Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Like Riding a Bicycle ... built for 2

posted by Sara Hennessy at 1:30 PM
I’ve been waiting and preparing for this all year, joining the cast of our fall show, Grace. It’s the first fully-realized production I’ve acted in since The Shape of Things followed by The God Botherers, both in my 1st trimester of pregnancy. Preparations are a little different this time around and I marvel at just how complicated I’ve made our lives by choosing to do this. It started with scheduling rehearsal. If I was to do this play, the impact on our son had to be as minimal as possible. This meant rehearsing later at night and cutting daytime weekend rehearsals to the absolute minimum. We aren’t cutting hours, just creating more nighttime rehearsals. This allows us to put our son to bed and hurry to the theatre each night without him knowing we’re gone. Thank you Eric, Brad & Katie for making this sacrifice in your own lives to accommodate me. I’m so fortunate to be a part of such a supportive group of people.

Next, we had to hunt for a babysitter. Our son attends daycare part-time during the day, but since rehearsals are at night, we had to find a reliable babysitter if this was to work. We needed one reliable person that would ensure that we were at all rehearsals and on time, with no effect on the rest of the cast and crew. As of today, we’ve had 5 rehearsals and 4 babysitters. I’m not sure who’s babysitting tomorrow night (hopefully a friend who wants to use our washer/dryer for laundry), and for the month of September, we’ve got 4 dates confirmed. So much for that plan!

So we put in some calls to the ultimate babysitters…grandparents. Unfortunately, they live in Texas, but with some well-timed visits, we should be able to cover the week of Tech, Previews, Opening and another key weekend of rehearsals. As far as the other dates…we’re keeping our fingers crossed it all works out.

So now our schedule is as follows: Go to the office and work all day (I work a day job), run out the door at 4pm to battle traffic and pick up our son at daycare. Run home for quality time, feeding, bathing, reading and bed. Grab a protein bar for the car and arrive at rehearsal just minutes before we begin. Get home about 11:30pm. Talk to the babysitter, try to relax and go to bed by about midnight/12:30pm. At 4am, the baby’s up (a result of going to bed at 6:30pm). Feed the baby and hope he’ll go right back down for another hour or so of sleep. Generally we’re back up at 6am. Time to get ready for work and get out the door by 6:45am and start the day over.

Why do it? Maybe I’m a little selfish (or a lot). I’m so happy to have a creative outlet again. I don’t mind sacrificing the down-time or the sleep. I’m having fun and I think I can make it work. I only hope that the outcome is a positive one for everybody.

Workshop THIS!!

posted by Damaso Rodriguez at 10:07 AM
Some highly accomplished American Playwrights and The Dramatists Guild of America are lashing back with full force at Chicago Sun-Times theatre critic Hedy Weiss. From the Dramatists Guild website:

"On August 16, 2006 The Chicago Sun-Times ran a review of Stages 2006, a three-day musical theater festival that had presented eight works-in-progress at the Theater Building from August 11th through August 13th. The review was written by theater critic Hedy Weiss, against the expressed wishes of the festival, which had asked Ms. Weiss not to review any of the works since they were still in the developmental stage."

See the letter from Dramatists Guild president John Weidman here.

Check out responses from the impressive list of Pulitzer and Tony winners here.

Here's the review by Hedy Weiss which concludes its opening paragraph saying, "None of the shows presented last weekend, whether in semi-staged or concert reading style, was ready for prime time."

UPDATE: You can find Hedy Weiss' response within Ed Sobel's post here at the Steppenwolf blog.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Thunder from Below

posted by Damaso Rodriguez at 9:24 AM
During our rehearsal for GRACE last night (Sunday), at about 9:38pm, you couldn't help but hear and feel a rumble coming from the Playhouse mainstage. There was literally a vibration in the rehearsal room caused by the thunderous applause for what I could only imagine was the curtain call of the evening preview of FENCES by August Wilson (starring Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett).

If you didn't catch it, here's the excellent L.A. Times piece by Jan Breslauer that ran on Sunday. It gives great focus to Wilson's impact on the regional theatre movement in this country.

You can't help but get caught up in the excitement buzzing around the Playhouse campus. Many of us from Furious will be in the audience for Friday's opening night performance. Check back for a post on what it was like.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Critical Thinking

posted by Damaso Rodriguez at 1:21 PM
"Good criticism offers observations about a work, acknowledges its context, resists the temptation to fully dismiss or overly praise, and places the work of art at its center, rather than the critic." Edward Sobel, Steppenwolf Theatre Director of New Play Development, from his comments on 8/21

How about this for an agreed-upon standard?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Didn't we just close a play?

posted by Nick Cernoch at 11:24 AM
We're just over a week removed from the closing of Back of the Throat and we're already kicking off rehearsals for Craig Wright's Grace with our first readthrough tonight.

The production team has been completed with the hiring of our Stage Manager, who we met through the Lighting and Sound Designers from our last show. Going outside of the company's ensemble to fill positions like these has introduced us to some great artists, and it is already paying dividends by leading us to more theatre artists, like Stage Managers (a normally hard-to-fill role in the low-paying world of 99-seat theatre).

Casting is also complete as we have found our Karl. This part requires a man to play 70's and speak with a German dialect. Finding excellent older actors can be a challenge since their experiences may have led away from the 99-seat world; we found it to be so with this role. We typically send the entire script to people we call in to audition, we were reminded by a few "cancelled auditions" that our edgy script selection can scare a few actors off (as it does audiences from time to time).

(Note to actors: "no-showing" or even calling at the very last minute to cancel wastes our time as well as the time of other actors who could have read while we waited for you.)

We're happy to have found a Karl that is as excited as we are to work on Craig Wright's fantastic play.

So we start tonight with our first readthrough in the Makineni Library of the Pasadena Playhouse. We'll have design presentations to the cast, company and board members in attendance. It's great to get everyone excited about all aspects of the production before the actors read the author's work for the first time together. After tonight...on to the real work.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Playgoer Speaks

posted by Furious Theatre Company at 1:47 PM
"So here's our project--let's bring them our theatre hating friends up to date. Theatre doesn't have to be what they remember from high school, or what Broadway marketers tell them. Yes, take them to classic theatre when it's really well done. But also show them there are people their own age working for and writing in the theatre who are drawing on all the same rock and media references they are."

Check out our links to the right and you'll see one for a blog called "The Playgoer". If you're looking for some frequently updated, excellent criticism and discussion of the New York (and to a certain degree national) theatre scene, you should be reading this blog.

The quote above is from his 8/16 post on the quest for "Young Audiences" (and he doesn't mean children's theatre). We couldn't agree more. We're in. Here's to still being in their demographic when the young theatre-haters convert.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The 12th is Upon Us...

posted by Nick Cernoch at 4:07 PM
As Furious Theatre’s 11th production (Back of the Throat by Yussef El Guindi) closes, work has already begun on our 12th production (Grace by Craig Wright).

Casting and early production meetings are already underway and our first read is a little over a week away.

Most of our Production Team assembled on the Director’s porch last Tuesday for some exciting discussions about the direction in which we want to take the production design.

Pictured below are:

Christie (Lighting Design)
Damaso (Director)
Katie (Asst. Director)
Shawn (Set Design)

Damaso has been holding phone meetings with our Costume Designer (Megan) since she is living in New York until September.

Also on the always busy agenda are marketing meetings for both Grace and the fall run of our Late Night Comedy, imMEDIAte Theatre. You can say that the Furious “production machine” is indeed humming away.

I’m proud to say that we’ve learned a lot by producing 11 plays...here is to number 12!

We Should Be Doing More

posted by brad at 9:50 AM

Actors' Equity Updates LA's
99-Seat Plan

As of August 15th, the "99-Seat Plan," which allows union actors to work in small Los Angeles theatres will change. We think for the better. Check it out here.

According to information on the AEA site, posted by Glynda Chism-Tamberlyn, Chair of the 99-Seat Plan Committee, the history of this contract/plan which is exclusive to the LA market goes like this:

"Twenty-some odd years ago, members in Los Angeles wanted the Union to waive its rules so they could do live theatre and invite industry people in order to be seen; then, after enduring abuse and unsafe working conditions, they demanded their Union protect them. Producers declared that instating rules and paying actors would be the "death of theatre in Los Angeles." The ensuing Waiver Wars are legend. Equity fashioned a set of rules, which became known as the 99-Seat Plan, and that eight-page set of rules remained untouched, virtually sacrosanct, until its first member-mandated revision took effect some five years ago."

The updates to the 99-Seat Plan are bringing increased stipends to union actors, tighter restrictions on rehearsal timelines and a limited number of performances. All good things. But still not enough.

As a member of a company that is working to grow out of this plan and into a better contract that will offer insurance and pension pay, I must say that I am very thankful that the 99-Seat Plan exists. It allowed our company to start up at nominal costs and work with very talented artists who are members of the union. However, I also feel that in many ways the Plan also allows us, as a theatre scene in a spotlight market, to be confusing to audiences and many times, mediocre. We're not in this for mediocrity, are we?

See Damaso's latest entry (below) about "what have we gotten ourselves into" as actors, using the commentary of Martha Lavey (Artistic Director of Chicago's famous Steppenwolf Theatre) about actors to ask some interesting questions about what makes one want to do it. Her comments resonated with us as proof that the challenge of making it as a working actor are daunting everywhere, and it only exaggerated the challenge most actors face here. What do we do about it?

As producers, and companies and institutions... we have to do more. We have to be better than the LA 99-Seat Plan requires us to be. It's great to know there are some already doing this (and I'm proud that we're one of them). If you want to earn your living as a the Artistic Director, or Executive Director of a theatre institution that is committed to providing quality theatre for the community, and not focused on putting on showcases, then you owe it to the talent you are bringing in to pay them more than $11 per show. They are helping to make you and your company who you are. It doesn't matter if you have 40 seats or 400 seats.

If you have found/find a way to earn enough money to pay yourself a salary as a theatre administrator, it is no doubt, in large part due to the product. The skills that the actors and designers and directors are bringing to your theatre. Do more for them. And not just the designers and directors. It doesn't matter if the actors don't ask for it (because the union says you only have to pay them 11 bucks), we owe it to them. We would have no theatre without them.

I hope that the next update to the LA 99-Seat Plan creates a new tier of contract that separates out those producers in LA who could and should be challenged to do more (we all know who we are). Yes, Including us. We should be doing more.

Thanks for reading. Be Furious.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?

posted by Damaso Rodriguez at 11:33 AM
Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey wrote a great entry today titled "An Actor's Life" on their blog. She's an actor as well, often appearing in productions at Steppenwolf and elsewhere. Thanks to her artistic director position she describes herself as being somewhat exempt from most of the rigors of the working actor's life.

"First of all, my being on stage is a kind of luxury – the thing I get to do in addition to my on-going job as artistic director. Therefore, the career anxieties that are part and parcel of the working actor’s life are not mine. (When the show closes, I go right back to work – thus: to a reliable income; to a place, surrounded by like-minded colleagues; and to a purpose. These are luxuries not assured to the free-lance actor)."

It's a phenomenon (the actor-arts organization leader) that is common in Chicago at all levels.

Here in L.A. it seems to occur only in the small to mid-size theatres. At Furious, many of our ensemble members have artistic and organizational leadership responsibilities. It's something we're struggling to balance effectively. How do you ensure success in one realm without negatively impacting the other? At this point while Furious still struggles to grow its budget and its audience, when neither role (artist or leader/administrator) is able to offer a living wage, everything is a little bit compromised. We're developing ways to pick up the slack for each other when we step in to work 'as an artist' and we're trying to get better at task-managing and compartmentalizing our time and efforts.

This isn't really her point, but I'll attempt to make it part of mine later. So, she goes on to write with much respect about "the rather crazy facts of an actor's life." She says:

"Choosing to be an actor makes no sense – the career is unreliable, even if you’re good you can sometimes be bad in a particular production, or you can be good but be in a bad production, or you can be good and find yourself in a bad career (not enough work, not enough money in the work you get). It’s crazy."

"And I wondered: is this the price we demand of our artists? Is this the toll we extract of those people living out their dreams? If, as a society, we grant expressiveness, eccentricity, emotional freedom to a group of people, do we insist that they trade the joy and exuberance and release for economic security and social agency? Is the deal that: you can be an actor but only at the peril of your economic well-being and social standing?"

Unfortunately, it would seem that the answer is 'yes' to these questions ... except at the highest levels of success within the theatre (and film/tv) world. In many ways we started Furious Theatre as a way to control our own destinies, as a way to live out our dreams outside the established system. The goal was to somehow afford by our own initiative the luxuries that Lavey describes herself returning to after the show closes: "a reliable income; to a place, surrounded by like-minded colleagues; and to a purpose."

However, as our fledgling company starts to evolve into a maturing organization we can start to see a line being drawn in the sand accompanied by the question, "Which do you want to be: the actor or the "Director of Development", "Marketing Director", "Managing Director", and so on? One comes with a salary and benefits in a few years from now ... the other is your dream fulfilled, accompanied by the perils Lavey describes above. We're starting to get the feeling we can't have both. Tricky stuff, but it'll be fun to come up with a way of beating this system. Optimism still reigns.

Read all of what Martha Lavey has to say here.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


posted by Vonessa at 12:56 PM
Warning, if you haven't seen Back of the Throat yet and you are concerned about anything that might spoil the plot for you, don't read this blog.

That said, one night during the run a patron whispered "crybaby" at one of the actors on stage at the end of the play. This was said shortly after the government agents leave the battered and humiliated Khaled to "think it over". This may seem insensitive, but as all things should be, the seemingly insensitive and possibly immature comment of "crybaby" should be taken into context.

That evening we had a group of young men over from Eggleston Youth Center. Eggleston is a group home for 'at-risk' teenagers, ages 14 thru 18. Most of the young men who get placed there have had a run in with Law Enforcement at some point in time. Back of the Throat was the first piece of live theater that 14 of the 16 young men attending had ever seen. After the show the actors and director had a talk-back with the audience. After the talk-back the cast and director mingled with the audience as they all made their way out of the theatre. I was surprised when a couple of the young men from Eggleston's went out of their way to come up and talk to me. It was during these conversations I realized their 'context' of their crybaby comment.

In their enthusiasm for the play, these boys told me how similar the situation of the play was to experiences they had with police coming into their houses, pushing them around, and searching their personal things without warrants, and simultaneously treating them as if they were no better then convicted criminals. These kids did not even seem to know that their rights were being violated and certainly didn't feel they had the right to say "no." And when I asked them what they did after these incidents, they shrugged their shoulders. What can they do?

Both enlightening and troubling to think that this play was so understandable to these young men and that they viewed the interrogation experience as something so normal that anyone reacting emotionally to it was a 'crybaby.'

Monday, August 07, 2006


posted by Katie at 11:10 AM

Cut to a mildy warm California summer night, The Carrie Hamilton Theatre @ The Pasadena Playhouse, a hip improv show a.k.a ImMEDIAte Theatre in progress.....

At approximately 10:22pm, in the middle of the newsroom portion of the show (this one centered around investigative reports involving the denial of the moon landing), THE LIGHTS GO OUT. First thought, did our light board fail? Second thought, is Jethro doing a "bit" from the booth? Third thought.......LET'S PLOW ON! These people are here to see a show, lack of power shant stop us.

Magically, flashlights appear (yes, we are always prepared) and the blackout becomes integrated into the newsroom. The "News Station" we are all performing from also suffers a blackout, but our station prevails and we deliver. There are even reports from the moon, represented by our largest Mag-Lite. At one point, it is confirmed by Vonessa (in the audience, who is not officially a cast member at the time) that we, the Furious are not alone in our time of outage. The Playhouse is also out, as well as some other spots down the block. And then...just as Doug (the host and head anchor) is considering yelling "Free blackout booze in the lobby", he instead begins to close the segment by mentioning that since we have no audio he will finish the newsroom with a song. He starts to stand on top of the news anchor desk.....and BOOOM, full lights up! The timing simply could not have been more perfect and we all frollicked around the stage for a good minute celebrating along with our audience what good fortune we had that night.

The show, of course, went on after that and I dare say it was our best show yet. If you beg to differ, you can at least admit that no one in the audience or on the stage will ever forget THE INFAMOUS '06 BLACKOUT.

For more untold exciting events such as these, do not miss our last two imMEDIAte shows until October. Saturday nights @10pm! Be there or be ashamed you missed out.

Note to Back Stage West

posted by Damaso Rodriguez at 10:45 AM
Dear Back Stage West,

This is a really excellent feature story by Les Spindle on our cool Playhouse District neighbor, Theatre at Boston Court co-artistic director Jessica Kubzansky. We know Jessica, love her work, and have always found her to be extremely friendly and supportive of our work down the street at Furious.

I'd love to see a feature every week on our most prominent Los Angeles theatre scene-makers, as well as on emerging up-and-comers. Certainly, a weekly column such as this could run for years without ever running out of great subjects and would do wonders to educate us all about each other's work.

While you're at it, how about a weekly profile of one of our first-rate theatre companies? We might learn something by reading about each other's origins, successes, challenges (failures?) and the way we each struggle in our own way to produce theatre in this film/tv town.

Regardless of whether or not you take my perhaps overzealous suggestion requesting that you commit to two regular weekly features, I'm eager to read more great pieces like this.

Damaso Rodriguez

P.S. One more request. I love the idea behind the new "Cues" blog on the website, but New York is really kicking our west coast butts in the post count. It's been weeks since the last "L.A. Theatre" post, and that was by out-of-towner Jeffrey Sweet.

Great Performances in NOHO

posted by brad at 9:49 AM
This weekend four of us finally got a chance to get over to North Hollywood and see Theatre Tribe's production of Craig Wright's Recent Tragic Events. Two words to describe the production. GREAT PERFORMANCES.

The entire production is solid, but the acting is truly first rate. Some of the very best I've had the privilege of seeing, and the extremely intimate venue made it all the more engaging and rewarding. It also happens to be (I think) a great script that will probably stand the test of time even though it centers around 9/11.

Craig Wright is having a pretty great year on the local stages. We're looking forward to the West Coast Premiere of Grace, which we will begin rehearsing in 2 weeks.

It looks like they extended Recent Tragic Events one more week (the site still says August 5, but if you click to buy tix on TheatreMania you have it listed through August 12), so you can still see it. It is a good night of theatre.

Thanks for reading. Be Furious.