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.