Friday, October 21, 2005

Ruffman Checks In

posted by Eric Pargac at 3:11 PM

Well, we’ve finally opened, and what an exciting opening night it was! We were oversold and had to stop selling tickets as of Tuesday prior to opening. The capacity crowd on was our largest to ever (and will probably remain so since we couldn’t really cram any more people into our space). We also presold more tickets than we have for any other production in our history. To top it off, the audience loved it. At the end of the opening night performance it seemed as though the they would never stop applauding, and they didn’t until the post-show music finally started to play.

With a play written in verse and in the 1600s no less, it’s always a concern (at least for me) if the audience will “get” it. They got it alright! The laughs were coming everywhere we expected and more. Often we would get huge laughs in places that we never considered before. It is very exciting to perform to that sort of response. Laughter is a great fuel when you are on stage. As an actor, the more you can feel (and hear) the audience’s interest, the more you want to give. It’s one of those great symbiotic relationships that only help to improve the product.

We make it a rule not to judge ourselves by our reviews, but it’s always nice to hear good things and Back Stage West has named us Critic’s Pick, calling the production “simply delightful.”

Even poor reviews would not diminish the wonderful work everyone put into this production. Dámaso has really proven his skills as a director with this finely crafted production. Way to go Dámaso, you did an incredible job. We had the luxury of an extended rehearsal process that really allowed him and the rest of the cast to truly craft and polish the work. Everyone in the cast down to the smallest parts has created such deep, full characters. It really brings the play to life.

It’s going to be a thrill to continue working on this production. And yes, the work will continue. We work through a fight call every night, going through all the fights in the play before we open house to make sure all the moves are sharp for that night’s performance. I continue to work on my dialect and still make little discoveries about Ruffman during performances on a nightly basis that deepen the character for me.

He’s so fun to play. From the first time I tried on his coat (a very fancy number to fit his flamboyant, boisterous character), it seemed the discoveries abounded. I had worked a lot with Dámaso on how Ruffman moved, walked and spoke before that moment, but putting on that fancy coat really seemed to cement the character for me. As soon as I had it on and moved in it with its long waist, frilly sleeves and ornate designs, all that work easily found a home. The capper was a little moment in the play where Ruffman gets his own spotlight before we being our huge ship-to-ship battle. I call all the cannons to fire in that light. There in that spotlight, in that coat, there is nothing for me to do but become Ruffman to the core. The first time that light came up on me I realized that’s the character. He basically lives in his own little spotlight, seeing what he wants and hearing what he wants (all the while letting EVERYONE know exactly what that is). In Ruffman’s mind, all the ladies love him. It’s a blast playing the self proclaimed, “only approved gallant of these parts.”

Thanks to everyone in the cast and crew for making this such a great experience. For everyone reading this, I hope you get a chance to see this show. May you have as much fun in the audience as we have on stage!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Many Hats of Furious

posted by Nick Cernoch at 11:52 AM

It's obvious when you see The Fair Maid of the West, Parts I and II how many hats we as actors wear in this one production, and while playing multiple roles onstage is a new thing for most members of this ensemble, assuming multiple roles offstage is not. This marks the seventh production that I have taken on the role of carpenter, master carpenter, or Technical Director and in four of those shows I was an actor as well (I am by no means the only member of our ensemble who does this but this is my blog entry so I’m going to talk about me).

As an actor and a carpenter, the pressure usually builds leading up to tech week. The functional parts of the set have to be complete by the time we enter technical rehearsals so the cast and crew can get comfortable with all of the moving parts, spacing, entrances and exits. This pre-tech time is also usually the last chance to have “regular” rehearsals without costumes, tech, and makeup.

In the past this pressure sometimes caused a split in focus. I might have found myself worrying about how to finish a complicated set piece when I needed to be warming up for rehearsal or I may have slowed down my build work by dwelling too much on a particular mistake I made in a scene. Either way, allowing yourself to be distracted always keeps you from making strong acting choices or working efficiently.

With this production we made it a goal as an ensemble to make sure we did everything in our power to put our full focus on our art. This show was just too big and complicated. There was no way to succeed otherwise. We could not allow responsibility in one discipline to affect quality in another. Keeping this in mind we made sure to start work on the set early, finishing projects like planking the floor way back in August. As actors we also had early versions of the adapted script as well as dialect CD’s back in July, so I had no excuse not be prepared. This allowed me to come to build calls with more peace of mind.

When it came down to tech/dress rehearsal week, I remembered what I should be focused on. Instead of running around half-costumed with a hammer and nail fixing some broken trim, I was warming up my voice and going through my script. Brad and Melissa, our Technical Director and Set Designer, did an awesome job of shouldering a great part of the finishing touches that this set needed. The extended preview time and added rehearsals before we opened really allowed all of us as artists to tighten up the show we worked on for so long. I am proud of all of my hats…one smells of sweat and sawdust the other is stained with dirt makeup from a seventeenth century sea battle.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Pirate Beard

posted by Doug Newell at 11:26 AM

Back in April I decided to start growing a beard. Why a beard? `Cause pirates have beards. Oh sure pirates have eye patches, peg legs and parrots, but I think of beards when I think of pirates (Sorry that last sentence is my new vocal warm-up).

Furious was already working on Fair Maid back in April and I decided I could grow a beard to look like a pirate for the show. Sounded simple at the time, just don’t shave and I’d look like a pirate come October. From April to present day October I’ve grown a beard and with opening night just around the corner I’m finally getting to see the full results.

Lucky for the beard and me I was cast as 3 pirates, one British, one Spanish, and one French. Now I’m only playing 3 pirates if you share my definition of pirate (which is someone that sails, is a bad-guy, and as has a beard). Each of these characters requires a different dialect to color my roles as these villains.

With Sara leading the help on dialect and Damaso heading up finding the characters I continued to grow the beard. Well all my hard work of not shaving finally paid off this past week when we went into Dress and Previews. Crista McCarthy, our make-up artist for every show I’ve been around for, took over the final duties of beard maintenance. She colored, sprayed and dyed her way to three distinct looks.

The British pirate “Captain Carrol” sports a sandy brown goatee that most closely resembles my civilian beard look. The Spanish pirate “Spanish Captain” has a black forked beard with handlebar mustache. The French pirate “Ravishing Bandit” has a red braided beard.

Once on stage with these various looks I’ve found it easier to speak these pirate’s lines. Sure text analysis classes with Art Manke have helped me as well as voice and speech workshops with Jennifer Parker. But nothing quite instructs an actor like his beard. So let me take the time to thank my beard. That’s 14 times now in this blog that I’ve typed beard (now 15). And since I’ve only typed pirate 11 times (now 12)…Pirate! Pirate! Pirate!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Double Focus

posted by christiemama at 12:45 PM

Lighting: electricity, ladders, knives, c-wrenches, hot-to-the-touch instruments…not what you think of when you picture a baby, huh? Well, that’s been the life of my 5-month-old son, Joshua, for the past few weeks.
I read Sara’s blog entry about being pregnant and I can identify. I was there all too recently. I designed three shows while I was pregnant (not to mention stage managing one). Designing became more complicated. I could not go up a ladder, carry an instrument, or touch any extensions (the State of California says they possibly cause birth defects)…and those are some of my favorite things to do.

After taking off one show to bring Joshua into this world, I decided to come back to design Fair Maid. My husband, Jeff, is also acting in the show. We discussed us both participating very thoroughly before we agreed to both be a part of the production. We decided to start parenthood with a bang. We knew it would be taxing, but were also confident we could handle it. Pre-production began before Joshua was three months old.

I thought designing while pregnant was difficult. Designing with a newborn was way more demanding and challenging. Joshua is breastfed, and I don’t make enough to store and hand off to a babysitter. He also refuses formula. This meant Joshua attended production meetings, run-thrus, hang and focus, and tech with me. When I did research at home, he was in my arms. Jeff was working extra hours and at rehearsals many evenings. Everything seemed to take longer and I could never finish one thing without an interruption. In the past, if I needed to tweak a light or reset levels for a cue, I’d just go in early or stay late to get it done. Now I consider how much time I’ve kept my son at the theater. I also need to have someone at the space with me to watch Joshua while I’m working. If Joshua gets hungry or fussy, I stop and make sure he’s okay. Luckily, we’ve had a lot of extra time to fine tune before we open, because I’ve needed this extra time.

The brain has also been a hindrance for me. It’s true that your brain takes a nap after you’ve had a child. I feel like I’ve had to correct silly mistakes and work twice as hard to accomplish half as much. I’ve also been worried about how my peers have perceived my work this time around. I can’t help being self-conscious of how this is all affecting my work. I know everyone is very supportive and embraces Joshua’s presence in the theater. Any concerns about how Joshua would be accepted in the theater were quickly dissolved. Everyone in the ensemble, the rest of the cast, and even members of the Board and Playhouse smile when they see Josh. In fact, even at the expendables store where I purchase gels and lighting equipment, the men that work there gushed over Joshua.

I do believe the end result will be worth the time, effort, and commitment from my family. And, it will be a fabulous production. The designers are all wonderfully talented and the acting and fights are coming together brilliantly. The projections we’ve been working on have gelled the design concept. I have lay a hand on projections, fog, and lighting. Seeing the set, props, costumes, hair, and make-up coming together brings my design to life.

And, I do have faith my lighting design will be luminous by opening night…if I do say so myself.

Know you this ring?

posted by Katie at 10:00 AM

I had a dream one night that I was asked to be on the ensemble. I remember in the dream feeling shocked and thrilled and scared to death all at the same time. Then I thought, “this must be what it’s like to be proposed to”.

About a week later, I had a meeting with the artistic council. I was told this was standard and that we would be talking about the past season (also, my FIRST year in LA and California, for that matter) and my full-immersion experience including the past four shows with Furious. You can imagine my thoughts when I was asked what being an ensemble member would mean. So, I spilled my recent dream and explained what I thought. Being an ensemble member would be a lot like a marriage- a long-term, intensified, commitment amongst other things. I thought I’d probably still be doing relatively the same things, but with the long term goals of the theatre in mind, and my place within it at the forefront. My being an ensemble member all seemed at least a while away though, as 2 years was the general time period it took for those before me. I had a long way to go, but being an ensemble member was definitely a goal.

Later that night, we had a combination Say Goodbye to Melissa/Closing Night of Tearing the Loom Party. Everyone was in stealth mode after the show trying to surprise Melissa and set up the party. Soon enough, once the party was up and running, Melissa had conned me into the guise of going to the roof to “talk” and “say goodbye”. The funny thing is that I approached her and then she made the suggestion (totally smooth move on her part, btw). I was completely caught off guard when one by one every member of the ensemble appeared on the roof, drink in hand, and formed a circle around me. Yes I am, in fact, extremely gullible. At that point, I think Brad said something like, "Katie, we would like to know if you would join the Furious Family and become a member of the ensemble". Much like the dream, I was caught off guard, thrilled, and completely anxious. Right then and there in front of God and everyone, I said "I do" to my intended theatre company. It was a short engagement, simultaneous engagement-marriage really.

That was June 26th, about 3 months ago. Married life has been good so far. Since then I have realized that being an ensemble member is a little more than feeling like you're happily married to an inanimate object. Being involved in Furious, pre-ensemble, was the part where I fell in love. It was beautiful and intense and life changing, and there were lots of late nights. And when I was asked to be an ensemble member, it meant that this group of people that I had come to know and respect under such intense circumstances, trusted me with their baby. They had placed enough faith and stock in myself and my hard work to ask me to be permanently involved. Also, I just barely made the cutoff for retreat in Palm Springs, score.

Now, I am doing my 5th show with Furious, and it's going to be amazing. I have a gem of a part, and ironically enough Clem is the classic "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" chick, but not in that self-loathing, annoying sort of way. GO Dress!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Oh My Brain In What A Labyrinth Art Thou

posted by James at 3:35 PM

Back in March Dámaso came to me and asked if I would be interested in helping adapt Furious’ first World Premiere. Of course I said “Hell yes!” Oh, little did I know. We were going to be working on a text that was well over 400 years old, fairly obscure, in excess of two-hundred pages, and written in blank verse. Sure no problem.

The process started by tracking down a copy of the complete unabridged Fair Maid of The West Parts I and II. Thankfully, due to such modern inventions as the internet and Amazon.com that was the easy part. Quickly after reading both full length plays Dámaso and I realized that we would need to do some major editing to get this down to a manageable two act play. We had a few meetings to discuss tone and style and agreed that we wanted this to be as exciting and easily accessable to a mass audience. We started watching pirate movies(everything from Pirates of the Caribean to Douglas Fairbanks “The Black Pirate”), reading every Pirate book we could find and scouring the internet. In doing so we realized that anything we could dream up from a fantastical story point was pretty much supported by history (i.e. Pirate captains finding their own Islands and ruling them as kings).

Dámaso and I started meeting about twice a week to read the play out loud and make various notes on what we wanted to include and what we definetly needed to cut. Pretty early on we decided we wanted the Chorus character to be a major role in the first act and turn into the Queen in the second. This allowed us to make some pretty major jumps in story and also have a way to entertainingly dole out exposition.

After we condensed the script to about 100 pages, we started to refine the characters and plot points. Then once we had our first table read, we made some more cuts (a few ideas that worked in theory but not in reality). When we started rehearsals we found a few more places to make cuts and revisions and settled on the final script. I have to say it has been an interesting a wild ride working in verse and on a piece of text and history that is over 400 years old. I look forward to continuing Heywood’s story in “The Fair Maid of the West Parts III and IV”.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Swashbuckling SwordPlay

posted by shawn at 2:02 PM

LIGHT SHIFT. MUSIC. THEN AN ALARM! SPENCER RUNS ON STAGE AND IS CONFRONTED BY GUARDS. MIGHTY STEEL FLASHES AS SWORDS ARE DRAWN – LET THE CARNAGE BEGIN! SPENCER FIGHTS HIS WAY WITH GREAT FLOURISH AND FURIOUS BLOOD THROUGH TWENTY – YES, I SAID TWENTY! – GUARDS. HE BESTS THEM ALL IN WAYS THAT MAKE ERROL FLYNN LOOK LIKE A CHILD. THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING BIT OF SWORDPLAY AND FIGHTING WE HAVE SEEN YET!

Sound exciting? Because to an actor…who will be playing the role of Spencer…I can tell you…this was the most intimidating stage direction I have ever read! This play is the biggest Furious production to date…fist fights, broom fights, rope fights, sword fights, and even ship battles. So…how in the world is a small nonprofit theatre company going to pull this off you ask?

To our surprise, simply by asking Hollywood’s Top Swordmaster Tim Weske to choreograph and train us (Master and Commander, Peter Pan, the History Channel's upcoming: Bible Battles)!

We had heard of Tim and his acclaimed SwordPlay studio in Burbank and knew he was the guy we needed to give the production’s sword fights that Old Hollywood Swashbuckling feel. While doing research, we rented a couple of Errol Flynn films; The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood…low and behold Mr. Weske is interviewed in the bonus features…it was fate that he was to work on our Fair Maid production.

Tim and six of his master instructor’s Brian, Orion, Nate, Kevin, Josh, and David whipped us into shape starting with the ground work of fencing techniques. ”LUNGE” “RETREAT” “ADVANCE” shouts would echo through the halls of the Pasadena Playhouse while the instructors would approach us individually and give adjustments to our form. In unison the cast “all for one and one for all” would go through the motions of this rigorous fight camp. I used leg muscles I never knew I had…and oh…did my legs hurt. All this before we even picked up a sword!

Each fight got its own name…its own music (composed by Emmy award winning Thom Sharp)…and its own choreographer. The fight described in the daunting stage directions above is called “The One on Twenty”. Although twenty men are ‘killed’ in this fight there are actually only 6 men fighting including myself and these five had to learn how to fight and die at least 4 times each. Our master instructor/choreographer for this fight is Brian “Spidey” Danner. He was very patient with us; breaking down the fight into sections or beats just like what we do with a script or a dance. In the beginning we took everything slow; learning how to put the beats together. His excitement was contagious. He made it look so easy and reassured us that we could also make it look easy. Once he was confident the choreography was ingrained in our heads, he added details. Leaping around the stage; jumping off people; and most importantly, humor.

As Spencer I am in 5 out of the 11 fights—and loving it! But I have learned that other fights are even more challenging than fighting my way with great flourish and furious blood through twenty men. The following fight against the great Joffer (Tony Tambi) where dialogue is interspersed between blows and sometimes simultaneous is on a different level. But in this fight I learned something I did not expect to learn: getting the crap beat out of you is just as fun as beating the crap out of someone else.

Monday, October 03, 2005

We're running on adrenaline now

posted by Damaso Rodriguez at 8:16 PM

12 Days until this play opens.

For the past 7 days, the hours at the theatre have been brutal for the production team, crew and everyone in our relatively small 12-person ensemble. Most have full-time day jobs and a week of nights ending between midnight and 3am can take their toll. Despite the rough hours, our spirits are up and we're still having fun putting this thing together.

We’re now through the phase of the rehearsal process traditionally called 'tech' and last night we attempted our first dress rehearsal. It was more than an “attempt”, I guess, because we actually made it through with many bumps, but no catastrophes, and our cast is off-book (i.e., they know their lines). Our technical & dress rehearsal process for this production (The Fair Maid of the West Parts I & II) is a new one for us. There are so many cues in this show (sound, lights, fog & projections) that we’ve drawn the process out over the course of 10 days. It's paid off, too. We've never been in such a good place this many days before opening.

Tonight, we’re “OFF”, which in a small theatre ensemble like ours actually means “NO REHEARSAL, but plenty of WORK”. Instead, there will be a crew of people working at the space (and elsewhere) tonight. None of them will be “OFF”. The designers will be making adjustments and adding missing elements to the set, lights, sound & costumes. There’s marketing and audience development work to be done, the programs need to be finished and proofed, and the actors, who in almost every case are double-tasking in support of one of the aforementioned areas, will need to stop early enough to get home and prepare for tomorrow’s dress rehearsal (which again won’t take place until they’ve spent 8 hours working their day jobs).

If we don’t let up one bit, if we push through the long nights and stress, if we keep finding ways to inspire each other and be creative…well then, there’s plenty of time.