Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Impertinence of Blogging Earnest: Week 1 of rehearsals – blocking.

The cast, Brian Carless, Cameron Johnston and I wrapped up our first week of rehearsal on Thursday, February 26. Most Civic rehearsal schedules run Sunday through Thursday. I saw no reason not to continue that, but I moved Sunday rehearsals to early afternoon. What can I say? I like having my weekend evenings free as much as possible.

The first week was devoted entirely to blocking – the movements made by actors during the show. There’s a lot directors take into consideration when blocking a scene: script requirements (does an actor enter or exit during the scene?), stage dressing (are there obstacles around which an actor must maneuver?), focus (how will the audience know which actor to watch?), composition and imagery (are the positions and the movements attractive?), characterization (how would a character physically react to the action in the scene?) and more.

The entire first act was blocked on Sunday. Some directors divide acts into “French scenes,” which are created whenever a character enters or exits a scene. This is usually a very good practice, but there are so many entrances and exits in The Importance of Being Earnest that French scenes would have muddied up the rehearsal process. Plus, I prefer actors to understand the entire flow of an act as soon as possible.

Cameron gave the actors their blocking for the first act, and Brian wrote the directions in his prompt book for reference. Immediately, the actors went to stage – an outline of Civic’s performance area created from masking tape – to run the act from beginning to end, twice in a row. The actors shared their thoughts about the blocking, if anything seemed unnecessary, overly complicated or just not timely. Cameron, Brian and I also got to see how the blocking looked in three dimensions. Some changes were made after those first two run-throughs but for the most part the blocked seemed solid. We ran the act a final time, this time stopping and starting whenever Brian, Cameron or I wanted to give notes to actors about their movements or characterizations.

Monday night, we did the stop-and-start process for the first act again. If this seems repetitious, then you see exactly how I operate as a director. By repeating acts over and over (Act I was done at least five times during the first two days of rehearsal), actors can use their muscle memory to remember the precise timing of their blocking so that it’s second nature to carry it off. They also are exposed to their lines several times, which aids in memorization. And the better the actors have their lines memorized, the better the rehearsals become when actors cannot use their scripts on stage.

Tuesday night, we started the entire process again for Act II. The actors wrote their blocking, as did Brian. After running through it, we did a stop-and-start working of the act. Wednesday was entirely working the act, which is longer than Act I by about seven minutes. On Thursday, the actors performed Act I and Act II, immediately back-to-back.

Are there things that need to be worked on? Yes, oh yes. Act I is static – I gave the actors far too much blocking that keeps them in the same positions for far too long. My fault 100 percent, and it will be addressed. Timing will also have to be polished; I personally detest when a stage is left entirely bare (perhaps it’s the Improv performer in me) so actors have to understand the timing of entrances and exits together so there’s a minimum of bare stage. Additionally, there are some pieces of blocking that require the actors to say one thing, carry out an entirely different action and react to something completely different. There's a moment with tea, sugar and cake in Act II that is far more difficult to pull off than it seems because of this layering.

However, it’s clear that the actors are starting off on the right foot. Zack Nantz and Jake Ott, who play the servants, already have a nice “proper” demeanor to their characters – and they also play against propriety nicely. Bryce Robinson (Algernon) and Jessica Hoffmann (Cecily) are beginning to physically and vocally contrast their worry-free, frivolous characters with those being developed by Kevin Barlow (Jack), Margaret Duvall (Gwendolen) and Madeleine Bien (Lady Bracknell). Additionally, Christine Furtner (Miss Prism) and Nate Denson (Reverend Chasuble) are beginning to see how their characters feel toward one another, and how it differs from their feelings for other characters in the play. All the actors completed homework about their characters, and we've had conversations about what their characters want, how to physically and verbally relate that to the audience, and what relationships are being developed with other characters.

This upcoming week includes blocking Act III on Sunday, then working the act on Monday. Each act will be worked in their entirety on Tuesday (Act I), Wednesday (Act II) and Thursday (Act III) in the stop-and-go method. These will be some of the final times the actors will have their scripts in hand during rehearsals. Everyone will have to work hard to be able to make the leap from having a 60-something page safety net to flying through the air without anything but their own skills to keep them on the right path.

Unsung Hero of the Week: Brian. Not only did Brian fill in for actors who were unable to participate in rehearsal by reading their lines and walking their blocking, but he also taped down the outline of the performance space immediately before the actors started rehearsing Act I on Sunday. Stage managers do not receive nearly the credit they deserve for all the work they do and the detailed way they do it.

Funniest Bit of the Week: To encourage Bryce to be a little more frivolous and carefree with his characterization of Algernon, I asked if he could pull off a personation of yours truly. After assuring him that I would not be offended by whatever he did, the rest of the cast was almost beside themselves when he played the final scene of Act II with Kevin Barlow. He got me good.

Most Gratifying Moment of the Week: With just two little notes, Bryce and Kevin managed to hit the right tone for the final scene of Act II. All the actors in this cast are quite talented and committed to creating an excellent performance. I couldn't have been more pleased with them especially with that instance.

Friday, February 27, 2009

In the Wings: Children of Eden. Photos of the set.

The following photos show the set for Children of Eden, the fourth production in Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette's 2008-2009 Mainstage Season. These photos of the not-then-completed set were taken in mid-February.








Thursday, February 26, 2009

In the Wings: Children of Eden. Meet Jeff Spanke.


Jeff Spanke plays Father in Children of Eden, the fourth production of the 2008-2009 Mainstage season at Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette. The music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz, the book is by John Caird.

Although this production marks his debut at Civic, Jeff had been involved with a production of Children of Eden about eight years ago. One of his friends works with Kate Walker, the director, and he decided to audition once he learned Civic was mounting a production of the show.

Jeff explained how Father grows through the course of the show.

"In the first act, Father creates the world and children to inhabit it," he said. "He is very childlike and innocent in a good way: He wants people to get along, to listen to him, to love each other and to love what he has made. In the second act he learns that if you love someone, you sometimes have to let them make mistakes and grow."

Jeff concluded by suggesting what an audience will take from a performance of the show.

"Kate has compiled a wonderful cast," he began. "From a purely aesthetic level, people will see that it's a good show and fun to watch. Down the line, people will see that the show has substance. It doesn't follow Scripture entirely, but the lessons about love, companionship and sacrifice are relevant today and tomorrow."

Children of Eden opens March 6 and runs each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through March 22. Friday and Saturday evening shows begin at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday afternoon shows begin at 2:30 p.m. There also will be a performance Thursday, March 19, at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for youth.

For more information about the show or to order tickets, please call 765-423-PLAY (7529) or visit Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette's Web site.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Our WLFI spot for Children of Eden

video

The wonderful production department at WLFI has come through again with a great spot, which is currently running on TV18.
WLFI is the season Media Sponsor for Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette

In the Wings: Children of Eden. Meet Sara Tyner.


Sara Tyner plays Eve in Children of Eden, the fourth production of the 2008-2009 Mainstage season at Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette. The music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz, the book is by John Caird.

Sara was a big fan of Stephen Schwartz before she auditioned. She especially liked his work on Wicked, and she enjoyed reading the music for Children of Eden.

"His lyrics are very important," Sara said. "An audience will miss a lot if they don't pay attention. The lyrics may include a joke or a detail that will be important later in the show."

Sara explained what drives Eve during the action of the show.

"Eve is a curious person and very sassy, so when you put those two things together you often find quite a bit of trouble," she said. "Eve has an innocence about her in the beginning, but she's complex and has a thirst for knowledge. She likes to know things and likes to ask questions. She's a lot like a five year old in that way."

Children of Eden opens March 6 and runs each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through March 22. Friday and Saturday evening shows begin at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday afternoon shows begin at 2:30 p.m. There also will be a performance Thursday, March 19, at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for youth.

For more information about the show or to order tickets, please call 765-423-PLAY (7529) or visit Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette's Web site.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In the Wings: Children of Eden. Meet Jaymes Osborne.


Jaymes Osborne plays several roles in Children of Eden, the fourth production of the 2008-2009 Mainstage season at Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette. The music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz, the book is by John Caird.

Justice Marie Fuller, one of Jaymes' friends, convinced Jaymes to audition for the show. He also decided to audition because he liked the script's interpretation of God and the creation of humanity.

"It's done creatively," he said. "The audience will remember that and the music, which will touch them. One of the best songs is sung by Eve, and she expresses how she feels something inside her that is different."

Jaymes plays a snake, one of Noah's sons and a storyteller in the show. He explained how he meets the challenge of creating several fully developed characters in a show.

"It comes naturally," he said. "An actor looks inside himself for an element that can be used to flesh out the character."

Children of Eden opens March 6 and runs each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through March 22. Friday and Saturday evening shows begin at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday afternoon shows begin at 2:30 p.m. There also will be a performance Thursday, March 19, at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for youth.

For more information about the show or to order tickets, please call 765-423-PLAY (7529) or visit Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette's Web site.

Monday, February 23, 2009

In the Wings: Children of Eden. Meet Paul Addison, the musical director.


Paul Addison is the musical director of Children of Eden, the fourth production of the 2008-2009 Mainstage season at Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette. The music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz, the book is by John Caird.

Paul had previously worked on shows with Kate Walker, the director, and he was excited to work with her again. He also was interested in working with performers on Stephen Schwartz's music and lyrics.

"I knew that Stephen Schwartz is a great composer, but I wasn't familiar with this musical. It's not nearly as well known as some of his others like Godspell, Pippin and Wicked," Paul said. "When I first heard about Children of Eden, I was concerned that maybe the subject matter was not being treated with any depth, that it might be a fluff show. That isn't the case. Schwartz deals with some very deep issues here."

Paul said Schwartz's music is lyrical and filled with catchy melodies. He said it isn't written on a pompous, grand scale but it's more the type of music that people will hum or sing to themselves during the day.

Paul explained his duty as the show's musical director.

"I try to help the audience connect to the music. I feel that I know what the composer is trying to say," he said. "Through the singers and orchestra, I try to bring the composer's intention through to the audience."

Paul concluded by suggesting what the audience will take away from a performance of Children of Eden.

"When they see it, the audience will understand the Biblical story in a way that they've never seen it before, and in a way that only music can tell," he said.

Children of Eden opens March 6 and runs each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through March 22. Friday and Saturday evening shows begin at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday afternoon shows begin at 2:30 p.m. There also will be a performance Thursday, March 19, at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for youth.

For more information about the show or to order tickets, please call 765-423-PLAY (7529) or visit Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette's Web site.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

In the Wings: Children of Eden. Meet Kate Walker, the director.


Kate Walker directs Children of Eden, the fourth production of the 2008-2009 Mainstage season at Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette. The music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz, the book is by John Caird.

Kate was initially drawn to the show because of the involvement of Stephen Schwartz, whom she says writes music that is complex, fun to direct and challenging to perform. She further fell in love with the show because of the story.

"It is loosely based on the Book of Genesis," Kate said. "The audience will see commonalities between their relationships with their children and siblings, and the relationships between Father, who represents God, and his creation, the Children of Eden. The show has age-old themes.

"Audience members will see themselves in the characters, and they can relate to Eve or Adam, or Cain or Abel, or Father. Although these are Biblical names, they represent every person, every relationship and the struggle of letting go."

Children of Eden opens March 6 and runs each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through March 22. Friday and Saturday evening shows begin at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday afternoon shows begin at 2:30 p.m. There also will be a performance Thursday, March 19, at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for youth.

For more information about the show or to order tickets, please call 765-423-PLAY (7529) or visit Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette's Web site.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Impertinence of Blogging Earnest: The read-through and the crew.

The read-through of The Importance of Being Earnest took place Sunday, February 15, in the Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette office. After introductions and a bit of business, the nine cast members read the script for the first time as a group, and I was pleased with the result. Character choices were immediately apparent and the actors had a good grasp on the rhythm and tempo of the dialogue. Is there work to be done? Definitely, but there is a very solid base from which to start. I think Assistant Director Cameron Johnston and Stage Manager Brian Carless will agree with me on that point.

Next week will be devoted to blocking the action for all three acts. Cameron and I have worked out some blocking (movement) that can be divided into three areas: movement that is essential to advance the action of the play, to reveal character and to add visual variety (and humor) to the stage. The read-through allowed the actors to show how they could create characters with their voice; the blocking rehearsals will be the first step to allow the actors to develop their characters through movement.

Other very important pieces of the production are coming together nicely. Producer Melanie R. Buchanan has been tremendous at bringing together talented young people to be part of the crew. If a show had no crew members, actors would be performing in the dark wearing their street clothes on a bare stage and using pantomime.

The crew of The Importance of Being Earnest includes the following people:

Eric Barlow, sound design and sound board operator. Eric will create sound effects and several tracks of music to be played before, during and after the show. He will also run the sound board so the cues play at the correct time. During shows, Eric will be in the upstairs booth with Brian Carless and Aaron Brehm.

Bailey Rosa and Bethany Grimes, lighting design. Bailey and Bethany will light the stage not only to illuminate the actors but also to reflect the physical settings and the emotional undertones of the play.

Aaron Brehm, light board operator. Aaron will run the light board to make sure the light cues play at the correct time. During shows, Aaron will be in the upstairs booth along with Brian Carless and Eric Barlow.

Tristan Marshall and Isaiah Hale, properties. Tristan and Isaish will be collecting hand props – such as a cigarette case, books, a dinner glass and more – as well as set props, which include chairs, a couch, a fireplace and more. During shows, they will be backstage.

Grace Lazarz and Meghan Arnold, backstage personnel. Grace will organize the backstage crew to ensure that scene changes during the intermissions move smoothly and efficiently. Meghan will work with Grace and other backstage crew members to make scene changes during the play's intermissions.

Jenny Furtner, Summer Adams, Beatrice Masters, Katie Martin, Mollie Westbrook and Samantha Citro, costume / hair / makeup crew. The costume crew will provide the audience visual clues about the action and characters. It isn't just a question of giving an actress a long dress to wear, but to find a dress that reflects the play's era (late Victorian period in England), the play's settings (city versus country) and the attitudes that the characters embody. Katie, Mollie and Samantha will also be working on the actors' hair and makeup.

Cody Walker, dramaturge. Cody will be working with Melanie to conduct research about the setting of The Importance of Being Earnest as well as particular references that may not be easily understood in contemporary times. The information they gather will benefit not only me, but also the actors and the designers.

Marcos Cisneros, photographer. Not only will Marcos take headshots of the actors for the callboard in the theatre lobby, but he also will be taking pictures during the rehearsal process to document the production from beginning to end. He also will take production photos of the actors on stage in costume and in action.

Laurie Russell has designed the set for the production. We came to the same conclusion about the concept of the production – every character has two sides, one that is dominant in polite society and another that is prominent in private. This duality will be reflected in the major set pieces of the production – segmented upstage wall units that can be adjusted to reflect the different settings and emotions. Although the characters are two-sided, the wall units will be three-sided.

The audience will see the nine actors onstage, but it also takes a talented crew to pull off a production. The work of these talented folks will make the show much richer and evocative.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Civic Volunteer Album: Meet Kris Kazmierczak.


The "In the Wings" series of blog posts highlights the directors and actors of each Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette production. And while it makes sense to promote them on the blog -- actors are the face of a production, and directors are the brains -- there are whole groups of volunteers who go unrecognized, not only on this blog but also perhaps by the playgoing public.

The "Civic Volunteer Album" will highlght various Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette volunteers who more often than not volunteer behind the scenes of productions as stage managers, designers, backstage crew and much more. They are the backbone of each production, supporting what everyone else can see and hear on stage.

Kris Kazmierczak, affectionately known as "Kaz," has been involved with Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette since Annie Get Your Gun, which was part of the 1996-1997 season. She's taken on a wide array of positions in theatrical productions including photographer, stage manager, assistant director, sound designer, sound board operator, construction crew member, light board operator, backstage manager, props mistress, usher and actor.

Kris also is a member of the Civic Theatre Board of Directors, serving the second year of her three-year term in the 2008-2009 season. She serves on the Technology Committee, which was instrumental in installing a new Telex system that allows the stage manager to speak with the booth crew, backstage crew, box office and downstairs dressing rooms.

Kris said she had wanted to participate in theatre at her high school.

"I never had the nerve to audition for anything in high school," she said. "A friend showed me how to relax and have fun, and told me I could do anything I wanted. So after taking an acting class, I decided to audition for Annie Get Your Gun. Larry Sommers, the director, offered me a part in the chorus and the rest is history."

Kris' favorite production at Civic Theatre was My Fair Lady, directed by Lafayette theatre legend Dick Jaeger. It was part of the 2004-2005 Mainstage season.

"I was in the chorus of My Fair Lady, which was such fun," she said. "The people I worked with were great, and the dances we had to learn for the show were exciting. On preview night, when the chorus was halfway through 'Get Me to the Church on Time,' the audience erupted in applause, which sent chills up my spine. I knew we all had nailed that song and dance. What a thrill!"

Another favorite show was The Time Machine, a staged reading of a radio script that took place in the 2008-2009 season. Kris and Elena Escudero were the Foley artists who created sound effects live onstage while the actors read the radio script.

Civic Theatre and then-Managing Director Susan Kisinger honored Kris at the end of the 2004-2005 season by giving her the Managing Director's Award at the annual Membership Meeting and Volunteer Dinner.

"It was such a surprise," Kris said. "To be recognized for my contributions was quite an honor."

Kris concluded by encouraging other people to consider volunteering at Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette.

"I volunteer at Civic because I love working and sharing talents with the people involved in each production," she said. "We all work together toward one common goal: to put on a quality show for the public. If you are interested in volunteering, just do it! You'll work with fun and talented people. If you don't know anything about the many jobs, volunteer as an assistant and there will be people there to help you learn."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Announcing auditions: In the Weeds

Auditions have been announced for In the Weeds, an original script by Steve Gooch. It is the fourth script in Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette's 2008-2009 staged reading season. They will take place Sunday, February 22, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Civic Theatre office at 313 N. 5th Street in downtown Lafayette.

Director Brent Wick is asking auditioners to read from the script, which is available at the Civic Theatre office.

Steve has written a three-act play filled with lifelike characters, taut drama and plenty of humor. The night deposit is missing from the Bravissimo Ristorante, and suspicions fly. Is the thief the head cook with a gambling problem, the somewhat naïve restaurant manager or his less-than-competent son, the night manager? How about the college dropout, or one of the wait staff who firmly believe in better living through chemistry?

The reading will take place March 10 at 7 p.m. in the historic Monon Depot Theatre. There will be a brief discussion immediately following. It is a Pay What You Can event.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Share Your Thoughts: The Man Who Came to Dinner

Now that The Man Who Came to Dinner has closed, share your thoughts about the production on this blog.

What will you most remember about the show? What were your thoughts about the performances? The design? The story and theme? What were the standout moments?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The economic stimulus bill and the arts

The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - also known as the economic stimulus bill - was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate on February 13. It is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Included in the funding are $50 million to be distributed by the National Endowment for the Arts to arts organizations throughout the 50 states.

A February 13 press release from the nonprofit organization Americans for the Arts included the following information from President and CEO Robert L. Lynch.

"The nation's 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences generate $166.2 billion annually in U.S. economic activity. They support 5.7 million jobs and provide nearly $30 billion in government revenue. This economic stimulus will minimize the concern that ten percent of arts groups could close this year and helps save thousands of arts workers from losing their jobs."

To read the entire press release, please click here.

Valentine's Day: What shows would you love to do? What roles would you love to play?

Valentine's Day brings to mind breakfasts in bed; gifts like boxes of chocolate, jewelry or freshly cut flowers; cards; and romantic getaways and dinners.

Love is in the air on February 14, and some people are absolutely passionate about their favorite shows and roles (yes, you folks who are ga-ga over Wicked can stop chanting and hollering, I hear you). And sometimes Valentine's Day includes a bit of fantasy -- and who doesn't fantasize about playing a certain role or being involved with a certain show? They're dream projects and we've all got them.

One musical I will never grow tired of is Guys and Dolls, and I get giddy thinking about the role of Nicely-Nicely Johnson. He gets to sing grand-slam numbers including "Fugue for Tinhorns" ("I've got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere..."), "Guys and Dolls" and "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat." The character is terrific, the show is sublime.

There are other shows that pique my interest: A Perfect Ganesh by Terrence McNally, All in the Timing by David Ives, Angels in America by Tony Kushner, The Tempest by William Shaikespeare ... and many more.

So, it's your turn to share. What are your dream projects? What shows would you love to do? What roles would you love to play?

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Impertinence of Blogging Earnest – Auditions

For the next few weeks through the beginning of April, visitors to http://www.lafayettecivic.blogspot.com will have access to my thoughts as I direct a production for Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette. Once a week, I will tell readers how auditions, rehearsals, production meetings and other elements are progressing for Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

The cast list was released by Civic Theatre and appears on this blog, but the process that concluded with that list took longer than the two nights auditions were held.

The first step was scheduling, which involved counting backward from the show's opening. Usually Civic productions have five weeks of rehearsal, followed by tech week when crew members are added. Some directors hold auditions seven weeks before their shows open, cast during the week and schedule a read through – the first time the cast goes through the entire script as a group – the first night of rehearsals, usually a Sunday. I added another week for Earnest because I want the cast to have the scripts all to themselves for a full week between the read through and the next rehearsal. The extra week to investigate characters, explore relationships and become familiar with the lines should be a boon.

Auditions were scheduled for February 8 and 9 in the historic Monon Depot Theatre. I need to thank Scott Haan and the cast and crew of The Man Who Came to Dinner. They were so gracious when they finished their Sunday matinee and allowed me and Assistant Director Cameron Johnston to roost in the theatre while a handful of volunteers patrolled the lobby half an hour later.

Before audition dates were publicized, a decision about the format of the auditions was made. To know if actors could handle Wilde's language, I asked them to be prepared to read from the script. Two sets of "sides" were created – multiple copies of scenes from the script. One set included scenes from the beginning of the play, the other had scenes toward the end. By reading the earlier scene immediately followed by the later scene, actors had to pull off a range of emotions in only a few moments. I once heard someone say, "Cast for the third act" – make sure actors can deliver the goods at the play's climax. This method allowed me to do that.

Before auditions were held, Steven Koehler showed how to use the theatre's digital camera and printer so headshots of all actors could be taken and stored. Audition forms were created and these were taken to the Monon Depot lobby each night at 5:30 p.m. in preparation for the 6 p.m. start.

Both nights several people helped with auditions. Brian Carless, the stage manager, accompanied actors into and out of the theatre. Laura Hale, Bailey Rosa, Beth Grimes and Brent Wick gave actors the proper forms, answered questions, took photos and kept everything running smoothly. Melanie R. Buchanan, the producer, recruited them and their talents. I am grateful to all of them, especially because there were walk-ins on both nights and auditions extended to 9 p.m. – one hour later than scheduled – both evenings. They went above and beyond what was asked.

Thirty-eight actors auditioned for nine roles in The Importance of Being Earnest. How does a director choose which combination will work best? Good question. I wish there were a logical formula that allows directors to know 100 percent that their choices are the best ones. There isn't.

After each audition, Brian gave Cameron and me time to discuss what we had seen and heard from the actor. How did the actor handle the language? Was he expressing some emotion, or did his voice seem flat? Did she listen to a suggestion we made and incorporate it into the audition? Was the actor able to take on a surprise easily – reading the second scene from later in the play – and could the actor portray the emotion in that scene confidently?

Cameron was invaluable because after an audition we could ask each other, "What did we just see?" It's nice to confirm what just took place, or to see something afresh from a different perspective. Brian also had insightful comments to make about the actors. I think we agreed about what we had seen and heard more often than we did not.

Casting began when I asked, "Who had the best audition overall, regardless of the character?" Some actors clearly had prepared, knew the entire play and knew how they wanted to portray a character during their brief time in the theatre. These actors were rewarded by being cast. When there were multiple actors who did quality work but all auditioned for the same role, it became a matter of who had a take on the character that seemed to mesh best with another actor's take on a different character. It was difficult to go from 38 actors to nine.

When the first-choice list is created for any production, I think a director worries a bit if all actors will accept their roles. Some actors don't. When I called to ask if they would accept their roles, all nine did and many were audibly happy (stunned? surprised?). That is the high point of the audition process: delivering good news.

The low point? Telling a group of immensely talented, fully engaged actors that they haven't been cast. No matter how much you stress the positives before delivering the negative, it is painful to tell someone who is hopeful about being part of a cast that they aren't. It is painful to think they may choose never to audition again because they are discouraged by the result of this audition. It is painful to hear the subdued voice, thanking you for the call, followed by the dial tone.

I love and hate auditions. They lift you up and they tear you down, they're joyous and they're heartbreaking – and not just for actors. About all that can be said at the end of the audition process is that it is done and the work begins.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Announcing the cast of The Importance of Being Earnest

Director Steve Martin has announced the cast for The Importance of Being Earnest, the third production of the 2008-2009 Civic Youth Theatre season. The script is by Oscar Wilde.

The cast includes:

  • Algernon Moncrieff - Bryce Robinson
  • Lane, the manservant - Jake Ott
  • Jack Worthing, J.P. - Kevin Barlow
  • Lady Bracknell - Madeleine Bien
  • Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax - Margaret Duvall
  • Miss Prism, the governess - Christine Furtner
  • Cecily Cardew - Jessica Hoffmann
  • Rev. Canon Chasuble - Nate Denson
  • Merriman, the butler - Zack Nantz
The production of The Importance of Being Earnest will open Friday, April 3, and run through Sunday, April 5, at the historic Monon Depot Theatre in downtown Lafayette. Friday and Saturday evening productions will start at 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday afternoon performances will start at 2:30 p.m. For more information about the show or to order tickets, call 765-423-PLAY (7529) or visit the Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette Web site.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Soliciting original script submissions for the 2009-2010 Staged Reading Series

In the two years the Staged Reading Series has been part of Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette, at least one of the slots in its season has been filled by an original script written by a local playwright. In the 2007-2008 season, two original one-act plays were part of the season: Pia Zadora Sings Gershwin by Deborah Gray and A Very Bad Day for Brandon Butterworth by Scott Haan. In the 2008-2009 season, Steve Gooch's original full-length play In the Weeds will have its world premiere at Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette.

The committee that is putting together the 2009-2010 Staged Reading Series is soliciting submissions for original scripts by local playwrights. At least one original script will be included in the series over the course of the full season.

Here are the original script submission guidelines:

  • Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette prefers a full script submission.
  • Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette will accept a query/synopsis with a 5-page dialogue sample.
  • Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope or self-addressed stamped postcard with the submission.
  • Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette prefers electronic submissions. They may be sent to steve@lafayettecivic.org.
  • Submissions may be sent via physical mail to: Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette, Attn.: Staged Reading Committee, 313 N. 5th Street, Lafayette, IN, 47901
  • There is no cost to submit an original script. Playwrights are limited to submitting no more than 3 scripts.
  • Deadline for submissions: July 31, 2009
  • Response date: No later than September 1, 2009
  • Chances of being selected: At least one original script per year is included in the Staged Reading Series out of the entire pool of submissions.
  • Contract: There are no royalties paid at this time.
  • Cast size: 10 or fewer actors are preferred.
  • Geographic requirements: Playwrights must reside in the 14-county area served by the Tippecanoe Arts Federation -- Benton County, Carroll County, Cass County, Clinton County, Fountain County, Howard County, Jasper County, Montgomery County, Newton County, Pulaski County, Tippecanoe County, Tipton County, Warren County and White County.

Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette is community theatre located in downtown Lafayette, Indiana. Its home is the historic Monon Depot Theatre. The house has a seating capacity of 155.

For more information about the Staged Reading Series, please call 765-423-PLAY (7529) or visit Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette's Web site.

This information may be forwarded to third parties. Please make reference to the original post on http://www.lafayettecivic.blogspot.com/.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Impertinence of Blogging Earnest -- Introduction and explanation

For the next few weeks through the beginning of April, visitors to http://www.lafayettecivic.blogspot.com/ will have access to a director's thoughts as he prepares a production for Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette. Once a week for the next several weeks, I will keep you informed as to how auditions, rehearsals, production meetings and other related elements are progressing for Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

Why do this? First, new technology should be used in new ways whenever possible. Readers of this blog have received glimpses of productions during the rehearsal process -- profiles, bios, information about auditions and performances, etc. -- but there hasn't been an ongoing project to track a production from beginning to end for an audience. And there are not many resources to document the work done by the cast, the production team and the crew during the course of rehearsals. Blogging seemed to be a method to attempt to address these related topics.

Second, although I've thought of approaching Civic directors with a similar project for their own productions, it isn't fair to ask someone else to take on a task that I'm not prepared to do myself. I do not know whether reading the results on this blog will encourage other Civic directors to try the same, but I hope it will open up the possibility in their minds of blogging about their shows.

Third, the more people get to know about the practice of theatre -- the multiple decisions that have to be made that can lead a production down any number of paths, the successes, the failures, the second-guessing, the reverse-engineering, the high points and the low -- the more they'll understand the product. It may also enhance their enjoyment of the show, and perhaps demystify what theatre is and encourage them to become involved.

So once per week I'll be at my computer, typing my thoughts on the previous week's activity on The Importance of Being Earnest and the steps being taken to bring it to the stage at the historic Monon Depot Theatre. You'll still be reading posts to announce the cast list as well as an "In the Wings" series that highlights some of the actors and the set. And there will also be post for you to share your thoughts about the final production. But I hope these weekly posts will nicely supplement those snapshots and keep you entertained.

So ... here's the first post.

The first question a person may have for me is "Why direct The Importance of Being Earnest?" My first answer is that Oscar Wilde's script is brilliant in that it satirizes society with little bon mots. They're almost like cotton candy laced with arsenic: They're light, fun and easy to digest and forget, except that they've got a bit of a sting. Wilde takes on marriage, education, manners, snobbery, societal classes and more with a sharp observation hidden in a sweet phrase.

Additionally, the script is a farce -- the most incredibly unbelievable actions happen in succession, all because of a misunderstanding or a secret. There are buffoons aplenty, and more than a few characters get their comeuppance as their facades are shattered. In fact, every character has a facade -- they are two-faced to a fault (oh, that clever Wilde knew society's little hangups ... and he airs them out).

And on top of all that, the play is a romance. Characters are so in love that they'll go through a lot to ensure they can marry whom they want to marry at the end. Some scripts can barely pull off one style successfully. The Importance of Being Earnest pulls off three.

The second answer is that I love working with the young people who participate in Civic Youth Theatre. It isn't just a question of talent, but that they're willing to take on risks and go for the big prize. Not nearly enough credit is given to CYT Director Melanie R. Buchanan for encouraging seasons that include classic plays to stretch and challenge the abilities of these young people. And not nearly enough credit is given to the casts and crews who participate in shows that have challenging content, including Romeo and Juliet and The Giver.

And The Importance of Being Earnest is going to be a heck of a challenge -- the language simply must be memorized word for word otherwise the meaning is altered and the comedy dimished; the actors have to deliver the lines so they seem to come from them naturally, and these lines are not natural all, they are literary almost to the point of being philosphy rather than dramatic action; some characters are simply not very nice without a single explanation as to why and actors love the chance to explain why their characters are flawed -- they want sympathy, but this script doesn't allow those moments; finally, the audience's expectations are going to be high. When they learn that CYT is producing this show, three out of every four people I speak with have told me that this script is their favorite comedy of all time. The challenges are going to be immense, and I'm excited to work with these CYT folks to meet them and exceed expectations.

Steve Martin

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Review Is In: The Man Who Came to Dinner

The review of The Man Who Came to Dinner from the Journal & Courier, Lafayette's daily newspaper, is in. You can read it here. It was written by Dick Jaeger.

The Man Who Came to Dinner begins the second weekend of its three-weekend run this Friday with shows at 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evening, and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. The show closes Sunday, February 15.

To order tickets, please call the Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette box office at 765-423-PLAY (7529) or visit the Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette Web site.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Share Your Thoughts: Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead

The staged reading of Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead took place last night at 7:00 p.m. at the historic Monon Depot Theatre in downtown Lafayette, with 50 people in attendance. As with other staged readings in the series, it was followed by a question-and-answer session between the audience, the cast and the director, Laurie Russell.

Did you attend the staged reading last night? What did you think about the characters, the plot, the presentation and other elements? What were some of the high points? What will you remember most about this staged reading?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Own it.

When meeting their full casts for the first time, some directors strongly encourage actors not to view videos and DVDs or listen to CDs of movies based on the play they will perform in a few weeks’ time. And if a director doesn’t say it explicitly, there are actors who take it upon themselves not to watch other actors’ portrayals of the same character. These actors want to "own" their roles and make them their own creations, and their directors encourage them to do so.

There are ample opportunities for actors to borrow from or be influenced by another performer’s work. In the midst of this Age of Information, a few keystrokes on the Internet can provide a video of an amateur performance of a play, suggestions on how to play a character and even a DVD order form that sets in motion a chain of events to send out a movie within a business day. Additionally, many productions mounted at Civic are of shows that are well known and probably have more than a few permanent records. The only wholly original play in this year’s season is Steve Gooch’s In the Weeds, which is part of the Staged Reading Series. I imagine that almost every performer in a Mainstage production has access to a YouTube clip, a CD or something else that has recorded a performance of the show they are in. The same may be true of Civic Under the Stars and Civic Youth Theatre productions.

When they request that actors not watch a movie or listen to a CD of another person’s performance, directors aren’t doing it to limit an actor’s creative choices but to expand them. Sometimes the memories of a beautifully portrayed character show up in a different actor’s portrayal. Unfortunately, actors can only mimic another's performance and they don’t actually connect with the character – they connect instead with the façade presented by the previous performer. If an actor doesn’t examine a character’s wants and desires, if an actor cannot understand and empathize with the actions of the character they portray from that character’s point of view – and this goes for antagonists as well as protagonists – and if an actor attempts to provide only what they perceive as characterization by another actor, the performance falls flat.

And for an audience member … well, I’d rather see an original interpretation of a character than a pale imitation of a more well known performance. If an actor is playing King Lear exactly how Ian Holm played King Lear, why shouldn’t I stay home with a DVD rental of that performance?

Finally, a director asks actors not to be influenced by other performers’ portrayals because those portrayals may not mesh with the director’s vision of the show. Excellent scripts allow for multiple interpretations of the characters. Perhaps the director has conceived a production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire in which she sees Stanley as the protagonist and Blanche as the antagonist. Perhaps he wants to satirize American apathy and agrarian society rather than turn-of-the-century Russian landowners in a production of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Perhaps Snow White is a shrew and Prince Charming a buffoon in the director’s mind. The actors who comprised the original 1950s cast of Guys and Dolls portrayed their characters realistically because of the director’s vision. Those actors in the cast of the 1990s revival played them slightly different because director Jerry Zaks’ concept of the show was that of a Sunday newspaper comic strip – bright and broad. It was the first production in which the comedic couple of Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit received equal prominence of the "romantic" leads. And those actors in the cast of the newest revival set to open on March 1 will portray their roles differently as Des McAnuff helms the production.

Actors must own their roles; they cannot borrow “this” from one characterization and “that” from another. To do so creates a muddy portrait of a character that an audience may not be able to understand at all. And if there is no understanding or no recognition, the production suffers.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Announcing auditions: The Importance of Being Earnest

Audition information for Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, the third of Civic Youth Theatre's 2008-2009 season, has been announced.

Director Steve Martin will be holding auditions on Sunday, February 8, and Monday, February 9, at the historic Monon Depot Theatre in downtown Lafayette. Auditions will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. each night.

There are roles for 5 men and 4 women in the show. Actors should prepare for auditions by reading the script, which will be available for check-out at Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette. All actors will be asked to read from the script during auditions.

The Importance of Being Earnest will run Friday, April 3, through Sunday, April 5, at the historic Monon Depot Theatre in downtown Lafayette. Friday and Saturday evening performances will be at 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday matinee performances will be at 2:30 p.m.

For more information about the auditions or the production, please call Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette's office at 765-423-PLAY (7529) or visit Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette's Web site.