Monday, September 29, 2014

The process of a play: part 2

Here’s another installment of the process of producing my play, A OR B? which begins previews October 15th at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank. Tickets you say? Here’s where you go.

After a week of table readings and analyzing the script it was time to get it on its feet.

I’m used to television where that means the cast rehearses in the show’s various sets. Not so in the thee-a-tah.  Since another show is currently on the Falcon stage we remained in the rehearsal hall. A tape outline of the stage was laid down on the floor and the actors and director worked from that.

I’m always amazed at the actor’s process. First off, it’s like snowflakes – no two actors have the same process. But I’ve witnessed this many times. A reading is one thing, but once an actor can actually get on his or her feet and use their body their performance just blossoms. Having the physicality (and soon the wardrobe) really helps the actor get into character. In our case, Jason Dechert and Jules Willcox have taken the words and started making them their own.

And when there are places where the dialogue doesn’t feel right, our actors have the playwright right there to say, “Who wrote this shit?” And “You’ll get new lines tomorrow.”

Having the playwright (i.e. ME) there for rehearsals has been advantageous. Most of the time I just sit and watch and let the director work with the cast. But every so often they hit a rough patch in the script and it’s good that I’m there to explain my intent. And I probably save them hours of discussion by saying, “The problem is it sucks. I’ll give you something else.”

What makes the rewriting easier is that now I can tailor it to our specific actors. Whenever I write an original piece I try to picture someone in the role, even if it’s an actor I know I’ll never get. I don’t think Meryl Streep will want to play the neighbor mom in a pilot. But at least if you’re basing the character on a specific movie star it’s that much easier for the casting director to find a similar type.

In the case of my play, however, I didn’t model the characters after anyone famous. Try telling a casting director the star is sort of like my cousin Milty.

You would think that once the actors had to memorize blocking in addition to the script it would make it that much harder. But the opposite is true. The blocking helps them by giving them constant signposts.

My play has only two actors and very sparse sets. Our director, Andrew Barnicle, was able to do the initial blocking in only two days, which he acknowledged was incredibly quick. I asked how long it usually takes him to block a play. Three days.

We’re still at the stage where we have to leave a lot to the imagination. Lighting design and cues play a large part in my play and we won’t see that aspect of the production until we’re on the main stage – a couple of weeks from now. It’s like filming a movie in front of green screen. You have to imagine what it’s ultimately going to look like.

This is another reason why I’m glad I’m not directing this play. My inexperience would be so glaring at every turn. Andrew said to me one day that he was quite pleased. The actors seemed ahead of schedule – which is great, except I have no idea what the schedule is. At what point should they have the play memorized? At what point should they be in wardrobe? How do you know when you’re over-rehearsing? When can you let them go to the bathroom?

So the rehearsing continues. Stay tuned for more installments. And again, hope you get to see the final result. 

8 comments:

Michael said...

Given it is 2 actor play and I assume highly dependent on the chemistry of the actors, what is the plan in terms of the use of the understudies? If one of the two lead actors needs to miss a performance, will you swap in just his/her understudy or will you swap in both understudies?

Amy K. Bredemeyer said...

are you working/did you consider working with a dramaturg for your play?

Matt said...

Friday Question (maybe)

It seems to me that successful plays used to be made into movies. Maybe I am missing them, but that doesn't appear to me to be happening anymore. But I don't understand why. Seems like you would have a built in audience, good press already and in general plays would be more plot driven and cheaper to produce as movies. They wouldn't have to be blockbusters to be a financial success. Can you explain this to me or at least tell me I am wrong?

Thanks,

Matt

Simon Neil said...

August: Osage County was a play; there were a few others in the last year or so, but I don't recall the names right now. It's still happening tho.

Ken Levine said...

No Amy. I trusted my writer friends to give me input.

Marianne said...

Hey Ken! Friday question: Is Jason Dechert single?

Jim said...

Not sure if this is a friday question or a play question, but I'm just curious to know a bit about your writing routine when writing a play. I know that if I'm writing something that is to be read, then I need to see it on the page, to see how the structure actually looks. But if I'm writing a speech or a presentation, something that will be heard, then I need to say it out aloud for myself. If I try to write it down first I know that it will be stodgy, too wordy, boring, or just not right somehow. And even a sotto voce delivery, sitting at my desk isn't enough. I need to pace around the room proclaiming the damned thing, feeling the patterns and rhythms, and making sure I haven't left stuff that will trip me up when I come to give the speech for real.

Now I was surprised a few months ago to read that in sitcom writers' rooms no-one writes down stuff apart from a couple of secretaries specifically employed for the job. In hindsight it seems obvious, because that's exactly the way I work myself, but hey, I'm not in your business. So I'm just a bit curious to know what your writing process when its just you. No partner, no assistant, and I guess no budget for anything like that, just you. Do you sit at your PC quietly typing stuff out, the benefit of years in the business. Or do you try and re-enact everything yourself, complete with impressions of your actors, using whatever you've got to hand as props.

kent said...

My wife and I have season tix. See you on the 17th.