Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Actors to your feet!

This is part two of “How a play is staged.” Part one was here. Quick backstory: My new play GOING GOING GONE opens October 1st at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood. It’s a comedy set in the pressbox of a big league ballpark. I’ve got a great cast of Annie Abrams, Troy Metcalf, David Babich, and Dennis Pearson (with special appearances by Harry S. Murphy, Howard Hoffman, and Darlene Koldenhoven). And I really lucked out directorwise. Andy Barnicle is doing a way better job of directing this than I would – and I’m a director.

The first phase was Table Work. Phase two was getting it on its feet and blocking the play.

In most productions the actual theatre isn’t available for rehearsal. They have something else playing there. So you’re forced to rehearse in a temporary location. This can be a rehearsal hall, empty ballroom, another theatre space, or someone’s living room. You tape off the dimensions of the real stage and do the best you can to simulate the real thing.

In our case, we’re rehearsing in theatres that aren’t being used at the moment.

The set itself will look very cool once it’s constructed and in, but for now, a couple of long tables are representing the pressbox counters.

One of the problems with staging this play is that for the most part these four reporters sit in their respective spots. And that can get very static. You don’t want actors moving all the time – it will look like a square dance – but you also don’t want them planted in one spot for any extended periods of time. Ever notice that on the CARMICHAEL show everybody just sits in the living room in one spot and talks for five minutes? No one gets up. No one moves around. I’m sure that’s a conscious creative choice but it drives me crazy. Most actors like to have some movement. (But not all. Bob Newhart on NEWHART would just stand behind the counter and everyone else would come in and out of the Inn.)

Notice the next time you watch a sitcom that characters are always going to the refrigerator for water or folding laundry or hanging up their coats.

So the task for our director, Andy was to find reasons for my cast to get up and move around from time to time. But here’s the key: Any move must be justified. There has to be a reason to get up, and to cross the set, and to sit down. People don’t just arbitrarily float around. Actors legitimately say, “Why am I’m going to the refrigerator?” A good answer is not: “Because I need you on that side of the room for a line you have to deliver in half a page.” That may indeed be why you want him there, but a much better answer is: “You want a bottle of water.”

So Andy has been finding ways to create some movement and variety. And the actors are helping by making suggestions. It’s collaboration at its best.

And it’s amazing how much more the play comes alive when the actors are actually performing it, relating to each other. And the sight gags work better I've discovered. 

You would think that learning blocking on top of memorizing a script would make things harder for the actors, but in fact the opposite is true. They find it much easier to memorize the words when they have physical cues.

The blocking took a couple of days, and once the actors are in the real set on the stage things may change a little. But for now the play is blocked and the actors are just rehearsing, refining, and making it their own.

Next up: Tech.

Again, for tickets, here’s where you go. You’re going to want to be there, if for no other reason than to see a few of the actors’ crossing the set!


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Speaking as a sometime performing folksinger, yep, it's true: the physical act of playing the guitar/banjo/autoharp/concertina helps cue the words.


Rick Wiedmayer said...

Good luck with the play. I just love these behind the scenes views whether its for the stage or TV.

RandomQues said...

I'm curious. Given that you have mentioned that plays rarely make money. Did you make any money on your previous play (A/B)? Both the play in Hollywood and you specifically as the writer of the play.
Or is it impossible to calculate since the play is being put on at various other locations and you can't really figure it out till it has run its course.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Friday question...

Ken said: "I really lucked out directorwise. Andy Barnicle is doing a way better job of directing this than I would – and I’m a director."

As an accomplished and experienced director yourself, it would be interesting to understand a) why did you decide to not direct the play, and b) what was your process in choosing Mr. Barnicle?

Look forward to seeing the play.

Brent said...

Not surprised about movement helping to memorize. I was terrible (I mean REALLY terrible) about getting lines memorized in school plays. I'm no leading man, so the part I always got was a static one - judge, banker in his office, that type of thing. But the musicals? Piece of cake.

As one of the people who discovered you through baseball, I'd very much like to see your play if it comes up to Seattle.

Cap'n Bob said...

When I did WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION I was the Queen's Counsel (prosecutor) and did the whole play sitting at a bench. The up side was I kept my script in front of me so I didn't flub my lines.

Unknown said...

Does the director dictate the movement? Do the actors make suggestions or is the movement always initiated by the director?

John Hammes said...

Broadcaster Kevin Harlan came up with impressive radio play-by-play last night, when a "fan" decided to fun across Levi's Stadium during the fourth quarter of Monday Night Football. Impressive, given that it was clearly unexpected and Harlan was announcing "on his feet".

Granted , all this is only vaguely related here (sports), but in all fairness, the "fan" in question clearly felt HE had no problem with blocking and staging. He probably wasn't feeling much to begin with.

AAllen said...

The Mariners are in Anaheim this series, and for the second night in a row the number two radio broadcaster is out with laryngitis. They've brought on a former pitcher with an Australian accent, which is an interesting change of pace, but I'm wondering: are you too busy with rehearsals, or did they just not ask you to fill in? It would be a great way to get a last minute refresher on the subject.

Ken Levine said...


I was not asked. I hope Aaron gets better soon. These next couple of weeks could be fun for Mariner fans.