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Austin Pendleton

February 26th, 2011 No comments

Was watching an interview/discussion with Austin Pendleton on Theater Talk. It is a wonderful interview with plenty of insight into acting, directing, and theater relationships. Pendleton was talking about his upcoming productions of both Three Sisters and Detroit. Detroit is on the cover of American Theatre, either this month or last month, including the full text of the play. With Three Sisters I can only think of the Wooster Group production and Willem Dafoe speaking in his wispy, mellow way.

Anyway, the other night I was watching Zoldessy choreograph the movements of the actors in the East Storefront. He kept having them move and the he’d stop and think about it for a bit and then he’d talk about it and then he’d have everyone go back and run through the movement again. Zoldessy must have spend :30 minutes or :40 minutes on a page-and-a-half of the play, and I could tell the actors were getting antsy and there were only 10 pages left in the play and the hour was getting late, etc.

It was at this moment that I remembered the interview with Pendleton. In that interview he recounted how Jerome Robbins, during a 1964 production of Fiddler on the Roof spent 6 hours staging and re-staging a scene that was all of 5 minutes on stage. Now, Robbins could get away with it because he had paid actors who were acting as their job. Nonetheless, Robbins was, according to Pendleton, very committed to telling the story, that is, making the reality of the characters and their relationships truthful and real. The 5 minute scene was the family preparing for the Sabbath, and Robbins felt that the scene showed relationships and established character and was important enough to examine and block again and again until it was just right.

Pendleton then talked about his first gig as a director and how he blocked out the whole play in his mind. And then, with some other play that he was directing he didn’t get the chance to do that and felt awful about it, and unprepared, but, to his chagrin, discovered an organic approach, what he referred to as “expressive blocking.” Pendleton felt that this kind of experimenting is important and characterized it as working with clay, but you’re working with actors. And once the actors are interacting you begin to see things.

Jarod and I were at Happy Dog the other day talking about how much Zoldessy is bringing out in the play that is not apparent in the text, and much of this has to do with this process.

Pendleton also attributed a heuristic to Kazan, I think, that when it comes to successfully staging a play that it’s 80% casting, and 18% the ground plan: a ground plan that is expressive of the story.

Pendleton also talked about approaches to directing actors, including spending a certain amount of time at the table discussing the scene. What’s the event in the scene that moves the story forward. How are things different at the end of this scene than they were at the outset. Very traditional in that respect.

Rehearsal Reports

February 9th, 2011 No comments

So for the rehearsal updates I am taking advantage of the very fine work that Jarod Witkowski is doing with the rehearsal reports. I have removed some content that is not generally necessary (such as attendance and theater specific requests). The full report is at the bottom of the post.

Jarod is a fellow playwright in the NEOMFA program and was drafted into working on the playwright festival by Mike Geither as a part of the formative learning process of play production. Jarod is the stage manager for Patterns and is not even getting credit (formal credit) for it; though he’s putting in some serious hours. Additionally, Jarod fills in and reads parts when actors cannot be present. I know he’s proving to be highly valuable to Zoldessy in this process and I certainly respect what he’s doing. He also brought me some Zywiec from Chicago last time he was there, which makes him mighty fine in my book.

During the first full rehearsal (not reading) Zoldessy blocked the first 11 pages of the script. Blocking is the process of articulating how and where actors move in the space and what the actor will be doing at any given point in time. Blocking is always an issue, but it is especially so with a new play, where no template exists for how the thing has been done previously. Obviously, blocking is one of the more important pieces of getting the play up, as actors spend most of their time in motion or speaking. It wasn’t until this process began formally with Patterns that I recognized just how important. In this play there are 7 actors. Excepting one scene in the play, all actors are never on stage at the same time. This begs the rather obvious question: what are the actors doing when they aren’t “on stage”. This is a perceptive question that Geither asked me right off the bat. I admit that I did not understand the full implications of the question until blocking work started.

For instance, taking the most lame-o scenario imaginable: when two actors are “on stage” (I am using that term loosely to mean ‘doing something’ to garner the direct and immediate attention of the audience) the other five actors could be sitting on chairs at the back. (Which is exactly what my lame directorial imagination called up when writing the piece–largely because that was not the focus of my attention.) So, again, two actors acting, five actors sitting. This isn’t so much of a deal until you realize that five people sitting on chairs doing nothing can draw attention. But worse, one of five actors doing anything other than sitting can draw attention, too. So, there’s the discussion of whether or not the actors should “be in character” the whole time they’re sitting. This raises new questions for a play like mine in which actors portray multiple characters.

I brought a video camera and a TV we don’t use around the house. Jared Bendis lent me an Edirol video mixer to run multiple camera sources into one tv output; so, I will be playing with this. The camera is another important piece of the equation which must be mixed in to the blocking and the general timing of events to ensure that it is a part of the flow of the performance and not just a clunky add-on.

Rehearsals right now are in the East Storefront at CPT because the Levin is booked solid with Black Box through March 6. This poses problems of its own which are not uncommon to productions: you rehearse somewhere other than where you will perform. This means that on March 7, when we do get access to the space for Tech Week, the actors will have 4 days to get acclimated to the actual performance space. Unfortunately, these 4 days will not just be acclimation, they also represent time that must be spent testing light positions, light changes, special lighting effects, sound cues, video: in short, the mind will be under assault from a variety of directions and it will take serious focus on everyone’s part.

Date: 2/8/11
Start Time: 6:30 Break: 8:05 – 8:15 End Time: 9:45

– Blocked pages 1-11
– Tom brought and hooked up video for use during rehearsal

– Line change on page 7, Aisa’s line to introduce the “Demented family dynamic causes daughter to live in head” scene previously included actors’ real names, they have been removed and will be removed in every subsequent case. Notes will be made when the time comes. Aisa’s line now reads, “In this scene, I shall play the part of the daughter. Not that this implies anything, you understand? (Calling to house) Family lighting please.”

– Mike will be in charge of camera during page 5’s caption read by Lynna, Laura will operate the camera when Debbie reads the caption on page 7, and Jim will be in charge of camera on Mike’s rant on page 11.

– One tv, one table, and one camera on tripod were all stored in the space for wednesday’s rehearsal
– The entire props list was completed by Tom/Brian and will be emailed/distributed to everyone by week’s end



-Tom set up the feed effortlessly, worked flawlessly, and some cast members are aware that they will need to work either behind it, or in front of it at some point

-The two center chairs that will be the focal point on the round, raised platform will need to have a straight back and flat seat in order to place the plywood on to make the Queen’s death scene into her death bed, so to speak.

Next Day Schedule:
Wednesday, feb 9th 6:30
We will block pages 11-20, review pages 1-11, and Ali will come in for measurements

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