Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Finding the familiar and facing the fear

Recently, theatre KAPOW was asked to collaborate with the NH Philharmonic on a program they were doing called Shakespeare Lives! The show featured pieces of classical music by some of the best composers of all time, including Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, and Verdi. The pieces all had one thing in common: they were all inspired by the plays of William Shakespeare. tKAPOW was asked to read some selections of text throughout the concert. Peter, Carey, and Olivia provided the audience with wonderful context for the pieces of music and it was a really amazing concert. While sitting there watching the show, I was struck by a couple of things. First, I was surprised by how much of the music I recognized though I was previously unaware of its connection to the bard (Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream being the best example). Second, I found it incredible that so many pillars of classical music were inspired by the works of Shakespeare. What does it say about how great the work of an artist is when Tchaikovsky is inspired by it?

The opportunity to take part in this concert was particularly synchronistic as we are currently working on our first foray into Shakespeare in the mounting of Macbeth. Approaching any Shakespearean text, but perhaps more Macbeth than any other, you have the feeling of treading on hallowed ground. This is a work that has inspired (and terrified) generations throughout the world. One of the things that can be intimidating about this play is that you encounter one of the most iconic lines of text ever written at each turn of the page. Upon first reading, or first re-reading after a long time, it’s easy to have an experience similar to the one I had listening to those famous pieces of music. You come across a line and think “Ah, so that’s where that is from.” I find it fascinating that so much of Shakespeare’s language has transcended the plays in which it was first written. His quotes, in many cases, are more popular than his plays (Perhaps we should change the marketing for the show to read “Come see an actor deliver the famous ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ speech!”). When you study this play closely, you find not only those famous lines but a number of sayings that have taken root as part of our common parlance. Without Macbeth, we’d have no “be-all and end-all,” no “one fell swoop,” no “sorry sight,” and, perhaps most tragically, no “Knock, knock! Who’s there?” It’s obviously no secret that Shakespeare was a great wordsmith, but it’s the way he brings the language together in such an incredibly efficient and compact way that makes Macbeth stand apart from so many great plays.

We are in tech week for the show and that means that we are within just a few days of sharing our work with audiences. We do so with an understanding that this production is one in a long line of productions that trace their way all the way back to the tip of Shakespeare’s quill. tKAPOW’s production uses only three actors to play all the roles in the play. We did this not to try to “do something new” (when it comes to Macbeth, everything new has already been done), but to place emphasis on the story. Our production features three storytellers aware of their place in the storytelling process. They take on their roles in view of the audience using just a few simple props and actively include the audience in the telling (don’t worry, you won’t be asked to murder anyone). While a big cast outfitted in period Scottish costumes playing on a realistically painted castle set may be nice, we opt instead to bring you a production with a little less “sound and fury.” What you’ll see is three actors at the top of their game sharing one of the greatest stories ever told. We can only hope that our production will inspire the next great symphony.
Photo by Matthew Lomanno

~ Matt Cahoon

Monday, October 20, 2014

Instant Acting and Kismet

Just add water...and a script, a director, a castmate, copious amounts of coffee.... a couple of slices of pizza won’t hurt.

Walking into the kickoff meeting of the 2014 24 Hour Play Festival, I really had no idea what to expect, but I thought I did. I knew there would be about 30 people there. I knew that five playwrights and five directors would be paired up by the luck of the draw and that the rest of us would be assigned to a cast by lottery.  But I did not know the sweet moments of kismet, or the confidence in my ability to work fast….really fast, and pretty well.  I’m hooked.

I knew two people in the room, Debera Lund and Olivia Dodd, a director and an actor with whom I’d just worked for a week last month. I secretly hoped I’d work with Deb, because I liked her process and didn’t get to work with her nearly long enough. The first playwright, Patrick Cleary got to pick a card from the “director” group. He drew Debera. After the other playwrights randomly chose their directors, they got to pick their cast size. Patrick drew a cast of two.
Then, Debera was the first director to “cast” the show by blindly picking cards with the actors’ pictures on them. Suddenly, the picking-teams-in-gym-class feeling washed over me. I thought, “Please don’t let me be the last kid picked. Please don’t let me be the last kid picked”, until I realized that having a card with your face on it picked at random is more like being part of a card trick than being chosen (or not) for a dodgeball team. Debera picked my card first. Hooray! First kismet moment. By the end of the evening, our team included Patrick, Deb, myself, and a young actress named Jasmine Roth, who also happened to be one of the playwrights for the Festival.

The playwrights then chose a prompt in the form of an image or a quote. Our prompt was a picture of the M. C. Escher elephant. He chose a genre: Drama. There were a few minutes for the four of us to get together. When I meet new people, I fight an urge to talk. It is my job to make everyone in the group comfortable. Or uncomfortable, as the case may be. Even when it’s not. Somehow, I blurted out something about having a wicker table in the shape of an elephant. Because, you know, elephant is sort of random. It seemed like a team-building statement. Well, guess what? It kind of was. Because Patrick said he sometimes likes to approach things literally, and what did the elephant table look like, exactly? So I described it. Second kismet moment.

After the kickoff, the actors and directors got to go home to re-convene in the morning. The playwrights were challenged to write a play before 7:00 AM, while the rest of us slept. Although, I am not sure sleep is an accurate description. My mind was “on” all night. Would I get there in time? Would I be able to get my son to his cross-country team breakfast at approximately the same time I had to be at the theatre? Who was going to braid my daughter’s hair for her own theatrical performance that night? Would John, my husband, encounter any crazy theatre-dad issues he was unprepared for? Would everyone have enough to eat? (That last question is always there...I am probably the reincarnation of somebody’s zaftig ethnic grandmother….but I digress).

8:00 AM. On time. And Deb is already here. And there are scripts on the table for us to read. And there’s coffee! And a wifi password! Oh, this has already surpassed my expectations.  Jasmine arrives. Patrick is having some well-earned sleep. To me he has become an elusive fairy-godfather who worked through the night to deliver us an incredibly crafted play to bring to life. The script is entitled “Possession”. And, yes, it does involve an elephant-shaped wicker table. And the conflict between two women, a hoarder and her well-intentioned family member, at odds over the inherent value of stuff. And whether the table is, in fact, a table, or an elephant sculpture. I read it. I love it. It’s 10 pages (not, 17, thank you Patrick!). It’s about people I’m related to. You see, I have the I-break-at-yard-sales gene. (That’s a thing, right?)  I fight that gene tooth and nail, but I have it. Third kismet moment.  

In the script there’s a squabble over an opal ring. An opal ring, really?  Fourth kismet moment.

And we began. In spite of having Debera Lund as our director, I was certain this would have to be a day of blocking and memorizing. How can you possibly find the depth and soul of a character whose ink is barely dry in 10 hours? How can you create a backstory and undercurrents to the character relationships before lunch with a story that has just been read for the first time. Well, you can. You SO can! And, all of a sudden, I recalled days of working summer theatre twenty years ago….when ten days seemed more than sufficient to work on a full-length musical and fill a 1,300 seat house for two weekends.  It’s called total immersion. We had a day. But we had that WHOLE day. There was no world outside to attend to. Yes, we took breaks. Yes, we ate lunch. But those were the moments when the things we worked on took the time to seep into our limbic centers. There were no distractions. No one needed us to make their lunches. No one needed a ride to a friend’s house. No one needed to take over the kitchen with three friends to make cupcake sans recipe. And not a single person brought mud potion into the rehearsal room and accidentally spilled it.

We blocked. We formed relationships between the characters beyond the story at hand. We got to know these two women Patrick created literally overnight out of a prompt and a commitment. Debera was there to share her metaphors, to guide us, to push us to change up our approach, and change it back, and find the sweet spot. She calls it “whiplash” directing. I call it brilliant.

Jasmine and I got to know each other pretty well, in an “I’m-sorry-I-have-to-grab-you-and-throw-you-on-this-pile-of-hoarded-stuff” sort of a way. (The director made me do it.) In spite of the fact that she was up most of the night writing a play for another team, she was good. She was quick. She was a lot of fun to work with. My character was sort of obviously nuts. Her character was more difficult, I thought, walking a fine line between being a supportive and loving family member and just having-it-up-to-HERE already!

We teched at five. Our show opened at 7:30. First up. And we did it. We formed characters out of Patrick’s well-placed words on a page and adrenalin and coffee and water and trust and thought and repetition. Fifth kismet moment. And I want to do it again.

~ Deirdre Hickok Bridge

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cats and Cats and Cats

Driving from Massachusetts to New Hampshire Friday evening, my girlfriend and I started joking about the sort of play I'd end up writing for Theatre KAPOW's 24-Hour Play Festival. 

"Maybe it'll be all cats," I said.

"How would that even work?"

"Like, adult cats have to tell their kittens that they're all famous Internet memes. It's my play Going Viral but with cats. I could just change a few words and be in bed by ten. Call it Going Meowral."

"Going Feral," she joked.

Fast-forward to the part of the evening where I randomly select my prompt, and what is it...?

This. Only this.

Tempted as I was to pen the genre-shattering (and, let's be honest, award-winning) Going Meowral/Going Feral, I decided to use this prompt to write something new. But what?
The playwright Chas Belov gave me some great advice: Have your actors improvise a bit and write your play around that. While I didn't end up transcribing their improvisations (maybe I should have! they were really funny), what I observed did help to inform my brainstorming process. 

I noticed that Kelly Litt was very, very good at physical comedy. He's a tall dude and can really impose himself in hilarious ways. Ben Bagley, I thought, would make a great straight man: earnest but also funny. Jackie Marcoux told me that she'd never done comedy, but in the two scenes they improvised she was really funny, though in a different way than the two boys.

So what to write with all of this?

Kelly and Ben had similar comedic sensibilities and played really well off of each other. Jackie's comedy was more understated, and I knew if I didn't give her character significant power in the scene I risked losing her voice. 

And then I had to include the line "You did what?!" And something about seeing yourself as more than you are. Or just cats. It wasn't too late for just cats, right?
I don't want to spoil the surprise of what I ended up writing, but I will tell you this:
  • Kelly is responsible for an Oprah Magazine reference that may or may not make it into the production.
  • I started writing around 9:30pm and finished the first draft around 1:18 am. It clocked in at eleven pages. As I wrote to a friend on Facebook (because there was much Facebooking throughout this process): The only muse I've ever known is a gun pointed at my head. (Or a ticking clock. Whichever.)
  • I was told that both Ben and Kelly could sing and play the guitar. Ben also knew how to play a tiny coconut-shaped piano. All of them were proficient in stage combat. I could have done amazing things with this, but I used none of it. (Except maybe the guitar. We'll see.)
  • The director, Jamileh Jemison, said that she finds dead bodies to be a source of great hilarity. I was unable to include a dead body in the script, unfortunately. But I did call the police, and they agreed that I was right to be concerned...

In any case, it's mostly out of my hands now. I can't wait to see what Jamileh and the actors do with it!

—Brandon M. Crose

Friday, October 17, 2014

24 Hours, and... go!

Driving around Pinkerton in the dark tonight looking for the Stockbridge Theater was a bit of a metaphoric representation of the challenge of the 24 Hour Play Festival. As I came in through the back entrance, I thought I knew what I was doing. I had spent four years of my life studying at this institution, and never once did I get lost on campus, but tonight was the first time I had used this entrance since the Academy building had been built, and I almost missed the turn.

I have been heavily involved with theatre for the past decade, and this 24 Hour concept is completely throwing me for a loop and knocking me completely (well, almost) out of my comfort zone. I'm the type of director that loves to spend months with a script, tearing it apart, putting it back together, and figuring it out from every angle. I look forward to getting to know my actors on a personal level over the first few weeks of rehearsal so I can figure out the best way to use them. And I like to have time to let things sit, sleep on decisions, and fix my mistakes. Going into tonight, while I knew I would be attempting to battle the familiar beast of directing, I will be doing it in a very unfamiliar way, much like trying to navigate the back lot of Pinkerton Academy.

I was one of the first participants to arrive in the black box tonight. As they other directors, playwrights, and actors began to filter into the room, the tension began to rise. The nervous energy was at an all time high. I was a little at ease, as I had convinced my good friend, and sometimes co-collaborator, Jacob Randlett to be one of the actors for the festival. It was nice having a familiar face in the room, and I figured it would be cool to see him directed by someone else for once (him having been in 4 of the 8 things I have directed.) Once all of then 30-something people had taken their seats, the instructional period began. I was half listening. I also had sudden random doubtful thoughts that oft plague any artist. "What if my playwright has a really jarring style?" "What if my actors don't like me?" "What if I oversleep tomorrow?" and so on and so on. My mind was distracted when we went on a tour of the space, so I quickly was able to stop thinking about these things. But all these things came back to me, and I'm sure others as well, once we all re-entered the black box.

The table in the center of the black box had a large amount of what appeared to be "24 Hour Play Festival" playing cards, which turned out to be the head shots for the directors, playwrights, and actors, as well as the prompts for the shows. The playwrights head shots were turned over, and each one was called up to turn over a director card. After the first four went, and I hadn't been turned over, we all knew who was last. Me. I had met my playwright, Jasmine Roth, once before, as she had auditioned for me, but that was the end of my knowledge of her. I look forward to getting to know her work over the next 20 hours. After that, the directors were instructed to flip over the next set of cards: the number of cast members. The directors were just told to have at it, and we each grabbed a card. I got 4, the largest number possible. Fitting four actors into a 15 minute piece will be incredibly difficult, but I embrace the challenge.

Then the fun part: turning over the actor cards. The directors and playwrights took turns flipping cards as needed. The first card I flipped over made me laugh and curse, as I flipped over Jacob's head shot. I love and hate the fact that I drew him. It saves me time of having to "figure him out" but I also wanted to get away from my comfort zone, but I digress. We did get a nice extra challenge, as when we drew our genre card. Comedy. The only two options were comedy or drama, but comedy will be a good challenge, as Jasmine shared that she has only written deep drama before. My other three actors (Mitch Fortier, Sarah Dunn, and Finley Smith) all have various backgrounds, experiences, and special skills, and they should create a very eclectic ensemble. The next card drawn was our prompt, in which we were given the Anais Nin quote "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." Very thought-provoking, especially for a comedy. The final card drawn was a line of dialog that will have to appear in all five pieces: "You did what?!" After taking twenty minutes to share a little bit about ourselves with each other. We all broke for the night.

I feel... good. Tomorrow will be all about directing from the gut. No drawn out analyzing, no note taking, no research, no hours of ensemble building, just directing. I've been debating trying to draw up a less abstract plan but I don't think that will be any good. I'm just gonna go in there tomorrow, eat breakfast with my cast, read the script, and just let my artistic side flow free.

"You'll never be a success if you fear failure" - Paul Heyman. My motto in life, my motto for this project. Let's rock and roll!

- Dan Pelletier

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Capturing a Feeling

Wax Idiotical Films has been a long time partner with theatre KAPOW, providing video promo’s for their shows. When Carey first announced they were mounting a 3 person production of Macbeth on Halloween… at midnight, I immediately was excited. Not only for the inevitably spectacular performance, but I knew it would be a perfect opportunity to do something new with the video. We had found a tried and true equation for the promos, which all consisted of “talking-heads” and images of the rehearsal, but while they were often times informative it didn’t capture the feeling of a tKAPOW show (this usually was done more successfully in the montage/trailers during production week).

So as I brainstormed on how we could make this new video different, I made a mental list of things that I wanted to highlight. I kept going back to what Carey had said at the announcement, “Shakespeare. 3 Actors. Halloween. Midnight. Macbeth.” These words perfectly got the point across, and told me what I wanted to highlight. The brilliant language of Shakespeare, the fact that 3 people were playing every role, and that the performance would be at midnight on Halloween. I wanted something playful, but in a dark way, and oddly enough the idea struck me late at night while laying in bed.

Cars were driving past my house, and I’d watch the headlights shine through a small gap in my curtains, and they would go across the wall, and light up just a sliver of the room at a time. The idea of sweeping a light across the 3 different actors as they recited some of the lines from their different characters was an easy connection. Then came the tricky part. How? When I arrived to film I tried a few different lights; I knew I wanted to be able to wrap it with blackwrap and cut just a small line in the wrap, but also I needed it to be BRIGHT. Matt was kind enough to direct me to an “inkie” or par 15 light. Very small, and VERY bright.

After filming several lines with the light sweeping back and forth for each actor, I dove into the editing process. This was where I got to play a little bit more. I took some of the background noise of the cast whispering, and layered it over itself. I reversed one of the clips so there weren’t any words, just this whispering that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Visually, the footage looked great, but too bright. Through some color adjustments and desaturating of the footage, I was able to get an “almost” black and white look. I wanted there to be SOME color, but to make the look of the video match the tone: Dark. Mysterious. And most importantly - Creepy.

~ Mark Marshall, Wax Idiotical Films

Watch the trailer here