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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

THEATRE ETIQUETTE and BASIC GUIDELINES for School and Community Theatre Actors

Hey everyone, and welcome to theater is a sport.  Today I wanted to talk about the very important topic of theater etiquette, for those people who are perhaps getting involved in community or school theatre for the first time.  Now, granted, every director may have different thoughts on certain subjects, but I think the guidelines as I have outlined below are pretty standard.
  • Please respect your director, stage manager, crew members, and fellow actors at all times. Be aware of their thoughts and feelings.  (This is perhaps the most important rule I can think of.)
  • Acting is a hard enough job! Please leave the directing/design/stage managing to the people with those jobs. I would ask especially that your refrain from giving your fellow actors unsolicited advice or direction... The director will take care of that stuff. (now, obviously, if someone asks you, "How do you think I was in that scene?", you can give them your thoughts, but don't so in a way that would be stepping on the director's toes.)
  • Remember that you  are part of  a team. There is no “I” in C-A-S-T (although, there is an “I” in director.)   :-)
  • Please arrive promptly to rehearsals. As much as I love the social aspect of theater, it is important to be efficient with time, so be ready to go right at start time.  Directors are usually early to rehearsals, so if you have questions for them, go in a bit early.  Also, if you want to chat with your new extended family (your fellow actors) before rehearsal is always a good time.
  • Please, unless there is a personal emergency going on, silence your cell phones or turn them off completely during rehearsal. (Let your stage manager know if you have to have an exception to this rule). Cell phones ringing (or being answered) are very distracting to the rehearsal process.  I literally have had students rehearsing a scene stop, answer their phones and actually start a conversation, mid-rehearsal.  Did not please me, to say the least. 
  • Please don't chew gum while rehearsing a scene, unless it has been discussed that your character is a gum chewer.  It's a mouth and diction obstruction, and an unnecessary one at that.
  • Please try to keep a positive attitude and stay focused while we rehearse. Sometimes, things may go very slowly with a lot of stops. Please stay focused and on the ready to resume.
  • If you have questions about a note a director gives you, please speak to  them about it after notes are given, and privately. This goes also for any thoughts and suggestions. I am a collaborative fellow, but I don't like to get off-track while I'm giving notes. This doesn't mean I won't listen to your thoughts. I may not always agree with them, and, as director, I would ask you to trust me to try it my way, but I will always listen and consider your thoughts. Promise.
  • Be safe! Don't jump on and off the stage, or put yourself or your fellow actors in any kind of risk at rehearsal (or, well, anywhere). We want to make sure we all stay healthy for the show!
  • If you are going to be late or miss a rehearsal, give as much advanced notice as possible, and, ideally, give that information to the stage manager, and not the director.   
**** Do not take advantage of stage kisses.  Make sure everyone is comfortable.  At a theater I have been a part of for years, there was an actor we learned who had trouble keeping his tongue to himself during stage kisses.  This is very unprofessional (unless the kiss has been choreographed and planned that way).  Taking liberties like that with your fellow actors is wrong, and, quite frankly, pretty creepy.  And, in case you were wondering. that actor, once found out, never appeared in a play there again.
****Please do not make negative comments or suggestions to "improve" a designer's work.  (For example, "That set piece should be painted yellow, not green", or "Man, that costume is ugly.")  If you have concerns about something, please talk privately with the director, or, just keep your thoughts to yourself for the good of the show's morale.
  • When we get to the point of being off script, if you need a line, just stay in place, stay in the scene, and call “Line”, and the line will be provided. In this way, you can stay focused and move smoothly. A lot of people will step out of the scene and make a big fuss (I have done this myself out of frustration), but it really is better to stay in place, say "Line" and then continue. 
  • I know these guidelines may seem many, but honestly, remember, it is called a PLAY for a reason. It is good to have a good, productive FUN time in a TEAM environment!  Do your part to make sure everyone has a great time.
Thank you for reading this post, and I hope that you have found it helpful.

Remember, theater etiquette is important, and theater is a sport.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Thoughts on Building a Character

Whether you are cast in a community theatre production or a multi-million dollar movie, building a character is an actor's job. Sounds simple, right? Well, in my experience as an actor, director, and playwright, I have found that building a character that is unique in its own ways can be a very big challenge. Below are some of my thoughts on what an actor can do as “homework” to start giving their characters a life of their own, thereby facilitating a richer experience not only for the audience, but for themselves as well.

  • Read the script. And then re-read it. As you do, pay close attention to how your character helps tell the overall story. What is your role in getting the overall picture across?
  • What does your character want? It is important as an actor to ask yourself what your character's objectives are. Most likely, they have a grand objective for the show, but they also have objectives for every scene they are in (sometimes even from moment to moment). Really think about what your character wants whenever they are onstage--- after all, why else would they be there.
  • How do you get what you want? Your character's ACTIONS informs how your character is played. Actions are what a character does to get what they want. For example, does your character flirt, deceive, or threaten to get what they want? Or do they coax, plead, or promise to get what they want? There are many, many verbs to create many, many actions. And have fun figuring it out! Play!
  • Create an Autobiography! This can be a wonderful exercise to be creative about your character. Write out your character's life story. It needn't be an epic, but give them a back story: where are they from, what were there parents like, what major events have shaped who they are within the world of the play? Write this story in first person, i.e., “I was born in the Bedford Falls hospital at...” etc. For those with larger roles, there may be a lot of clues in the script. For those who have less clues in the script, here's a chance to create a great identity for your character. Every “townsperson” is more than just a “townsperson”! They are a human being! Give them a story that influences their reactions every time they're on stage. Give them a name, and give them a purpose! Have fun and be creative, but be sure to stay within the “world” of the play and within the playwright's intentions (for example, in “It's a Wonderful Life”, it probably wouldn't be wise to give your character a backstory that includes being a super villain on a distant planet who fell to Earth on a meteorite).
  • The movie poster: This is an exercise I use with my casts a great deal to help the process of creating a physicality for their character. Imagine that your character, no matter how big or small it might be in the play, as the star of their own movie about them. What do they look like on the movie poster? Do they stand tall, chest out, shoulders back? Do they hunch? Do their eyes shift to the sides, or look straight on? Are they smiling? Are they angry? Really close your eyes and picture this movie poster, and then begin to bring the physicality in your body. Mimic the posture, and see if it feels right. In time, try walking about and seeing how the character's posture translates into a walk. What feels right? What part of the body leads your character? Where is your energy located? Imagine what your character looks like, and remember: they don't have to look like YOU. Eventually, you will have to try to look like THEM.
  • Voice: What does your character sound like? Look for hints in the script. Do they speak haltingly? (“I'd like...a...uh... glass of...water?”). Figure out a cadence that seems right to you.
  • Relationships: How does your character feel about everyone they interact with? Many may find clues in the script, but if there are no clues to be found, then determine on your own. In “It's a Wonderful Life” especially, it is important that everyone have thoughts about others in the town. It is a small town story, with small town gossip. Everyone knows everyone. You all will have opinions on Mr. Potter for example. You may have gossiped about who Violet is dating now.

All of this character building work is vital when building working inner lives and motivations for every character on stage. This is what makes a production tight and believable. The more you know your individual character, the more you are doing your part to help tell the story of the play.

And when you know your character, you can let go and really begin LOOKING and LISTENING and REACTING to your scene partners.

Thank you for reading this post.  In case you can't tell,   I am in the midst of directing a production of "It's a Wonderful Life".  Yay!

Until next time, please remember--- theater is a sport.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

MY PROM DATE WAS A FELON, featured play in this month's Brooklyn Publishers' Newsletter!

Greetings, loyal readers of my blog!

I wanted to let you all know that my play, My Prom Date Was a Felon, is the featured play in Brooklyn Publishers' October newsletter.  If you click HERE, it will take you directly to the newsletter where you can read a new essay I wrote about the play called How This Playwright Finally Went to the Prom (all about how I can live vicariously through my characters), and, until OCTOBER 9TH, you can download a FREE perusal e-script of the play!

As many of you regular readers already know, this is a play that I am very proud of, and I am so excited that this newsletter is giving people a chance to learn more about it and to even read it for free!

I would be remiss if I did not mention that this newsletter also has information and synopses of many other great plays for schools and community theaters, including plays by some of my playwriting pals.  In fact, I'd recommend signing up for the newsletter so you can always see the great stuff that's coming out from the many talented folks at Brooklyn Publishers (who published my very first play and got me started in this business!)

All righty.  I guess that's it.  Again, you can follow the link above, or, hey, I'll make it simple, and say that you can just click HERE!