Monday, October 20, 2014

Previews

We’re now up and running. Here’s the latest installment on mounting my play, A OR B? – now playing at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank.

When we last left our heroes… tech work had been completed. Now it was time to prepare for the first preview, which was last Wednesday night.

The actors pretty much have the script memorized although more changes were expected once I heard preview audiences. The thing I’m stressing now is to hold for laughs (assuming there are any). When actors don’t hold for laughs two things happen. First, the audience misses the next line or joke because they’re laughing through it. And secondly, after that occurs a few times the audience will just stop laughing for fear of missing something. Of course it’s hard to know just what will get laughs so previews are very helpful.

We had a full dress rehearsal on Tuesday night for an invited audience of maybe 15. With that small a group I was pleased to get a few big titters. As I expected, it was also the NOISES OFF runthrough. In other words, there were wardrobe malfunctions, props not being where they were supposed to be, missed light cues, lines jumped, etc. Best to get all of that out of the way now.   Do you know there’s such a thing as zipper oil? If you’re doing a play with costume changes make sure you have some.

It’s amazing how you can watch rehearsals for four weeks and everything looks great but then you see it on its feet and there are moments you go "Yikes!"  So my routine this last week has been this: show up at the theatre at 4:00. Actors rehearse trouble spots or new material. The show at 8:00, notes at 10:00, and then I go home and rewrite until 2:30.

One thing I miss about being on staff on a TV show – writing material and seeing it performed the next day. Serving it while it’s hot.

Each night gets better. In fact, a new joke I wrote Thursday might get the biggest laugh in the play. And then of course there are the “Bono’s” (see yesterday’s post for explanation). There are a couple that I think I’ll be wrestling with until opening night. The actors are good sports, gamely delivering the new lines without complaint (at least within earshot).

Another difference between the theatre and TV: In TV I go down for a runthrough that consists of about 22 minutes of content. I then go back with seven or eight highly trained comedy writers to fix the script. Here it’s 90 minutes of material and just me. But I will say this – the TV training has been INVALUABLE. You learn to be facile and attack problems. There are a lot of excellent playwrights who happen to write very slowly. This is like catching a moving train. There’s also the temptation for thoughtful (i.e. slow) playwrights to keep things that should go because it took so long to write them in the first place.

I had one scene that felt too long. I couldn’t wait to get home and chop the shit out of it. Jokes I liked a week ago I couldn’t wait to cut. The next night the scene played sooo much better. That’s what often happens. You have a scene with say ten jokes and they all play okay. You cut five and the ones you keep get even bigger laughs. Don’t be afraid to cut.

I generally go into runthrough with some ideas of cuts I’d like to make. Same has been true with the play. There was one joke I was thinking of cutting because I’d like the scene a little shorter. But it got a good laugh. My first reaction was “damn, it worked.” And then I thought, “You idiot. It WORKED.” I’ll find a trim somewhere else.

We also made some lighting and blocking adjustments that quickened the pace.

The Wednesday and Thursdays previews played pretty well. The weekend was better. What’s always odd is that certain jokes that work one night don’t the next and vice versa. And from time to time straight lines will get laughs. Don’t ask me why. I’ll take it.

Something was nagging me however. I couldn’t put my finger on it until the weekend, but a lightbulb went off and the answer was clear. But it will require major light and sound cue adjustments, some new blocking, new wardrobe, and two existing scenes being intercut. It sounds more radical than it is, but still, it will take a little coordinated rehearsal time so we'll put it in this week. It’s not fair to the actors (or crew) to just throw them out there without proper preparation. Especially since I like them. But I’m excited to see the new stuff that goes in starting Wednesday.

Another problem we had to address was costume changes. Our actors, Jules Willcox & Jason Dechert, have to make some quick ones. They do it under 30 seconds, but that’s still a long transition on stage with nothing happening. We tried covering it with music and visually interesting things going on on stage, but it wasn’t enough. Our director, Andy Barnicle, came up with the fix – voice over funny dialogue. So I went off into a corner, wrote them, and they were recorded that night.

So a few more days of tinkering and previews, and then Friday is Opening Night. I think we’ll be okay… as long as we have enough zipper oil.

It’s been a blast meeting some blog readers who’ve attended the previews. Thanks so much. Here’s where you go for tickets, and if you do attend a performance please flag me down. I’m the one in the corner of the lobby just rocking back and forth.

21 comments:

Micah said...

Ken,

It's been so interesting to follow along with you as this play has come together.

You reference a lot of times how you are continuing to rewrite scenes, add jokes, etc.

If/when you have time, it would be really awesome if you would take a deep dive on a particular scene from it and show how it changed from when you first wrote it through however many rewrites up to the finished product, showing us the complete journey and why you made the changes you made.

Hope there's a touring production that comes through Atlanta!

Jeremiah Avery said...

It's been great reading this behind-the-scenes journey of your play coming together. If I wasn't on the opposite coast (weak excuse, I know!) I'd be there seeing it. All the best to you, Ken.

Your statement of "What’s always odd is that certain jokes that work one night don’t the next and vice versa. And from time to time straight lines will get laughs. Don’t ask me why. I’ll take it." is something the cast of Monty Python commented on (so you're in grand company there!). How when they toured some sketches got great laughs with some crowds but when a different crowd would meet them silence it was very jarring and had them questioning the material quite a bit. If the material got laughs again with another crowd they felt a bit more confident in it.

ed.j. said...

Congrats, Ken.
Having put a few of these up I know what you're going through. I always made sure to have enough buckets in the lobby. How do I politely say, 'vomit receptacles' ? Oh, I can't. I could never watch a live show; I would pace out of sight; in the lobby if I was in a big enough venue to have a lobby but anywhere I could hear the rhythm of the crowd. I would just listen for the flow of laughs or silence and try to remember roughly in the show where we were.
One thing to keep in mind; the people who saw Saturday's performance are the only ones in the history of the world who will see that. The ones who see next Wednesday's? Also, the only ones in the world. It's one of the things I love about theatre; you strive to make it a repeatable experience but it's unique every time. When it's a great show, you're sad more people couldn't share; when it blows, you say, "Well at least only 7 people can bad mouth it and I think I can catch most of them in the parking lot"
Keep having a ball.

ed (the quiet Canadian from your Sit Com Room - The Porn Season)

Chris said...

You'd think a play that's as well put together as "Lend Me a Tenor" wouldn't have non-stop laughter and therefore have some consistency, but a friend of mine who did it on Broadway said the running time could vary as much as ten minutes some nights. Guess you're in good company.

Anonymous said...

Ken,
Caught the Sunday afternoon preview. I'm sorry I didn't hang about to meet you afterwards. In the spirit of keeping your blog spoiler-free, especially as you say, it's still a work in process, is there a way to contact you with a thought?
Thanks,
DK

Todd Everett said...

We had a full dress rehearsal on Tuesday night for an invited audience of maybe 15. With that small a group I was pleased to get a few big titters.

It was nice of the theater to arrange a shuttle from the the porn karaoke bar up the street.

Ken Levine said...

DK,

Email me or send a private message on Facebook.

RyderDA said...

For about 10 years, I co-wrote, directed & produced a silly, once-a-year, hour long comedy stage show for my company as a fundraiser. Our show would play 3-4 times, all in one day, to about 200 people per show day.

I always found it amazing that while 50% of the jokes got laughs of various sizes in each show, the other 50% were hit and miss -- killer in one show, no reaction in the next.

I learned every audience is different. Even with the 50% of solid material, there was a huge range from solid chuckles to roars of laughter. I could never see correlation between what killed in one show to another, or even what worked within a show.

But they laughed, and in the end, that was all that mattered.

D. McEwan said...

"We had a full dress rehearsal on Tuesday night for an invited audience of maybe 15. With that small a group I was pleased to get a few big titters."

Ken's being modest. I was in that small audience, and there were considerably more than just titters. I know I let out a goodly number of loud bark laughs. It's hard for good audience responses to come from 15 people in 130 seats, but that house enjoyed the show a lot.

And that poor leading lady has - What? 8 costume changes in act 1? 10? And since it was back forth between the same two costumes, those two dresses must be awfully sturdy (While looking gossamer) to stand up to being ripped off and thrown on again and again. Sitting in the wings must be a voyeur's delight.

Ken Levine said...

Thanks, Doug. There are different dresses although some look similar. Different dresses are still cheaper than the laundry bill would be for just two.

Chuck Barris said...

Best of luck! When you take it on the road, make it I-5 north. See you in Seattle.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Levine,

It has been such a joy to read about the writing and production of your play!

I discovered your blog only a few months ago when I stumbled onto it after re-watching the first five years of Cheers on Netflix. It has been so wonderful to rediscover the show after all these years. I have spent a lot of time googling everything about the show, Shelley Long and Ted Danson, and you, which brought me to your blog. I must say the blog has given me a new level of enjoyment and appreciation for all the shows you have written. What a lovely gift---thank you!

I so wish I could come to your play, but I live a continent away.

Wishing you great good luck!

Diane D.

Diane D. said...

Mr. Levine

I have so enjoyed reading about the writing, re-writing, and production of your play!

I discovered your blog only a few months ago when I stumbled upon it after re-watching the first 5 years of Cheers. I spent a lot of time googling everything about Cheers, Shelley Long and Ted Danson, and you, which brought me to your blog. Reading it has given me a whole new level of enjoyment and appreciation for all the shows you have written---what a lovely gift. Thank you!

I so wish I could come see your play, but I live a continent away.

Wishing you great good luck!

Diane D.

Johnny Walker said...

Sounds like it's going really well, Ken! Super exciting to hear it all coming together. I wish I could be around to catch a performance, but the behind-the-scenes blog posts will have to do... At least until the London previews :)

Best of luck! I'm sure it will go great.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Ken;

I would like to know what you think of Fringe Festivals. I went to The Vancouver Fringe, and it was two weeks of plays in different theaters, but all within the same location. The plays run all day and are chosen by lottery. Would you consider doing something like that with your play?

VP81955 said...

Hope to make it, even though I haven't been able to drive since 2010. A check at Walkscore.com showed it's a bit more than a mile from the Universal City Red Line station, so I'll call a cab from there. (A bus line or two runs closer to the theater, but one of them stops running at about 7 p.m. or so.)

RCP said...

A little over two weeks from now I'll be attending and am looking forward to it!

Aurora said...

It's been great hearing you talk about this process, so thanks for blogging about it. I loved seeing your show the other night, and loved meeting you as well!

After many years of reading your blog, for some reason, I was afraid my ideas of you might all come crumbling down when I met you in person. :-P But of course, there was nothing to fear, as you're very nice. :) Have an awesome day!

Aurora said...

It's been great hearing you talk about this process, so thanks for blogging about it. I loved seeing your show the other night, and loved meeting you as well!

After many years of reading your blog, for some reason, I was afraid my ideas of you might all come crumbling down when I met you in person. :-P But of course, there was nothing to fear, as you're very nice. :) Have an awesome day!

Aurora said...

Gah! Sorry to post my comment twice!!! (Internet's wonky on the train. Wah wah.)

Norm said...

I attended the 10/22/14 performance and was very impressed with how this play is staged. Like watching a great tennis match, the back-and-forth, first his side then her side then his side again is not something I have ever seen executed. I couldn't wait to see what was coming next.

It's a very intimate theater with stadium seating so every seat is a hit!

There is so much anyone who has ever had a job and/or been in a relationship can latch on to!

GO see it!