael is going through rehab, that I too, as the actor, am going to stay away from alcohol for the run of the show. I know that some people may say that this is too 'method' - and that I should simply act the part... that I do not need to live that part of the life of the character. But I think in this case, it is a very important part of telling the story of Michael, as truthfully as possible. I have had several people in my life, who were/are addicts. To alcohol, to drugs. Some close, and some not so much.
For those people, it is a challenge to stay away from that addiction. I think it would do dishonor to them to play a character trying to recover, and turn around after the show and have a drink.
It may sound crazy, but as I mentioned before in an earlier post - acting and creating a character is, for me, a series of sequential choices that make up a man's life.
This is just one choice in that sequence.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Sweetest Swing on Radio?

I have been absent for several days, but rest assured that I will not be absent for long. Pretty soon I will not only be on your computer but the air waves as well.
To explain what I mean, this morning I had the wonderful opportunity to head into the radio station with Cara and tape a radio spot for The Brew. Next week we are doing another one as well for a separate radio station.
So when I said what I said before - that is what I meant. By no means do I have a morning talk show on the radio. As much fun as that would be. ;)

Friday, March 26, 2010

It's a small world after all....

As the title says - I was reminded how small of a world the theater community can be, even when it spans from coast to coast.
Yesterday at rehearsal, as we were proofing our bios for the program, Linda Stephens and I found out that we both had a mutual friend. Her ex-husband, Kent Stephens.
As it happened, I was talking about some of the MN theaters I had worked for, and she asked how long I stayed in MN. I said from about 1981 to 2005, and then she asked me if I knew Kent Stephens. Crazy thing is - He was my mentor and teacher while at the U of MN. He was an acting coach and friend, and I even bought his 1995 Saturn Sports Coupe before he left for the East Coast.
He is currently out there now and has created a theater called Harbor Light.
But yesterday, I was just so pleased that the world is so small and that I had the opportunity to finally work with Linda Stephens, after hearing so much about her, and then finding that we are all a little more connected than we think we are.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

This is our job....

Today I woke up and rehearsal did not start until 3:30pm.
Now I must say for someone who used to wake up at 3:30am to make his way to serve lattes in the Third Ward for almost three years - and THEN go to a serving job and THEN rehearsal or a show and finally hit the sack at 11 or 12 at night, only to start it all over again in a few short hours ... this shift in timing is a welcomed change.

But this is our job now. We get to play. And that is wonderful.
And trust me, the late start time is nice, but there are also times - as I remarked to Michael Wright today in rehearsal - that I am pleasantly surprised when I am reminded we actually get paid for this.

The worst part about our job is memorizing our lines. Hopefully this is gotten out of the way fairly early on - because after that - it is not necessarily smooth sailing - but it is always a pleasant journey. Even when it is hard. Sometimes, especially when it is hard.

But today the journey seemed smooth. We blocked the first scene in Occupational Therapy, with Mary, Peter and me. Much like how we are all still feeling each other out as actors and artists on the second day of rehearsal, this scene had to deal with three characters and how they navigate getting to know each other for the first time - which informs the relationships as we progress through the rest of the show.
At one moment, we find ourselves spending a great deal of time talking about Peter's character's 'drawing' - which is not even there on the page, but since we as characters see it, we discussed what it might look like.
Just to say, it is not a nice 'drawing' - blood, knives and whatnot as the script indicates, but we sat and talked about it, tried to pose it in our minds, Peter even used Mary and I to demonstrate what he thought the script might be indicating. And that was ten minutes of our day. Playing out what a stalker/psycho's 'drawing' might look like. Finally, it was suggested that we all draw our own interpretation and bring it in and we would vote which one we thought fit best.

You may read that and think .... really, that's your job? And I will say, Yes ... and it is incredibly important work. We get to imagine for a minute what a particular moment in time is like, for an entirely fictional character. To breathe life into words - to form a sentence - and a sequence of events - that develop into a character. Hopefully one that you believe in, are intrigued by, can relate to and care about. And sometimes, it is our job to make you hate them.
But that is what we have the honor and opportunity to do.
It takes time to wonder, to think, to open your eyes to all the sorts of possibilities why a character is constructed the way they are, and it takes a lot of ten minute sessions - like the one regarding Peter's drawing, to create a sequence of precise choices to tell the story you want the audience to hear.

Our job is to rehearse our imagination. And that is wonderful.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The First Read.

Howdy Everyone -
My name is Nicholas Harazin. Just thought I would introduce myself as I am new to this forum. I am pleased to say you will be hearing from me a fair bit in the months to come - so I simply wanted to introduce myself. And there we are, first thing is out of the way.
I have the honor of being part of the fantastic cast of THE SWEETEST SWING IN BASEBALL- the final show to wrap up the 35th season at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre which celebrates artists. And let me tell you how cool it feels to have a theater choose an entire season to celebrate little ole you. ;)
Today was the first time the entire cast, director, and designers had the opportunity to meet in the same room and start to play. An added pleasure with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre is that there is also an audience of patrons, friends, board members and administrative staff that join us for this first stumble through.
For me the first read is always a wonder. I think for each actor it is something different and for me, I know it is something that has changed over time. Even though my acting career has been short - I remember when the first read still felt like the first audition. That if I did not do well then I may not get to keep my job, that I had to prove that they made the right choice in hiring me. Now I find that a lot of pressure is off. I already signed the contract. There is no going back. The first read is, as Linda Stephens put it today, a great opportunity to 'just hear the voices'. And with this cast it was precisely that.
In hearing each of the actors speak the words Gilman put down to paper, I heard things that I would NEVER have heard when reading the play in my head. Choices that were made that I would never have come to as an actor all by myself. And it was the combination of this, hearing Michael Wright speak about the play, and the designers talk of their visions, that I once again realized how important this story is, and how necessary our work in the theater can become.
There are certain productions as an actor that stand out in your history and other ones that fade away. I think the ones that stay with you are the ones that are truly creative, truly collaborative, and also vital. Both to those that are telling it and those experiencing it. This already feels like a show that is in good hands, all around. A precious metal of sorts that we want to hold onto, to protect and to finally share with every audience member who walks into the theater. It is an opportunity to tell one final story this season about artists, but moreover of simple people trying to simply get by the best they know how.

It is a beauty, and I look forward to sharing it with you every step of the way.
Be well,

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Resonating Story

Yesterday afternoon, I had the pleasure of being a guest speaker for Talk Theatre along with two other young theatre artists in Milwaukee, Brandon Campbell and Michael Cotey. We each had the opportunity to introduce ourselves and our backgrounds in theatre. Then we discussed how we've been involved with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre this year, especially regarding the production of DUET FOR ONE and what we've taken away from the experience.

For me, DUET FOR ONE is a story about facing reality and finding a realistic way to cope with the pain and struggles that life throws at you. As an artist, I relate to the character Stephanie’s passion for music and the violin. And although something as drastic as MS probably won’t affect most of us, this play really examines the question of identity and how do you move forward if you can no longer be the person you’ve been in some vital way. What would I do if I had to give up theatre? I mean, I have no idea how I would cope with that. And actors and artists of any sort, like anyone really, all need to find balance in life and joy in other things like family and friends or other interests in life or else we’d go crazy - whether from failure and rejection when it doesn't work out, or simply from not having something else to escape to. When an unexpected factor like MS is the reason why you are forced to give up your art, that’s just so tragic and unfair. So I may not be able to relate to that extreme of what the character is experiencing, but I do think this play has an immense power to influence an audience! You don’t have to be an artist to fear what it would be like to have to forfeit a vital piece of yourself and then try to move forward and fill that void.

And one of my favorite things about the art of theatre is its power to speak to an audience and to move them in some way. There is such depth to both characters in DUET FOR ONE and they cover such a range of emotions and subjects that something is bound to reach each audience member, whether it is related to struggling with a disease, crushed hopes and goals, relationship struggles with parents, or the depth of love with a spouse, and even the question of faith and the value of life. This is a truly powerful play that I believe any audience member can relate to on some level.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

10 Questions with C. Michael Wright

Our question and answer series is back, this time with C. Michael Wright, producing artistic director of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and actor in DUET FOR ONE. Since Michael wears two hats, he gets two sets of questions.

As Artistic Director
Michael Cotey, education assistant: For the folks at home, describe your main day-to-day function at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. How has that evolved since you've taken the position?

C. Michael Wright, artistic director and actor: My days can vary drastically, depending on what projects we’re in the middle of. Of course, much like everyone, a good portion of each day is devoted to generating and answering emails and phone calls. There's always a meeting or two with staff members, artists, production personnel, board members, donors and/or educators. There's generally some writing involved, newsletter articles, narrative for grant proposals, interview questions, speeches or just jotting down notes for the next meeting. There are always artistic decisions to make, scripts to choose, artists to hire or design presentations to respond to. There are always reports to review, budgets to study, marketing materials to react to and "Thank You" letters to sign. I'm a list-maker and a long-range planner. I do a lot of organizing and scheduling. My calendar is almost always open, and often I'll be looking at two or three years down the road. Of course, I'm constantly reading (and re-reading) lots of plays, but my office hours are so busy, I tend to do that in my "free time."

I also direct two shows a season and hope to continue acting in one on occasion. Once I'm in rehearsal, I try very hard to focus most of my energy on that particular production. That’s a little easier now that we have a solid staff and management structure in place.

MC: What makes a play right for MCT? Specifically, why was DUET FOR ONE chosen this season?

CMW: Milwaukee Chamber Theatre was founded by a group of actors that had a strong commitment to and an affinity for great literature. We’re still following that lead. I firmly believe that the word "chamber" in our organization’s name should be an integral part of our identity. Taking a cue from the world of music, I consider a "chamber piece" to be an intimate work presented by a small ensemble of highly-skilled players. The main focus should be on the power of the writing. Cast sizes don't always need to be minimal, but I don't ever want to lose sight of the “chamber” style. We’re story-tellers first and foremost; everything should stem from and revolve around the words and the story being told.

I always enjoy having a theme that threads through each season. Because this is our 35th Anniversary, the theme this year is “Celebrating Artists.” I really wanted to include a play about a musical artist and DUET FOR ONE just happens to be about a female violinist. It’s also a wonderful chamber piece for two actors, so it’s a perfect fit for MCT and for our current season.

MC: As a young artistic director myself, I am curious if it is difficult to wear the hats of both the artistic director and actor in a show at the same time. How does your administrative relationship with a production change when you are also an artist working inside it?

CMW: That’s a tough one. I’m still learning how to strike the right balance. I love theatre because it’s such a collaborative art form. I guess the answer is to make sure you surround yourself with people you trust and that you’re always clear (with yourself and with others) about what hat you’re wearing at any given time.

MC: Did you always have yourself and Jacque Troy in mind for this play, or was that an afterthought?

CMW: I’ve been itching to act again and I’m a big fan of Jacque’s work. DUET FOR ONE has been on my shelf for at least twelve years, just waiting for the right moment. Once we started planning this season, I pulled the script out and presented it to Jacque, hoping she’d be interested in doing it with me. Once she said “Yes,” I approached Paul Barnes about the possibility of directing us in it.

MC: Recently you've announced that you'll make a greater push to mentoring the next generation of Milwaukee theater artists, beginning with the collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on PICNIC. What's the next step in this plan and why do you feel it is important for the theater community?

CMW: I fear that as a society, we are losing sight of the importance and power of communal events, like theatre-going. Really good theatre can be magical, healing, even life-altering. I feel very strongly that we need to actively target and nurture the next generation of not only theatre artists, but theatre administrators and theatre patrons as well. We have a solid internship program in place, but I wanted to enhance that with a strongly-focused collaboration with an area university once a season. It’s an opportunity to get more options and scope into our mentoring process.

Our next university collaboration will be in spring of 2011, when we produce THE LION IN WINTER with Marquette, and we’ve already begun serious talks with UW-Parkside for a project in 2012.

As an Actor
MC: This is your first onstage role in FOUR years. What kept you from the stage for that time? What has brought you back now?

CMW: When I was first hired here, MCT had a large deficit, the debt was growing substantially each day and the budget couldn’t support the staff size we had at the time. I quickly realized that turning the organization around was going to require a lot of extra time on my part and very specific focus and attention, so I put my acting career on hold for awhile.

The company is in a much healthier place now; we’re definitely on more stable ground. I’m a little freer to focus my attention on the artistic side of things, which can now include diving into productions as an actor.

MC: Jacque Troy has described you as a mentor of hers many, many years ago. What have you learned from her while rehearsing DUET?

CMW: Gosh, where to begin. Jacque and I already had a very strong relationship established when we entered into this project. That bond has grown even stronger and deeper through the rehearsal process. She’s pretty fearless. And incredibly focused. This piece is very daunting for both of us, but I feel surprisingly at ease with her onstage at all times. I guess the biggest thing I’ve learned from Jacque is the power of trusting your partner implicitly.

And she operates a mean wheelchair…

MC: Your role as Dr. Feldmann requires an incredible amount of focus through listening. I think often listening on stage is taken for granted by young actors and audiences. Describe in your own words the role of listening as an actor, especially in regards to DUET.

CMW: Playing a psychiatrist is a terrific challenge for an actor; it really makes you test how still and economical you can be without completely disappearing.

An actor always attempts to be “in the moment,” alert, spontaneous and responsive. You need to believe that everything you say and hear is being spoken for the first time. So all good acting is listening and reacting, being available, taking the energy sent by your acting partner(s) and sending energy back.

MC: When you approach a script as an actor, how do you prepare yourself for the first day of rehearsal? For DUET, was there any research that you did in preparation.

CMW: A lot depends on the project, but I particularly enjoy watching films that relate to the specific time, place, or subject matter of the piece I’m about to work on. In the case of DUET, I watched a few films about Jacqueline Du Pre, on whose life the play is loosely based, as well as films with German characters, because Dr. Feldmann is German. Plus, I read and reread this script more times than I’ve ever read any script in my life. Because the language is so complex, I wanted the words to become second nature, to get them under my skin.

MC: Can you share a specific moment in rehearsal or in the process that surprised or excited you?

CMW: The moment that sticks in my mind right now actually involves a sound cue. There’s a moment in Act Two when the stakes get extremely high. Jacque and I have our eyes locked and the tension is very thick in the room. And then a clock chimes. When the sound cue for the clock played during our first technical run, the chime became part of the energy in the room. It was like a third party adding a wonderful new dimension to the dynamics, a tangible reminder that time is very important to these two people and their relationship. It’s become one of my favorite moments in the play.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DUET FOR ONE in the press...

Here is all the latest press we've gotten for DUET FOR ONE in one convenient place for those of you bloggers looking for some more reading!

Shepherd Express Review:
"Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's Touching 'Duet for One'"

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Review:
"Chamber Theatre plays 'Duet' bravely, brilliantly"

Third Coast Digest Review:
"Troy and Wright pair well in 'Duet for One'"

Milwaukee Magazine: Culture Club Review:
"MCT's DUET FOR ONE, Beautiful Music" Review:
"One Man and One Woman: Milwaukee Chamber"

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Article:
"Wright Returns to stage for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's 'Duet for One'" Article:
"Actress gets her wish in Chamber Theatre show"

WUWM's Lake Effect Feature:
Duet for One (Scroll down to the bottom of the page to listen to MCT's piece)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

5 questions with MICHELLE LOPEZ-RIOS, dialect coach

Continuing in our series of questions for the cast and crew of DUET FOR ONE, I sat down (via the wonders of the internet) with Michelle Lopez-Rios. In addition to her work on DUET FOR ONE, Michelle appeared in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's production of BROOKLYN BOY last season. She works full-time on faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee theatre department.

Michael Cotey, education assistant: What's the difference between an "accent" and a "dialect"?

Michelle Lopez-Rios, dialect coach:
I distinguish the two by language origin. For example, American English is spoken with NY Dialects, Southern Dialects, Midwest Dialects, etc. However, when an American speaks French they speak it with an American Accent. So Dialects are the regional sounds of a language and Accents are the influence of the speaker's original language when speaking a different language.

MC: How do you encourage actors to approach learning a dialect?
ML-R: Everyone learns differently, I try to do what is most comfortable for the actor. I like to give the actors authentic samples of the dialect as early as possible so that they can have time to listen to the speech pattern, sound changes, and sound placement. I give them a sheet of typical sound changes and tips for executing the dialect. If the dialect is new to the actor or if it is a difficult dialect we usually meet one on one before rehearsals even begin. I encourage actors to listen, listen, listen to as many sources as possible (TV, film, youtube, websites) and then practice, practice, practice in the dialect. I usually visit rehearsals about once a week to take notes on dialect and voice work.

MC: In DUET FOR ONE, where both characters speak with different dialects, how did you prepare yourself as dialect coach to assist both actors?
ML-R: The dialects are only a piece of the puzzle. The sounds we make (our dialects) are influenced by language, class, education, family, society, personality, age, career, race, and many other factors. I take all of the clues from the script and work with the director to help the actors find the character's voice. The specificity of that voicework coupled with the listening, listening, listening, and practicing, practicing, practicing is usually enough to keep the actors in their own dialect.

MC: Is there a dialect now that, even after your years of training, is still challenging for you to learn?
ML-R: Australian was a nice challenge in THE SUM OF US (at MCT in 2009). I think the challenge isn't so much about learning a new dialect, the challenge is learning it well enough to teach it to someone else!

But wait...that's only 4 questions. Here's your chance reader. Ask your own question below as a comment. I'll pick the most thought-provoking question for Michelle to answer.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

5 questions with PAUL BARNES, director

In a play about asking hard questions through psychiatry, it's only fitting that we ask those involved with DUET FOR ONE some hard questions about their jobs and their personal processes. This is the first part of a series of brief interviews, set to coincide with the opening of the production. My first set of five questions are with Paul Barnes, director of DUET FOR ONE.

Michael Cotey, education assistant : What drew you to DUET FOR ONE and why do you think it is an important story to tell?
Paul Barnes, director: What drew me to DUET FOR ONE was Michael [Wright]'s invitation to direct the play with him and Jacque Troy in the two roles. It's been a few years since I've directed in Milwaukee, and I think this is one of the most vibrant theatre communities in the much interesting work being done at such a wide variety of companies. There is a really healthy interchange of theatre artists who respect each other no matter at which theatre they're employed. Plus, Milwaukee has large, supportive audiences for the full range of work being offered.

But the play itself is absorbing and challenging and addresses some pretty tough subject matter. The question of what happens when what we have worked to achieve all of our lives -- and what has actually come to define us in the world -- is taken from us, never to be regained -- is an important and difficult one to face head-on. The challenges to one's sense of self-worth and to one's faith are enormous, but so important to confront if one is going to hold onto a sense of, as [Michael Wright's character] Feldman puts it in the play, life being meaningful.

MC: Every play must have its own set of challenges for a director. What was challenging about DUET FOR ONE?
PB: DUET has been challenging because essentially, it's two actors, one of whom plays a character who is confined to a wheelchair, the other of whom plays a psychiatrist. So, there's inherent and built-in physical stasis in the play. This means it's incumbent on the actors and the director to find a sense of movement and activity in the play without over-staging and making the production so physically busy that it strains credulity. I am a great fan of stillness on stage and have come to believe that good actors working with a good script can fill stillness if they just trust themselves and the material on which they're working. It's scary, but possible. Actors often like to hide behind excessive movement or business because they don't necessarily trust themselves to be enough to just tell the truth.

At the same time, we're performing DUET FOR ONE in the Studio Theatre, which means the audience will be on three sides of the stage. Thrust staging always presents challenges in terms of keeping actors open to as much of the audience as possible. My job is insuring that no one actor has his or her back to a particular section of the audience for too long -- or during key passages of text. It's the kind of challenge I relish, though -- and at this point, now that we're just about ready for our first audiences, I feel like together we have conquered the obstacles of staging a play that is dependent on two people sitting and conversing in a 3/4 thrust situation.

MC: How do you approach blocking in away that keeps the play visually interesting?
PB: Thrust staging requires playing on diagonal rather than horizontal lines. By placing actors at the corners of the stage, it gives them maximum openness to the most number of people. I also have a lot of faith that actors' backs can be as expressive and as engaging as their fronts, and that much can be conveyed to an audience by a good actor who may not necessarily be facing a particular section of the house. Subtle shifts of position (when an actor is sitting still, as is the case for much of DUET) will reveal the actor to playgoers who might have been deprived of the actor's countenance for a passage of text, and then choosing moves selectively so that the actors do not become "moving targets" (i.e., always in motion -- or so continually in motion in such a way that the audience misses what's being said) but are open to as many people as possible for key moments or portions of the script. Also, the ability to get to those positions in a way that does not seem stagey or improbable is an important part of the work of a director in a thrust theatre situation.

The staging process evolves gradually over the weeks of rehearsal; a key component of the process is working with the actors' own impulses -- and getting them to trust that they can be still for fairly long periods of time, that they don't need to feel compelled to move, and that the eyes of the director are going to serve and support them while they are also serving and supporting the audience experience. In general, I like to do a lot of repetition in rehearsal. I think it helps the actors gain confidence with what they're doing and confidence leads to familiarity and familiarity leads to freedom. Iit also gives me the opportunity to move about the rehearsal hall, checking audience sightlines and making sure that the story is being shared as equally as possible to all sides of the room.

MC: With practices in psychiatry and medicine advancing at lightspeed, how do you feel DUET fares against the test of time?
PB: I think DUET holds up well against advances in psychiatry and medicine since its debut in 1980, mostly because it is not so much a play about psychiatric practices or medical advances, but about the goals of therapy -- which for me, at least, are to help people deal with what seems to be the impossible. Not only to confront what may seem insurmountable and move to a place of acceptance and grace in their lives, but also to move to a place where against the odds they find a way to move their lives forward. That challenge has existed for years and years, and though we know much more about depression and treatment for psychological difficulties now, the hoped-for outcome remains the same today as it did in 1980 and as it did when Sigmund Freud developed the first theories of modern psycho-analysis.

MC: What have you learned from your actors over the course of rehearsal?

I think I've learned from Jacque and Michael what I often learn in rehearsal, and that's if you give good actors good material to work on, and let them do what they already know how to do, you'll get good results. I think there are a few universal truths about directing:

Don't play the end of the scene or the moment before you get to the end of the scene or the moment.

There's much tension in distance.

Don't have such a huge emotional experience yourself that the audience doesn't get to have their own experience.

Avoid playing mood or attitude -- always find the action of the moment or the scene.

The truth can often be found in your acting partners' eyes.

It's always important to find humor in even the most serious of situations -- it's human and makes the characters in the story that much more compelling.

It's also that much more painful when the bottom drops out and a character's most raw emotions and needs are suddenly revealed. Michael and Jacque have reaffirmed these directing lessons for me -- and it's been a pleasure to get to work with them on this unique and challenging play.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Duet's Final Touches...

We’re into the final days before Opening Night! Sunday was another busy day of running the play with the designers around to keep their eyes open for any last minute changes and things that need to be repaired or touched up. I’ll give you a quick run down of the weeks major events. With the show being in really, really great shape, there’s not much to inform for last minute.

Monday is a day off for the actors and stage management. The shop worked on their list of things to do and complete.

Tuesday is the final day to review the show before a dress rehearsal with an audience. This will be another run of the show to take care of any issues that haven’t been yet. This is a typical moment in the process where just going through the play again and again is the most beneficial to solidify a great performance by opening night. Also, this is also when some publicity shots are taken for advertising and marketing.

Wednesday is a closed dress rehearsal for an invited audience only. These are beneficial for a variety of reasons, because it can tell the actors and director what worked and didn’t work based upon their reactions and feelings and thoughts at the end.

Thursday is the preview performance for a paying audience. This performance can technically be stopped at any moment if something horribly goes wrong. Typically everything is complete by this performance, but the company always reserves the right to stop.

Friday is the big night! OPENING NIGHT! This is the night the full run begins for four weeks! The show runs February 18 – March 14! Check out for the calendar and details for tickets.

This has been a very educational and wonderful opportunity to go through the process of working on a show without being incredibly hands on and more of an observer. I’ve been so involved that it’s hard to look at the process from the outside before. Producing a production is certainly quite an interesting feat many companies take on, and it’s just a unique beast to undertake for art. I hope you all get a chance to see the show and appreciate the many, many hours the many people have put in to make this show a success.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Duet in Tech...

Greetings! The last few days have been very busy for everyone involved in DUET. On Thursday, the Skylight shop completed installation of the set in the studio theatre, sound equipment was set up for the next few days of tech, and many of the props, dressing, and furniture was placed on the set. It was the final rehearsal for the actors and stage management in the rehearsal hall, which is always exciting to move into the theatre. In my opinion, the set is very nice to look at and Rick, the scenic designer, did a wonderful job with the painting of the floor and walls!

Friday too was a busy day! The lights were all focused after being hung on Thursday. Jan, the lighting designer, was able to write some cues throughout the show and Chris, sound designer, worked on setting sound levels for music and sound cues. Meghan finished some more touch ups on furniture and dressing. The actors had rehearsal for the first time yesterday on the stage and took some time in the beginning to merely get ‘spacing’ and an understanding of what the world is now with walls and the real furniture. After that, they ran the show and Paul, the director, was able to watch from a variety of seats in the studio theatre to make sure every audience member would be able to see everything based on their blocking from the rehearsal hall.

Today, costumes were loaded into the dressing rooms in the basement of the theatre. It was also the official start to tech where all the designers, director, backstage crew, and support staff were in the theatre watching a run of the show while adding all technical elements: lights, sound, costumes, props, scenic. Sometimes in tech, the designers and actors find many challenges that need to be worked out and sometimes it goes really well with few decisions to be made. It all is based off of how many decisions have been made within the last year of planning the show. The business will continue until opening night, February 19!


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Duet's Designer Run

“Because the purpose of life, Miss Abrahams, is life itself; yes, the very struggle to live itself.” – Dr. Feldmann, Session 5

Today, the designers and other select production staff saw a full run of the show after two weeks of rehearsal. Personally, I have only seen act one, so seeing the second half of the show was exciting. Act two is much deeper than the first in terms of the discussions and growth of complexity in the story. Dr. Feldmann offers lots of intuitive and psychological ideas to the struggles Miss Abrahams is facing. The interesting part that I took away from seeing act two was how universal the concept of struggling is to human beings. Not everyone in the world deals with a physical disease, such as multiple sclerosis or cancer or AIDS. But having their own personal struggles in life is what makes life living, as Dr. Feldmann says in the play. The good and bad are all what we as humans face. Being able to look into ourselves, find not only the confidence but support within and from others closest to us, is probably one of the hardest things we could deal with on a daily basis.

What Miss Abrahams makes us see, as many of us do in our lives, is sometimes we internalize our feelings and negative memories, until they are triggered by some sort of impulse, releasing all this information. This is a tip of the iceberg of emotions and psychological dilemma’s that are discussed in this play.

Get ready for an enlightening and moving play of finding one’s self confidence and support to live!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Duet in rehearsals continue......

“I am suggesting nothing. I just want to hear what you feel.” –Dr. Alfred Feldmann, p. 3 – Session I

Stopping back into rehearsal, I was able to sit in on a full review of act one. Both Michael and Jacque were doing very well getting off book (having their lines memorized) for a quick definition for those who are not familiar with theatre lingo. Being able to come back and see act one after a few days was insightful and interesting to see how the arc of the play and character development has grown. I’m very interested in seeing how act two is coming along because I have not seen any of it other than hearing the first read through when rehearsals began.

I’ve continued to notice the understanding and growth of both multiple sclerosis and the importance of music, both to Dr. Feldmann, and especially, Stephanie as characters and how these two topics affect their lives in the present and future. Finding out how an individual deals with a loss as large as Stephanie does, is very relatable to all human beings. Watching the dynamic of both characters handling a loss and how to live with that is not only something dealt with on the stage, but also in each of our lives. The key is acceptance. Once that key has been internalized, progress through the present to find the next step is usually going to occur naturally.

I’m looking forward to seeing the full run of the show on Sunday for a designer run. This is typically when the show is still in the rehearsal process and all the designers are welcome to witness what has been discovered and if there are any new challenges that need attention. Look for more coming on Sunday!


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Duet in Rehearsals...

“Music, Dr. Feldmann, is the purest expression of humanity that there is. Because, you see, it’s magic; but real magic, true mystery, not trickery.” –Stephanie Abrahams, p. 24.

Today, I sat in on the afternoon portion of rehearsal reviewing act one and witnessing a variety of discussions and collaboration. Some of these discussions include both very simple choices and more long-term on-going work.

For those who are not familiar with the rehearsal process in theater, the main objectives at this point in rehearsal is working the basic movement of the actors on stage as well as making sure this movement is not only appropriate for what is happening in the play, but also allows for all audience members on all sides of the stage to see the action. Along with keeping blocking in mind, alternate questions arise. Some of these include how the transitions between the sessions work. This turned out to be a greater inquiry, because in reality a number of things are happening in this moment. One would be how both actors exit the office to make a costume change for the next visit. The next would be having enough room in the back hallway to allow for Jacque to turn around the wheelchair to re-enter. Another discussion is who would be able to close and/or open the office door for the actors to return or exit. Among this entire transition, a sound cue of a solo violin Bach sonata is being played to cover the transition.

Rehearsals seem to be shaping up well as I left seeing a run of Act One. It sounds that Act Two will be worked on this evening and will continue to deepen and fine tune as needed. That's all for now...