Friday, April 27, 2007

The First Five Years

posted by brad at 9:06 PM
Yesterday marked 5 years to the day of our very first public performance - the U.S. premiere of Saturday Night at the Palace on April 26th, 2002. Tomorrow will mark 5 years to the day of the feature article "The Determined and the Furious" hitting the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times - instantly putting Furious Theatre Company on the map. It hasn't been easy, in fact it seems to only get harder... but we've never looked back and we've enjoyed the experience and each other thus far.

So, how did we celebrate last night? By delaying the start of the show by about 15 minutes because 10 of our lighting instruments stop working at around 7:40 pm and while Nick and Christie and Vonessa scrambled to try and solve the electrical hijinks, Damaso and the cast/crew scrambled to re-block scenes to adjust to the lack of lit areas. The show went fine, the actors survived, the audience didn't seem to mind... and just like that, 5 years were officially in the books. Good times.

A shout out to the Theatre Gods for always keeping us humble and on our toes.

Be Furious.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Playing on the Edge

posted by brad at 9:23 AM

Doug Newell and Eric Pargac in An Impending Rupture of the Belly - Photo by Anthony Masters.

A great article in yesterday's LA Times from the new voice of Los Angeles theatre - Charles McNulty. Read it here. The article sheds some light on this year's Pulitzer process and how the winner, Rabbit Hole (which wasn't nominated by the nominating committee) made it's way to the top.

The article also serves as a sort of call to arms for the up and coming American playwrights who tend to be "pushing the boundaries" and "taking us to the edge" to continue doing so, and risk the temptation to jump ship into the higher paying world of television. But, more importantly, it serves as a call to arms for audiences to go see these up and comers' work and embrace the idea of participating in the next iteration of American Drama - even if the plays don't "please" you 100% of the time. McNulty calls out memorable experiences from his past that were not necessarily the best playwrights of their time, or the most validated and high profile artists... but who still managed to leave a lasting impression on him from his days of yore in NYC.

We get a nice mention as one of a few smaller companies here in LA that McNulty has witnessed to seemingly be successful at bringing in adventurous audiences and delivering memborable experiences. It was great for our company (and Board) to see this kind of acknowledgement. While you're responsible for your own work, fate, etc... it is always nice to have validation from the outside. It is also a great sign of what having a lead critic taking root in this city can do for the scene - serve as a valued guide and translator for audiences by communicating and providing insightful commentary on what he's seeing and experiencing all around town and WHY that is important for theatre audiences to know.

We're going to continue to focus on the kind of work we believe we're meant to produce - new plays that push the boundaries, take you to the edge (or maybe even over it sometimes) and give the audience (ok, sometimes provoke, in a healthy way) an opportunity to "feel" something during their theatre experience. Will a Furious playwright ever win the Pulitzer? We'll have to wait and see. Part of that responsibility lies with future audiences. Either way, we hope the current audience maintains their spirit of adventure and keeps coming for the Furious experience - and hopefully we'll continue to see new audiences get in line for a ticket to take the ride as well.

Be Furious.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Eye Will Survive!

posted by Eric Pargac at 4:24 PM
My eye two days after an accident on stage during An Impending Rupture of the Belly.

So for the second production in a row here at Furious Theatre Company, I have had a pretty intense, play-related eye problem. On Friday 13th of this last week toward the end of An Impending Rupture of the Belly, in which I play Clay Stilts, my character trashes the stage. There are several large City of Pasadena trash bins that I throw around in an effort to get the attention of my neighbor. As I slammed one of these trash bins to the ground the lid flew open and nailed me, full-force, in the left eye. The impact was pretty intense due to a rather perfect storm of events. The lid was at the exact top of its swing as my body was coming down over it, so since the lid was attached to the trash bin there was absolutely no give when it caught the corner of my eye socket. I got both the force of my body coming down and the swinging lid all in one big wallop.

From the reports of Shawn Lee, who plays my brother in the production and was on stage with me at the time, my knees buckled and I staggered back a few steps. I stood for a second trying to shake off the blow thinking, "Well, I know I have a monologue here that I'm supposed to do, but I'm not sure I can remember it." I just decided to plow ahead. I'm pretty sure I dropped a few lines and made up a new one or two new ones, but I didn't stop. At some point I felt a warm sensation on my face and was worried I might be bleeding, so I reached up to make sure everything was okay. When I did, my hand stopped at least an inch before it should have because my eye had almost instantly swollen to about the size of half a golf ball. My main concern was to keep the audience from realizing I'd been hurt and being taken out of the play. I tried to keep the left side of my face away from the audience as I launched into a huge fight scene. It's quite and intense fight, which I won't spoil here, but I'll just say it involves some rather large sporting equipment clashing together at high, dangerous speeds. Somehow I made it through. I kept checking for blood, and noticed all the crew in the wings was gathering to peek on stage to see the injury. After the fight there is only one scene left, at which point I was hoping the audience would think I'd done some sort of amazing quick change into some crazy swollen eye makeup.

At curtain call, I smiled bigger than I've ever smiled because I still didn't want the audience to know what had happened. Reports from those in the audience that had seen the show before and from the booth were that it was one of the best endings we'd had to the play. I heard that there were whispers of, "The lead guy just got hurt," but apparently not everyone knew. The playwright was in the audience and didn't notice (nor did he notice that I forgot parts of my monologue), and the people in the booth running lights and sound didn't notice either.

The picture above was taken three days after the accident on Monday so it actually looked worse than that on Saturday when Variety was in the audience. In fact, it looked so bad that there wasn't much I could do to cover it up. Luckily, in part of the storyline for the play, my character has recently been attacked in a random act of violence, so we were able to just go with the fact that the attack happened sooner than we were originally playing. I heard from a few long time Furious fans, though, that they were surprised that we had such a "fake looking makeup job." And according to the Variety review, they were none the wiser.

My eye after a rather massive allergic reaction to my scar makeup in Grace.
(Note: both injuries are the left eye, but this was taken from my web cam which flops the image.)

As for my other eye problem, during our last play, Grace, I played Sam a disfigured NASA scientist, who lost half his face in a car accident that took his girlfriends life. For that play, I had to build a scar on the left side of my face. You can read about the development of that on the blog at the The Scar entry and Sam's Scar 2. Well, half way through the production I developed an intense allergic reaction to the latex I used to help seal the scar to my face. My eye was irritated slightly after the fourth Thursday of the run. I woke up on Friday and it had really swollen so I went to the doctor. I explained about the makeup and let him know I would need to keep using it because we had several weeks left of the production. He gave me some antibiotics and allergy medication and told me to come back if it didn't get better by Monday. Well, it didn't, in fact it was so bad on Monday when I got to his office that my doctor almost admitted me to the hospital for emergency care. After a second opinion from a fellow doctor who shares the same office, he prescribed an industrial strength steroid and told my to call him immediately if it gets worse, and return if the swelling doesn't go down. Luckily, it didn't get worse, and I had a few days to recover since we weren't back on stage till Thursday. I continued to do the play till the end of the run. The irritation continued, but the medication kept the flare ups under control.

Well, those are my two back-to-back eye stories. Feel free to laugh at my pain, but for the sake of my eye, BE FURIOUS.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Awards, Reviews, Podcasts and More...

posted by brad at 9:54 AM
This is sort of a hodge-podge entry... so thanks in advance for indulging.

Last Monday night we had the distinct pleasure of accepting the "Best Playwright" award for Yussef El Guindi and his play Back of the Throat at the 2006 LA Weekly Theatre Awards (pictured above). Unfortunately Yussef couldn't make it down from Seattle because he was on route to Chicago where he's working on a new play. We just opened our current show and everyone was pretty exhausted, so I ended up representing the company as a single, slipping in and out pretty quickly to accept the award. It was a bit of a bizarre experience, walking in at the last minute, alone, not dressed in the suggested 1940's attire like the other 650 people in the room who were there to party. Anyway, Yussef's award came early on and I was out in a total of about 45 minutes. $20 to park, $8 for a gin-and-tonic, 45 minutes of my day... another "Furious" writer being celebrated by Los Angeles Critics - priceless.

During a time when we are focused on building relationships with writers, it gives us a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction to have the playwrights we've recently worked with get something out of the relationship as well, besides a (small) royalty check. The past three shows in particular have been incredibly rewarding for Furious in terms of benefiting from a true working relationship with three of the country's most promising young playwrights. To have both writers from our 2006 season, Craig Wright (Grace) and Yussef El Guindi be recognized for their talents as a direct result of our relationship with them is a great feeling. We were ecstatic to have the opportunity to premiere their plays here in LA and we know the recognition and attention they recieved from those premieres was sincerely appreciated.

Our current collaborator, Matt Pelfrey, is also receiving some nice recognition for his play on the Furious stage right now, the world premiere of An Impending Rupture of the Belly.

Check out some of the reviews for his new play and our production of it here.

Also look for a longer feature review from Steven Mikulan of the LA Weekly in Thursday's paper.

We're stoked to finally be working with Matt after a 5-year courtship with him. We knew he was a "Furious" writer from the beginning, and it seems that the timing and script were right for this one. It's kind of a big relief, because even though we were 100% committed to both writer and script... when you're putting up a world premiere (and our first at that), there's never anything to learn from regarding past reviews, productions, etc, you're really out there finding your way on your own. You can expect to see more from the Pelfrey/Furious relationship in years to come.

If you want to hear a little bit about our process working with Matt on this world premiere, check out our new podcasts page here. You can listen to Damaso talking about his process as a director, Matt talking about his process as a writer and Vonessa and I talking a little about our approach to finding scripts and writers.

In other news... Furious Late Night's production of imMEDIAte Theatre is up and running again. Catch it on Saturday night's at 10:15 pm.

Ok, that's it. Thanks for reading. Be Furious.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Open Rupture

posted by Damaso Rodriguez at 3:05 PM
We opened the world premiere of Matt Pelfrey's play An Impending Rupture of the Belly on Saturday night, April 7. It was a great night. We've now opened 13 plays since our debut in April of 2002. It's become difficult to get a seat to the opening performance. With an overcapacity audience (there were 85 people seated, with several folks standing in the back), "no-shows" were welcome. We've unfortunately taken to limiting the number of comps available to cast, crew and ensemble instead encouraging everyone to invite friends to the always less-than-full 2nd performance. Our opening night audiences have become an interesting mix of donors and their guests (often Furious first-timers), board members and guests (also first-timers), press, leaders of other Pasadena arts organizations, Playhouse leadership, and close friends and family of the cast and crew. Surprisingly, though the audience probably represents our collectively saviest and smartest audience seat-for-seat, it's not necessarily the 100% "friendly" audience you might expect at a small theatre's first night. The last few shows have included at least one walk-out within the first 10 minutes. On Saturday a women found her way to the aisle during the first scene whispering "that's the worst thing I've ever heard". Several scenes later, her husband ducked out searching for her. Apparently, she'd recently suffered a loss in her family and wasn't up for a play that opens with a monologue detailing how blind we all are to the potential disasters that could befall us at any minute. The walk-outs while disruptive always force some imperceptible shift in the audience as if a challenge has been called out "are you IN or are you OUT? Because if you're not willing to go on the ride, then NOW's the time to get off."

Regardless, the show went very well. And the opening night running time came in at 89 minutes, a full 6 minutes shorter than the previous night's final "preview" performance. Like many directors, I'm obsessed with the running time, looking for places to remove the air or keep the momentum building to a surprising yet inevitible conclusion (read your Mamet). Sometimes this is achieved by making last minute cuts to the script, by encouraging the actors to 'think faster' and oddly enough by changing the blocking. The few days before the opening night are always where a show takes its most significant leaps. Anybody who saw one of the previews, even the final preview, saw a very different show. Here's what you missed during the final, sleepless days and hours:

Saturday, March 31 (7 days until opening)
We're at the theatre from 10am to 10pm for supposedly final technical rehearsals. The actors are saying their lines, but the focus is all on how we're going to get the furniture on and off stage, simplifying costume changes, and getting the hundreds of light and sound cues right. The set is not complete. Scheduling conflicts with the space forced us to delay the load-in of the set and the actors are working with several wall units and pieces of furniture that "represent" what they'll eventually have. It's not ideal...but nobody's blaming anybody. We're gonna make it. Many of us stay until 1am continuing to prep for dress rehearsals the next day. The build crew pulls an all-nighter.

Sunday, April 1 (6 days until opening)
There simply weren't enough hours in the night. The set is not finished. The photographer is coming to take press photos at 11am, but we bump him to 4:30pm hoping it will give us time to finish up a few more things. We also decide to cancel the morning dress rehearsal and instead focus on the technically complex final 20 minutes of the show (there are several dozen light and sound cues, a 90 second sequence of complex fight choreography, and some really challenging scene changes, and quick costume changes). Again, I'm not worried about cancelling the dress. The actors have been working in full costume and makeup since the first "tech" rehearsal on Friday. We haven't had an uninterrupted dress rehearsal at this point, but that's not what this particular production needs. After our lunch break, we come back and run the show, but have determined that we will stop as necessary to resolve and re-do scene changes that go awry. Some pictures are taken during the run. The L.A. Times has requested something for a pre-opening pic in Thursday's Calendar section.

Monday, April 2 (5 days until opening)
There's no rehearsal tonight. Actors are off as they can't work more than 6 days in a row. This gives the set crew time to finish.

Tuesday, April 3 (4 days until opening)
From 5pm-8pm we continue working cue to cue on the scene changes. At 8:30pm we begin our first uninterrupted dress rehearsal. Afterward, the production team gathers for notes, then everybody runs off to work. I give the actors notes. During the course of the last few days, we've made some modifications to the location of certain scenes, plus masking is now in place and it requires changes to the lighting levels. Our lighting designer Christie, Nick (production manager) and I stay and reset the furniture for every scene (Nick and I acting as stand-ins walking through the show) while Christie refocuses, resets lighting levels, and reprograms the light board. We stumble out at 4am knowing that was painful, but necessary.

Wednesday, April 4 (3 days until opening)
Rehearsal from 5pm-6:30pm focusing on problematic cues. First preview begins at 8pm before a small audience. Just enough people to raise the stakes and keep us from stopping. Half way into the show the power goes out on stage. Doug Newell keeps improvising. It almost kinda works. In the booth people are trying to figure out what went wrong. Clearly, we blew a fuse. Magically they come back on and we continue. We were never able to determine what happened. And this is why the space is getting a renovation.

Thursday, April 5 (2 days until opening)
Rehearsal and preview. We're still tweaking lines and lights. More of the set is materializing. No dramatic power outages today. The show is o.k. The big fight was off tonight. Somebody skipped a move and it looks weird. The actors stay for notes. Matt makes some cuts. We change a couple lines. This will continue until we open.

Friday, April 6 (1 day until opening)
Rehearsals and final preview. The run was pretty smooth and uneventful. It was just slow. I think the show is there technically, though we will still make some tweaks. This time, cutting some unnecessary light and sound cues. A couple friends come to see it that run theatres around town. I can't help but wish they had waited until after we open. Now the focus is finally 100% back on the text and the acting. Matt makes a really big cut to one of Aubrey's monologues. It's painful but the best thing for the show. The cast stays after to "take the air out of the show". This involves them running lines while I stop them any time I feel there's an unnecessary pause or the pace lags. We also reblock several scenes, simplifying them. Sometimes too much movement and business gets in the way of the show. Some people try to solve "slow parts" of a play by making the actors move around more. I find the opposite approach is sometimes what's missing. At a certain point we get tired, and sit down and have a beer together. We don't stop talking about the play, moment by moment. This cast and company is amazing. No one wants to leave. You'd think after doing so many show's together people would just get jaded and go home!

Saturday, April 7 (5 hours until opening)
3pm-6pm. It's basically more of what we were doing the night before. Taking the air out. We also run with lights and sound. We put in more tweaks to the script. We make a significant change to an early scene, moving a major line to the top of the scene instead of 10 lines in. Funny how something small like this changes everything about the scene.

7:15pm. Everyone's milling about backstage getting ready for the show. Audience will begin arriving in 15 minutes. Shawn, in costume, plugs in a circular saw and begins to cut off the troublesome corners on the backside of 3 removable flats he's responsible for changing in the dark during scene changes. They had been slowing him down. He thinks it'll speed up the show by a few seconds. I see him doing this. "Cool, that'll help," I say. Shawn says, "yah" and wraps up the cord. I love this business.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Critics Weigh in on Humana Festival

posted by brad at 9:48 AM
You can read the Furious report of the 2007 Humana Festival in the three previous posts... but now you can read Charles McNulty's take in the LA Times here and as well as Charles Isherwood's take in the New York Times here.

Seems that Naomi Iizuka's play Strike-Slip was the favorite all around.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Humana Festival Update - Day 3

posted by brad at 10:15 PM
Today was a gorgeous day in Louisville (or as the locals say "lewavul"). Here's what happened on our third and final day at the festival.

Day #3:
Because we were having a great brunch at this wildly fun and highly recommended place called Lynn's Paradise Cafe, we unfortunately missed our first play - The Open Road Anthology, which featured all of the Actors Theatre Apprentices. Next up was "The As If Body Loop," which everyone enjoyed and which received the strongest reaction from the audience (2/3 standing o) that I witnessed all weekend. Once again, great performances all around.

At 3:30 we experienced Craig Wright's new play - The Unseen. I thought the two main actors were utterly brilliant, but was less impressed with the supporting role. The only acting that somewhat disappointed me all weekend. As far as the script, I thought the writing was quite beautiful and intelligent and gave us a lot to think about. I look forward to seeing someone in LA pick it up for production.

Dinner at PROOF, which included a tutorial and tasting/flight of Kentucky's finest bourbons. Wow. Still enjoying it, 7 hours later. I had a Bison burger to wash it down. Tasty. We then attended the final performance of the festival, When Something Wonderful Ends, a one woman show about Barbie dolls, America's poor history and relations with Iran, and America's addiction to oil. Interesting and well performed, but I feel like this show/script suffered from the same symptom as most others this weekend... not enough emotional connection in the text. Not enough for the audience to truly feel and care about. A great performance again, nonetheless.

After the show, the Furious group headed back to the PROOF bar (in the hotel where some of our clan is staying) for an end of the weekend drink and chance to chat about all that we've seen and experienced. PROOF bar turned out to be THE destination for all of the actors and playwrights from the festival to celebrate/close out their festival as well. It was a great opportunity for us to meet and make connections with a lot of incredibly talented artists, especially those from LA who we might have the good fortune to employ in the future. The drinks and conversation flowed and another set of unexpected introductions happened when a local I met asked me where we were having breakfast in the morning before we leave. After telling her I didn't know, she suggested Lynn's Paradise Cafe. I told her we'd just been earlier today and she said, "Well, since I'm 'Lynn', I'm obligated to ask you to come again." So, I introduced her to the whole group, which she loved and they loved, and we gave her our reservation for tomorrow's final meal in Lewavul before we hop on the gulfstream and head back home.

I'm a little bummed that I wasn't "blown away" by at least one play, but it was great to feel the energy the festival generates for New American Plays and the career support for playwrights. This trip has been ridiculously fun and I look forward to returning to the festival with some other company and board members next year.

I look forward to the day when Furious can help (in any way) a writer be featured at Humana. For now, it's back home to LA where I'll try and be useful by jumping into the final prep for the world premiere of "An Impending Rupture of the Belly."

That's it for the Furious report of the 31st annual Humana New American Play Festival.

Thanks for reading and Be Furious.