Thursday, October 18, 2007

Coffee, Alcohol, Weed and Potato Chips...

posted by brad at 11:11 PM
...these are the substances that test us.

Let me explain. Tonight we had a great crowd going into the show - a capacity of about 85% and a couple of enthusiastic groups to boot. It had all the makings of a fantastic night in the theatre... that's when I knew we were in trouble.

At about 1 minute to curtain a non-traditional looking band of 5 roughneck men came up and checked in for the show. It appeared they had already enjoyed a few cold, frosty beverages before arriving, and they proceeded to purchase more beer and wine from the concessions bar as I was trying to help start the show as house manager. Then they pulled out some of our folding chairs in the back of the house and spread out in our overflow seating area so as to have plenty of room. They were now under surveillance.

As we started the show, we were only missing a party of two in terms of purchased tix not picked up. At about 8:20, near the end of the first scene (which of course sets everything up in the story) a mild attack on the theatre doors began. I raced to open them and see who was on the other side. A lovely young couple in their early twenties entered - it was the two we were missing - and they brought in with them such a strong cloud of residual pot smoke that I almost reached contact high.

Late audience arrivals can be pretty problematic in a lot of small theatres and ours is no different. In general, noise in the lobby has always been a challenge of ours. Despite the fact that the lobby is separated from the theatre space, it is only separated by velour drapes and a short set of stairs. However, the audience always seems to behave as if the velour drapes are a wall of yard thick concrete. They come into the lobby to answer their phones, use the restrooms (what are we in kindergarten, you REALLY can't wait til intermission?), or arriving late, persist to ask in full voice "has it started yet?"

Anyway, I escort the high flying young couple to seats in the back row and they are instantly entertained. The show IS hilarious and visually stunning, perfect for a young couple in love with their bud.

Next, the coffee attacks. The coffee shop I should say. On Thursday nights in the fall season, the coffee house next door plays live music for its 15 or 16 customers. The music is always pretty good - some sort of Latin jazz or percussion, but it ultimately escalates in volume until it is reverberating in the theatre, adding unfavorably to the production's sound design. Before I can get too concerned with the encroaching sounds of Salsa, I hear the single worst noise you can have in the theatre - other than coughing - CRINKLING!

I try to sleuth out where this obnoxious and persistent crinkling sound is coming from. I of course check out the obvious perps - thinking our late arrivals brought a case of the munchies in with them. To my surprise, they are not responsible. No eating or crinkling, just an out of this world open mouthed focus. I move on... and of course, am led to our fellas in the back row. One of them seemed to be snacking on a small bag of chips and was passing it around to the gang, with all of them trying to stick their giant man hands into the tiny bag to find sustenance. I politely shush them, and they are cool with it, but not before having a audible discussion about who's fault it was. At least they were in the back - and they really were enjoying the show as I watched them... they just needed some nachos or a pretzel for this event. Intermission comes, more drinks purchased, assuring a great buzz for the second act.

Immediately after intermission (no walk-outs as far as I could tell) I run over to the coffee house to ask if they can turn the amplification down. They agree, and do. I feel good about this small victory. Just then a young man from our rowdy man group in the back comes out to use the restroom and drops his glass beer bottle on the concrete floor. It exploded into what looked like 10,000 pieces and now I am on mop boy duty. He then spends about ten minutes in the bathroom - I don't want to know why.

Fifteen minutes later, the music from the coffee house grows louder and stays that way for the rest of the evening, until it magically stops for the final ten minutes of the show, which was a real treat for the actors, to not have to deliver lines about the end of the world over the sound of a Latin female jazz/scat artist. To cap it all off, at a key moment in the final scenes a pretty disturbing action plays out between the cannibals and vegetarians. I won't give the full spoiler details of what happens onstage at this moment, but right on cue, one of our buzzed boys in the back row says to his other pals, loud enough for all to hear, "tastes like chicken." And... curtain!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reaction to the Action

posted by brad at 9:45 PM
"To be avoided if at all possible."

So reads the last line of a disapproving Reader Review from an audience member writing under the handle of "Billdaws" on the LA Times website. It even comes with this easy to interpret image:

You can see the full reader review here. The silver lining in this frowny faced review? It's a strong reaction - and that's what we're after. It's why we produce theatre. Who's interested in seeing or presenting something that is "moderately" anything? Not us.

Below is a quick run down of the critical reaction to Canned Peaches in Syrup:

David Ng from the Los Angeles Times seems to like it and gives it the rating of RECOMMENDED. He says it is "a smart and wicked farce acted with animal intensity."

Les Spindle of Back Stage West raves about the play in his CRITIC'S PICK write up by saying "Director Dámaso Rodriguez's incisive world-premiere rendition is a bold and thrillingly theatrical exploration of Jones' intriguing themes."

Julio Martinez of Variety also seems to give us the favorable nod in his Variety review, stating that "Brit scripter Alex Jones has impressively intermingled an everyday struggle to survive with the often-hilarious absurdity of the human spirit..."

LA Weekly's Steven Mikulan appears to have hated the play itself, but as usual, he has an excellently written critique in a great feature about the production which pays homage to some of the performances, Hee Haw and James Colburn.

Other notable men and women about town offering their takes on the show include Mr. Don Shirley of LA Citybeat who notes that the cast is dynamite, and this grimly funny work ultimately serves as a chilling siren, Sharon Pearlmutter of Talkin' who ends her review by saying the production " has a few moments that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre ... ... with a hankering for some sticky sweet peaches ... ... or a great big slab of meat.". We'll include the Pasadena papers' thoughts as soon as they print something. [UPDATE] This just in from the provocative journalistic giant, the Pasadena Weekly: Scriber April Caires sums up her experience with "it's like no play you've seen before."
That is true.

More info coming soon regarding our walk-out count.

Be Furious.

Friday, October 05, 2007

From The Booth - Final Preview

posted by Doug Newell at 7:55 PM
7:55 - Really full house tonight. Lot's of the Playhouse Staff is here including Sheldon Epps, Playhouse Artistic Director.

8:06 - We increased a level going into the show and it helped. Seems to mask the actors moving into place better on the darkened staged.

8:19 - Missed line. I would imagine at this point its caused by nerves. Certainly a benefit to have this many people here for a preview before opening night, get the actor's used to it.

8:26 - It always fascinates me how different audiences laugh at different things. A sure-fire laugh one night can be a dud and a line that never got a laugh before can induce howls.

8:36 - The sight of a prop gets a great laugh.

8:39 - A fight gets great laughs. Good teamwork by the actors. Our fight choreographer should be proud, the actors are continually nailing this.

9:00 - End of Act 1. Good sign when the audience is laughing in the intermission and swapping their favorite lines.

9:10 - Just reset the cue cause we're running long in between acts. Need to find some more music to cover extended intermissions.

9:15 - I notice a couple of empty seats. I think that officially makes our first walk outs (awfully nice of them to wait till intermission).

9:46 - The new scenic element I mentioned in the last post is now getting a laugh.

10:08 - Show ran a little long. Must have been all the holding for laughs, so I guess that's ok.

Well all that's left is to go public, for the press. Opening night should be a blast.
Look forward to seeing you at the theatre.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

From The Booth - First Preview

posted by Doug Newell at 7:58 PM

7:01 - My job as a sound designer is close to done. The cues are finalized with the exception of a level here or there. My job as the sound board operator is really just beginning. Earlier tonight we re-ran sound cues so the actors could better familiarize themselves with their timings in and out of the scenes.

7:29 – First Preshow cue. I’ve actually spent a while deciding what we should be playing before the show. Primarily I worried about what instruments are played in the songs and what type of theme/tone they contain. We want to prepare the audience for the world they’re about to enter.

7:46 – First Preshow cue cut. Looks like CCR is a little too recognizable for the director’s taste. I agree, sometimes what fits in the headphones doesn’t fit in the theater. This is a good change, and it’s a good place to be at with sound when these are the things we’re worrying about.

8:02 - First preview pitfall of the night, and I'll claim it. Preshow announcement level was off. This is something new for us that we've just added. Hopefully no one's cell phone will go off because they couldn't hear the warning. And don't worry, I didn't miss this because I was typing.

8:05 - End of cue 4 "Into Scene 1." Nice crowd for a first preview. Not huge, but a good mix of patrons, friends, designers, directors and playwrights. 2 playwrights in the house tonight. Of course Alex Jones, Can Peaches' author is here, and so is Matt Pelfry, resident Furious playwright and author of our last play "Impending Rupture of the Belly." He's here to see the show before he leads the post-show discussion with Alex on Sunday night.

8:26 - So far the actor's are stepping their game up. Nothing like an audience to raise the stakes. Notes given at the 5pm call are sticking. The beginning of the show already seems tighter. I won't give specifics as to ruin the show, but there are so many lines that will leave some of the audience confused as to how to react. Are they offended or amused? So far no walk outs. Stay tuned.

8:31 - Crowd seems to be warming to the show. They're laughing easier.

8:36 - Looks like I'm not the only one with some work to do. A couple of items were left on stage during the scene change.

8:59 - End of Act 1.

9:09 - Beginning of Act 2. Easier to make an exactly 10 minute intermission when there's not a full house. Good luck accomplishing that opening night. And I'm happy to report we didn't loose anyone, all audience members are back. You never know with a show like this, we expect to loose some at intermission during the run.

9:42 - What do you get when you combine a new, potentially noisy, scenic element to a quiet scene? The crew on the edge of their seats. Thankfully there was no noise and the dramatic tension is preserved.

9:54 - Still a few scene changes that can use some polishing. Timing will be something to work on in the booth and on stage.

9:56 - WOW! It would be impossible to describe what just happened without ruining part of the show, but let's say a major plot point that depends on the use of a prop failed! You could feel a big shift in the energy. It couldn't help but have an effect on the actors. They did their best to cover, and plowed onward to make the scene/story work, but what happened was next to impossible to cover. I'll bet I'm given a note after the show to work on a back up cue.

10:07 - Shows over. We've got 21 hours and 53 minutes to improve the show by what we learned tonight and make sure the problems don't happen again. For my part I better get started to work.

All in all, good first preview, thanks for riding along with me in the booth. More from the booth soon.

Interview with Playwright Alex Jones

posted by Eric Pargac at 12:17 PM

Furious Theatre is thrilled to be hosting British playwright Alex Jones here in the States for the world premiere of his play Canned Peaches in Syrup. Before Alex Jones got to the U.S. journalist Ina Rometsch caught up with him for an interview about the play. Enjoy!

Alex, are you a survivor?
I’ve been in the Navy for about a year and I have done survival training there. And now I’m still in this business, which is pretty hard to survive in. I’ve had some hard times, and I’ve been pretty broke. But I’m still writing plays and I get them produced, so I must be a survivor. What characteristics does a survivor need? You have to be resourceful. You have to be able to take a few blows. And you have to be understanding. Because if you want to survive, you need to get on with others and make compromises sometimes.

In your play, our future looks rather grim. How much longer do you give mankind?
If things don’t change very soon and we don’t do something about emissions, then I think within the next 50 years we’ll be seeing cataclysmic changes in the weather patterns. It has already started to happen, and it will get worse. I wrote this play when I started wondering what the world would be like when global warming went out of control – about 12 years ago.

If you were stuck in the world of the play, what would be your survival strategy?
I don’t think I’d survive very long. That’s a pretty brutal world in the play. I don’t think I would be a cannibal, though. But having said that, you never know...

Is there a character you can identify with?
Probably Bill. Although he is a cannibal, he’s Mister Nice Guy. He is friends with Scab and stands up for him when everybody else wants to eat him. I like Bill. But if I had to be cast in the play, I’d probably be Scab. I normally get to play these quirky, crazy roles. Maybe it’s because I look a bit weird. In my last role I was playing a 14 year old schoolgirl...

If you knew that the end of the world was to happen next week – would you still be writing plays?
I don’t think so. I’d be off to the supermarket to get some really good wine. And then I’d be having a nice big party!