Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's a long walk.....

There is a place on the Lake Michigan shoreline, in the Northwestern part of the lower Mitten State, called The Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes.

It's a very large pile of sand.  Very large.  As I recall from my last trip there, going up the dune is like climbing a mountain; it's a sharply vertical trip. 

Coming down is easier.  And faster.  And occasionally painful. 

But the view from the top, when the sun is shining and the sky is blue, is breathtaking.

But there is always a caveat.  Lake Michigan is a very large lake.  It is quite a bit like a small sea, actually.  And from the top of a sand dune, it looks inviting.  "Come on down, and take a dip!" it seems to say.

Like a siren's song.

But don't you listen.  That lake is TEN MILES AWAY.


And yes, there is a life lesson there.

But the thing with that particular lesson is, it's a tough one to learn, but the view is still breathtaking.


There's that.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Portrait of the Artist as an Alchemist.

And just like that, a brief run of four nights and an afternoon, it's over.  It was a good run; and more than made up for the sleep deprivation of the past few weeks.  It's a great thing to be able to flex those muscles again; and there's a kind of melancholy that comes with the idea that I may not get another chance for awhile.

And it gets me to thinkin'......

At the Midwestern College I used to work at, way back in the 80-90's which seems less ago than it actually is, I would direct two shows a year; usually, one in the Fall, and one in the Spring.  I never had the opportunity to direct the Guest Artist Show, though....that one was reserved for the Department Chair.  And hey, it's his money and his baby, so I didn't kick.  And he did give me Carte Blanche to choose what material I wanted to play with.

There are a few plays I wanted to do but never got a chance; but the ones I GOT to do were each fun in their own way.  And in each, I swear to St. Genesius, there came a transmogrification that never ceased to astound and delight me.

I would get all manner of folks to audition for the plays; theatre students, music students, and in some delightful occasions even some student athletes would come and try their hands.  And my reputation (I believe) was that I never preconceived anything.  Everybody had a shot at anything at all.  I can remember one kid, I hadn't seen him before, but he came in to read...and I put him together with somebody that had some experience...and this kid held his own.  He finished, and the people in the room politely applauded.

"Very nice," I replied.  And there was some good natured rumblings.  And then, one voice spoke up.

"That was his first time."

I stood up from my table, walked around, and embraced the kid, and quietly said, "Excellent.  You've taken your first steps.  If I don't use you, you must promise me that you'll come back."

Oh, I used him.  And he fit in well.

In the last show I directed, I had almost 100 students audition.  That's ten percent of the campus population.  I hope it was a testament to the respect they had for me, and not some prerequisite for passing a class.

But the true joy was sitting and watching a show in front of an audience for the first time.  Watching them work the audience, find the seams, the places to hold for a response, the places to glide through ahead of the audience, and the places to wait for them to catch up.....and realize that the production is a far better piece than the one you actually directed.

Lead into Gold.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


One of the best compliments ever aimed in my direction:

"You are really very good when you're having an off night."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The sigh of relief heard 'round the world.

There is something special about an opening night.

Some people get that surge of adrenalin you usually pay good money to feel; you can feel it coming off of them like shock waves.  They are figuratively (and in some cases, literally) bouncing off the walls, talking a blue streak.  Usually, loudly.

And there are other people who can be heard making deep, exhaling noises, shaking themselves to remove the tension, running tongue twisters to loosen the tongue; ticking off scenes in their head.  Making one last look at the script.

And others, hoping to keep their dinners on the inside.  The actors with Olivier's Stomach.

I fall into the last two categories, of course.  Openings are nerve wracking. It's not Christmas Day for me; it's more like the Cask of Amontillado.

And like the proverb that speaks of the darkness before the dawn, it gets worse just before the lights come up.

The first lines are the hardest, but once they are out and you hear a reaction, then the muscles relax, the focus becomes lasered, and it's "lead, follow or get the f*** out of the way."

THAT'S the moment I look forward to.

It's a good solid show; it gets subtle but telling reactions from the audience.  The pace is solid, if occasionally breakneck, and as the old saying goes, "ten thirty always comes."

It's a good group of kids, who came to work every day and put in the extra time to build the set and hang the lights and all the stuff college theatre students do.  They are, at this point, pristine; they are doing it not for a paycheck, but strictly for the love of it.  For the fun of being part of a group; for the fun of playing make-believe for a few hours a night, for a few days a month.

I met Dan Rogers, the director and Sherpa of all theatre travelers, two years or so ago, while doing THE TAMING OF THE SHREW for Capitol Shakespeare.  There are a lot of reasons to immediately like somebody; usually, it's because you think alike.  Dan reminds me a lot of another one of my major influences, the Great Sonny Bell.  Dan, like Sonny, and by extension, like ME, looks at the play, and the character, as living breathing things....with stories from the past, untold things of influence to them.  As an actor, he LISTENS.  As a director, he allows for a great deal of collaboration; he allows for experimentation; and he admires creativity.

And he tends to forgive exhaustion; which was fortunate for me.

We do this for another couple of nights; if you are in the Bismarck area, come see it.  It's on the campus of Bismarck State College, the evening start is 7:30, the Sunday matinee is 2:30.

Hey.  You don't get a chance to see me on stage that much anymore.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The art of finding quiet in the cacophony.

There are times when you need to just....stop.

The trick is to easily identify those times, and take advantage of them.

The busy is going to continue for at least two more days, and then there will be a respite, followed by several more days of busy.  You know I'm busy when I look thinner and the shock of hair that began to grey in my thirties turns white.  It's by "busy" barometer.

So, I'm ten pounds lighter and I look like a skunk.

But I was talking about stopping, not how busy I am presently.

There was a little place on London Street, just up from Sussex Gardens near Paddington Station.  I stumbled upon it by accident, of course, but necessity is the Mother of Exploration as well as Invention.  I was hungry, and I didn't want to rely upon the stand-bys I could get in the States; even though KFC and Burger King and McDonald's were everywhere.

Can't even remember what the place was called, but it was on the corner of London Street and an alleyway that would have made The Ripper feel at home.  There were several tables by the windows, and several more outside, and that's what I chose.  I felt the need to eat, of course, but I didn't want anything as mundane as eating interfere with my seeing.

An English Breakfast, with White Coffee.  And listening to the sounds of a metropolis walking past you; the sounds of strange and melodic dialect, the sounds of the tiny cars driving in jarring configurations, and a charming lady asking me if I wanted more coffee and how brilliant the day was and how smashing my accent was......

I loved that; no matter what pub I was in, no matter what I ordered, it was the same reaction:

"I'm going to have a small puppy, boiled in peanut oil and stuffed with several fluffy bunnies."
"Brilliant!  We'll have that right up!"

The English Breakfast:  eggs, back bacon, potatoes (hashed), half a grilled tomato, baked beans, and toast.  I was soooooo tempted to ask for Spam as well, but I was afraid I would either be serenaded by a chorus of vikings, or brained by a skillet.

But the thing of it was this:  I had no other place to be.  At all.  In the middle of a sunny morning, in the middle of this strange and wonder-inspiring city, in the middle of my first trip, I had no other thing to do at that moment but listen to the city and drink my coffee and think about how fortunate I have been.

So, I did.

So, in honor of that treasured moment, let us take the time to treasure this moment.

And now, THIS moment.

And now, let's treasure the memory of those three moments.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

You can't really appreciate rational thought until you've been sleep deprived.

Okay, so it went like this:

On Friday night, after an afternoon rehearsal, I managed to take a two hour nap.  Up at 8:00 pm, showered, shaved, and to work at midnight.  Worked until 10:30 am, and then off to a tech rehearsal which started at 9:00 am.  Gave it my all until about 2:00 pm, where the hours began to take their toll; a quick calculation had me awake for all but two of the past 31 hours.  Took a quick nap while the others took a quick lunch, and finished up around 4:30 pm.  Went home and fell into unconsciousness until about 10:30, showered, shaved and OH MY GOD WHEN DOES THIS TREADMILL END?

I would like to say at this point that it may not look like it (for zombies always look pretty much the same way, regardless of their emotional changes), but I am having a pretty good time with this play.  Aside from the fact that I've always enjoyed a good rehearsal process (it's the inner detective in me; I enjoy figuring out the whys and wherefores of the character, and how other people's processes affect my own), I've gotten a chance to get to know these people a little better.

They make me laugh.
They make me think.
They give very interesting stuff at every rehearsal, which is so very cool to play with, and off of.
And when I come into a rehearsal looking like I got run over by the steroid-using older brother of a Mac Truck, they laugh at the fact that my mind starts going into all directions, and the filter in my head that usually prevents it spilling out malfunctions.  A little.

This thing opens on Wednesday, so I've got a couple of extra tries to fine tune it; and costumes to wear.  And stuff.  I'm looking forward to it.

And to paraphrase:  A bad day on the stage is far better than a good day doing anything else.

And I know you agree.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rainy night in a tired town.

Yeah, I'm tired.  And against my better judgment, I'm having some health issues.  Nothing serious, mind you....the kind of health that are more of annoyance than an actual threat.  The show opens in a few days, and I'm finally beginning to THINK, rather than attempt to stare at the mental image of the page in which the lines are printed.  So, even if I hit a snag at this point, I can fumble around it, and fake it 'til I make it.

But that's not what I want to talk about.

My brain is adjusting to the huge ball of crap in the middle, by rolling around the ends; and these are places where I have not been for awhile.  Here there be tygers.

There's a life lesson is the smallest things, you know.

Years ago, when I was young and full of more, I came around the corner and saw the last person I expected.  She was standing in a small group, and as I came around the corner like a magic rabbit in a lame magic show, every eye turned in my direction.  Hers, as well.

Our eyes met for just a second; and even that second was more than I could bear.  I looked away.  I looked for an exit.  But it's never that easy.  I was slowly sucked into this small knot of people, not farther away from this person, but closer.

I was treated like a long lost friend, questions asked and answered, snarky comments made, and laughter earned.  When I looked up, she was gone.  Around the corner and through the looking glass.

And I made my excuses and went away as well, for I was late for something.  I was always late for something.  But what I really wanted to do is to give chase.

Smile at me again, as you did before.

But it was far too late for that.  Door closed and bolted; bridge burned.

But the glowing ember remains.

And I wish I didn't say what I said.  And I wish I could say what I wanted to say. 

And there's my life lesson.  Sometimes you need to think before speaking; and sometimes you need to speak without thinking. 

Friday, October 7, 2011


I'm getting there.

There are more lines in my head at this point than not.  Yes, some of them are paraphrased, and I'm working on it.  And as things become ingrained, then Doctor Austin Sloper begins to come into focus.  Connections are attempted; listening comes more easily. 

It's always easier to see and hear what's going on around you when you're not in your own head, struggling to find the words.

I'm waiting for the click, of course.  Have I ever described the 'click?'

It's actually not an original thought; it's based upon something I read once upon a time.   When I was a drinker, I was always waiting for the click.  The click in my head that indicated that I had had enough to ride the wave.  And once the click occurred, I could concentrate less upon getting TO the click, and more upon what was actually going on around me.

Weird, but true.  And for me, the progress of the development of the character is somewhat the same.

Get the blocking; get the lines, put them into your head, and wait (patiently works best, but...heh...have we met?) for the moment when you get the click; when the words and the movement and the brain and the heart all moving in the same direction at the same time.  All of a sudden, the inflections are working, the connections are made, you can react off of the other people on the stage rather than reacting off of what you THINK they're giving you, and you know what to do with your hands.

Almost there.

I'm a little sad, though; apparently I intimidate.  It's not a new thing; I've been told that before.  I am intense; another positive trait disguised as a flaw in my character.  And that sometimes puts people off, puts them on the defensive, or drives them to a hasty retreat.  And the connections I thought I was making on a personal level disappear in a puff of self-delusion.

The click of everything working on a stage is just as addictive as Comrade Vodka was.

Maybe just a tad healthier.

I hope.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hit a round ball with a round bat, and hit is square.

As I walked across the college campus just before the weekend, I dotted and dashed upon my Ipod, looking for one particular track.  It's kind of a tradition for me to listen to this particular track, in fact the whole soundtrack, as September becomes October, and the remnants of the Boys of Summer line up to grab the Brass Ring.

I still get goosebumps, every time I hear it.

At around 10:30 last night, it was the top of the ninth, two men on and two men out and Jeter was at the plate.  The crowd in Detroit was working on two levels; one level was the whooping, towel swinging, vocal intensity that you could hear all the way to Winsor; the other was a quiet intensity, a laser intensity, leveled at that square area between the knees and the letters, as wide a the plate.

Valverde wheels and deals.  And the evening's air is shattered by the force of Jeter's blow.

And there's joy in Motown; Mighty Jeter has struck out.

Is there anything like Baseball in October?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Drowning my sorrows in a bag of caramels.

All of us that ever trod about the stage with varying degrees of success have had....that dream.

You know the one I'm talking about; Christopher Durang captured it quite nicely, back in the early eighties.  You're on a stage, but you can't remember the play; OR, you are stunned that the lines you know are NOT from the play currently being done; OR they are speaking a strange kind of foreign language.

At yesterday's rehearsal, it was that kind of nightmare; and there was no waking up, shaking the head, and letting out a relieved 'whew!"  It was just a nightmare.

I will freely admit that my skills have rusted a bit; in the days of two week, one week, or nine day rehearsal periods,  you get in the habit of making the choices at home, and bringing them to work with you.  You get into the habit of learning quickly, so that the actual work can begin.  But if you don't use the skills, they atrophy. 

Oh, and I'm older now, so the synapses are not firing quite as well as they used to.

So, there I am, with fourteen pages of dialogue in front of me, and none of them sounding the LEAST bit familiar.

To my credit, I toughed it out for the first hour and fifteen minutes; but my calls for line became more frequent, and more frantic, until finally I had to put my head on the desk and wonder what the hell I was doing there.

A voice came from the edge of the stage.

"Would you like to pick it up?"  The kindly director, indicating the book.

"I think it would be better for everybody else if I did," I admitted.  I mean, you can learn a lot when you're standing in the fire, but there are other people who actually DID their jobs, and they shouldn't be punished so that I can bang some lines into my head.

Thankfully, as the old adage goes, no matter how badly the thing goes, it always ends, and I quickly left the theatre hoping that nobody would see the truly pensive look upon my face.  And I went home, curled up in a ball, and slept for five hours until it was time to earn my wages.

I hope that the sleep comes easy this morning.
I hope that the lines come easy after that.

And of course, I hear the voice of Benjamin Franklin quoting himself:  "He who lives on hope, dies farting."

So, work it, old man, for the winter is coming.