Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Pulling back the curtain

Rehearsals continue for my new play, GOING GOING GONE that opens Oct. 1 (with two previews beforehand) at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood.

As we stagger through the various steps leading up to Opening Night,  I want to pull back the curtain and share the process with you.  Larry Gelbart once said his wish for Hitler was that he had a show out of town.  This isn't an elaborate musical ticketed for Broadway; it's a modest four-character comedy headed for a small theatre in Hollywood.  But the process is the process.  

We’ve just had the “Table Work” phase.

Directing in half-hour television where everything has to move FAST, I never get the chance to do this.

Table Work is the part of the process where the actors and director sit around a table for several days and really examine the script. In some cases going line by line. What is this character actually saying? Why is he saying it? How does this argument track? Is the play’s theme being served? In my case, do any of these jokes work?

As the playwright, my feet are really held to the fire. I have to be able to justify every line. And sure enough, there were speeches that were a little confusing, thoughts that could be taken two ways, etc. I’ve since gone back and addressed them. Or clarified things that stuck out to me. And changed a few jokes I could just tell weren’t up to snuff.

At times it’s not pleasant but writers should be put to that level of scrutiny. Every line should have a distinct purpose. I know it’s a cliché when actors say, “What is my motivation?” but that’s a valid question that deserves an answer.

The other purpose of Table Work is to give the actors a chance to think about the piece, their characters, and relationships as they relate to the big picture. What is the play about? What is its arc? Just who are these characters and where do they fit in? What does that insane playwright hope to achieve?

Serious playwrights I know say that when their dramas first go into rehearsal the director and cast will take a few days to “investigate” the piece and their characters. That sounds a little scary to me, but to tackle that kind of material and really get to the emotional truth I can see where that makes perfect sense. Maybe it’s because my plays have serious themes but are dealt with comedically that I like to think I did all the “investigating” for them already.

Still, I’m forever amazed at how actors can process ninety-minutes of complex material, memorize it, and make it feel their own. The talent, desire, and discipline required is way more than this humble blogger is capable of. Hell, I get voted off the island just on the “talent” front.

The Table Work has gone fine.  Now for the next test:   Blocking and staging. Stay tuned.

For tickets, you can go here. Looking forward to meeting all my readers who support my insanity.


Chris said...

Nit-picking a bit here, but the Gelbart quote doesn't feel right without the word "musical" in it. My sources actually cite Neil Simon with revising it and attributing it to Mr. Gelbart as in “It’s so bad that Larry Gelbart said he hopes Hitler is alive and out of town with a musical." That got further reduced to "I hope Hitler is alive and out of town with a musical." To my mind, there's just something funnier about Hitler exasperated by choreographers et. al. Plus the rhythm of the line flows better with the word "musical" in it. Don't hate me for the correction and best of luck with the play.

BA said...

@ Chris: "Hitler is the comedy writers friend!" (altered from SIMPSONS commentary track) Remember that plotline in HILL ST BLUES about comedian Vic Hitler? Hitler North Dakota??

Chris said...

@BA: I subscribe to Mel Brooks' theory: "Rhetoric does not get you anywhere, because Hitler and Mussolini are just as good at rhetoric. But if you can bring these people down with comedy, they stand no chance."

Elf said...

@BA, wasn't it Vic Hitler, JUNIOR? That junior part put it over the edge for me. It also led me to hope we'd meet Vic Hitler, Sr.

jcs said...

Ken, you clearly enjoy discussing the production process and there's clearly an audience for this. Why don't you add a small session to your play in which you and the director briefly talk about a certain aspect of your work (e.g. an improved scene or creating a character) followed by a short Q&A.

When I attend classical concerts I usually also attend the brief seminar that is offered beforehand. These seminars often offer quite a bit of context and give you hints what to look for.

I think that at least a part of your audience would be interested in understanding the mechanics of creating a play.

By Ken Levine said...


We probably will have one or two talk-backs during the run of the play. It's a great idea. And I'm happy to do it.



Wayne said...

We have tickets for October 16.
The site said "only 8 left."
Grab 'em while you can.
Enjoyed Ken's last play A or B about young romance.
This is about baseball.
Can't wait!

Diane D. said...

Thank you for sharing this, Ken. It is so fascinating for those of us who have never been involved in this kind of work, but have spent some of our happiest hours in theaters.

Rashad Khan said...

I wish I lived in the L.A. area. I would snap up tickets in a heartbeat.

Unknown said...

Re: Larry Gelbart quote -
Dissolve to 1989 when Larry Gelbart (and Cy Coleman and David Zippel) are bringing the BIG musical "City of Angels" directly to New York, bypassing any out-of-town tryout.
If you know the show, it's very challenging technically not to mention the 40s style jazz pastiche score performed by both orchestra and on-stage backup singers.
Apparently, the Great Gelbart was asked about the state of the show and invariably his Hitler quote came up. The reply, (which is hearsay) was something like "...and if He's STILL alive, I hope he's previews with one in New York!"
I've always chosen to believe it because it reads like a Gelbart joke.
Bless him, all the same.