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"

ExpressMilwaukee.com Review:
"One Man and One Woman: Milwaukee Chamber"

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Article:
"Wright Returns to stage for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's 'Duet for One'"

onmilwaukee.com 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 country...so 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 milwaukeechambertheatre.com 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!