The Show Ends

Last night, we capped off an amazing weekend of drama at the Penang Performing Arts Centre. Good responsive crowds watched as my amazing young actors perform everything from comedy, to dramatic storytelling, to hard hitting drama. It’s such an emotional thing for a writer and director to see the work they’ve toiled on for months finally come and then quickly go. But satisfying. So satisfying.

Once again, watching the shows these past couple of days, my belief in teenage drama has been reinforced. I don’t believe in high school drama. High school drama has such a negative stereotype, at least in my eyes. When you put the term ‘high school’ in front of drama, suddenly you aren’t taken seriously. The awards folks won’t look your way. There’s a connotation of inexperienced acting which ends up being nothing more than photo-ops for parents and relatives.

I believe in nothing like that. Actors are actors, whether aged 16 or 45. Whether they’ve have years of training under Adler and Meisner or whether they’re in their first theatre arts class. The requirements are the same. Preparation. Characterization. Mining the script. Making choices about movement, vocal qualities, and backstory. And when it’s all put together, any actor, with the right preparation and the right script, can impact an audience in wonderful and unexpected ways.

That’s what happened here the past couple of nights. And it happened with actors ranging from 15 to 18 with varying levels of experience. When expectations are high, the actors will hit it. I’ve seen it over and over. And the comments are amazing.

“I can’t believe these are kids.”

“They are so amazing.”

Yes, they are. Whether playing a grandpa or a child, a piece of fruit or a government bureaucrat. They rise to the occasion time and time again.

I stand amazed. And proud. So proud.

I’m going to miss this group so much!

At least I was smart enough to realize that doing one show in my final semester here would not be enough. RLT Musical is coming next week. It’s my saving grace. It has kept me from falling into drama depression.

So let’s do this, one more time.

RLT MusicalPOSTER2

 

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The Sasse Food Challenge: How to Motivate Actors

It’s become somewhat of a ritual for me over the past few years: The Sasse Food Challenge.

It’s a way to, hopefully, motivate my actors to memorize their lines by the date I want them memorized.

On the day of the challenge, if they ALL know their lines, approximately 95% or so, then I will invite them to my house to cook for them. I’ll cook something special like my gourmet pizzas (stuffed crust with toasted garlic and homemade spicy sausage, for example) or Mexican (homemade Enchiladas with my own salsa and pickled peppers.)

Usually food speaks greatly to them. In my many years of offering the challenge, my group only missed the challenge twice. It doesn’t get them off the hook – they still need to memorize their lines, but it does take away a great and fun time of bonding with the cast.

Monday is our challenge this week. They had previously did very well in memorizing Act I, but tomorrow is Act II, and if they can nail it, they’ll have their food on April 10.

We’ll also play some drama games and enjoy some good dessert. I hope they make it. Not because they’ll know their lines on time, but because I like to cook for them. It’s enjoyable,  and I always look forward to it.

So that’s how I motivate my actors. What do you do?

You have a good show. Now make it great.

I’ve been working real hard with my drama group, getting ready for our Christmas show coming up the first week of December. We’ve spent a lot of hours working the 10 different scripts we’ll be performing that night, and I’ve been really happy with how they are coming together. It’s going to be an enjoyable evening of drama and music. The audience is going to laugh and cry.

But today, as I was starting to see the entire show coming together, I finally had time to start looking at the little details of the show which could make it even more memorable and enjoyable for the audience.

I thought of a between-sketch one-minute dance number which could be added to help introduce one of the sketches. The actor of the sketch, who loves to dance, loved the  idea and is now working on the choreography. A minute minute dance bridge which will keep the audience enthralled.

I thought of other things as well: light dustings of snow in some of the sketches to help with the visuals. A painted stage which will have two red and green triangles which will look like the outline of a Christmas tree. Candy or gifts for the audience. I’m simply at the beginning  of ideas now; I’m sure many more are to come.

I firmly believe it’s these little touches which will add tremendous depth and enjoyment for the audience. So if you’re producing a show, perfect the script, but then dig deeper. Where else can value be added without breaking the bank or without taking too much time?

This will help make a good production into a great production. If you come to our show, be looking for these little touches. I hope everyone enjoys them.

Rlt christmas poster 4 sizeA5

Thank (or hug) a Drama Director

If you’ve ever enjoyed a theatrical production, take a minute and thank a drama director today. Now I’m not saying this so someone will thank me, but there is a tremendous amount of work that goes into a show, 99% of it is never seen. But the laughter you enjoy, the poignant moments that send tears down your cheek, don’t just happen. They are created out of months of work and hundreds of hours of dedication.

This topic hit me as I was planning out my week ahead of me. Now please understand, drama directing is not my full-time job. I volunteer to do it because I love it. But all of these items I’m planning to do this week – 5 weeks before the show – is what I’m currently working on as we prepare. Every director or producer will have their  own list of crazy busy-ness. Here’s mine:

Spent hours yesterday creating our show’s first flyer.

Spent many more hours yesterday and today creating individual fact  sheets for each of the 10 sketches which will be part of our show.

Coordinating our first flyer print.

Sending questions to actors for their informational sheets.

By the way, the program isn’t finished yet.

Rehearsal from 3pm to 6 pm tomorrow.

Have to schedule special rehearsals this week for 3 other sketches.

Contacting the box office about our first poster.

Meeting with tech on Monday to print cue sheets.

Coordinating sound tracks with composers.

Beginning to create the actor informational sheets.

Putting posters around campus and town.

Planning on staging. (Lights, stage painting)

Trying to track down the lost shipment of Christmas hats from the supplier.

Having impromptu photo-session for one actor who missed our regular session.

Photoshop has become a permanent part of my fingertips.

These are the items I’m working on 5 weeks out from the show. Imagine how crazy it will be when show week arrives.

All producers and directors feel this. And on top of all of this, we  worry whether anyone will show up and whether or not we will meet all our costs. Nothing is guaranteed.

Oh, and by the way, we also hope we have a good show to put on!

Lots of moving parts. Lots of sleepless nights.

Thank a director today. Or better yet, hug a director.

 

When realism made everything unrealistic.

When does trying to be real backfire and become realistic?

I guess this is the journey I’ve been on in the theatre these past seven years. I started out as a director trying to make everything on stage seem as realistic as possible. I remember the first play I wrote, we figured out how to make a mad-scientist labratory for one scene, complete with a shelf with all kinds of stuff on it, to a house and office in the next scenes. The backbreaking work between the scenes was ridiculous and we made the audience have to wait between set changes. But hey, it was realistic.

The next year, I decided to paint backdrops to bring realism into the set, so for the scene with a farmer, we had an elaborately drawn backdrop with a meadow and trees and etc… we tried to be real and we ended up looking rather ridiculous. I’m pretty sure everyone could tell that it was not an actual meadow.

Slowly and surely I began to understand that it is much less about the set and backdrop and much more about the script and actors. Seems obvious, I know, but I’m a slow learner. I’ve really learned this with my drama group The RLT Players. We started performing dramatic sketches three years ago with no or minimal props. I never knew a wooden box for be so many things. And you know what, it works because the audience buys into the realism of the actor’s performance. It’s theatre, after all. It’s not the movies.

And this is one thing I’ve learned to love about the theatre. On stage, you can be standing on a black piece of wood, but you can convince the audience that you are flying through the air, or being attacked by a dragon, or being over-run by an angry mob. In theatre, less really is more.

Of course there are the multi-million dollar productions which can up the ante on realism and dazzle with special effects. But for me, I’ve come to enjoy the simplicity of an empty stage and a talented actor. It allows the audience’s imagination take over and whisk people on journeys they never thought possible.

That is the magic of live theatre.

Everything doesn’t have to be real in order to have realism.

What is acting?

Acting coach Howard Fine has said the following:

“Actors wear costumes, people wear clothes.”

Here are a few things I think it means:

1. If you are wearing a costume, you are a bad actor. (unless you’ve been cast in the role of “Tree” during the George Washington Cherry Tree play.)

2. Acting is about being real. Committing yourself to a role by personalizing it, understanding what part of you is already in this character.

3. Acting is about being a person – a real person – 100% of the time. A mother in the kitchen cooking breakfast for her family doesn’t wear a costume. She wears an apron. A mechanic working under the hood of sports car doesn’t wear a costume; he wears overalls or a uniform. The point is, every (human) character is a real person and needs to be treated as one.

4. Good acting transcends acting. Good acting is, in fact, not acting at all. It expresses human experience in authentic ways. It makes no difference if an audience is watching a performance or not. The actor represents a real human being in a real life situation. It is no place for costume jewelry.

Is it any wonder why acting is so difficult?

Directing for Short & Sweet Theatre Penang

I’ve signed on to direct in Short & Sweet Theatre Penang coming up in September.

What is Short & Sweet?

It’s a festival of 10-minute plays, each performed nightly during one week of theatre competition.  I entered as a playwright last year, and my play was fortunate enough to take home the “Audience Choice Award” which was really cool.

This year I’ve decided to direct a play. (Not allowed to choice my own.) Over the weekend I read through the original scripts which were selected by a panel in KL to be in this year’s competition.  I chose the three scripts I would most like to direct and sent my selections to the competition coordinator.

Auditions will be held soon where I’ll get to choose whom I would like for the play.

Then we’ll have weekly rehearsals until the competition begins in September.

The Short & Sweet concept started in Australia a number of years back and has now spread to many parts of the world. It arrived in KL about four years ago and in Penang for the first time last year.

In addition to theatre, Short & Sweet KL will include Musical, Stand-Up Comedy, & Dance. In Penang, dance will be the only additional one.

It’s going to be a lot of fun and I look forward to finding my actors and starting rehearsals.

Come out and see the show if you are going to be around. Here’s a link for Short & Sweet Malaysia:

Short & Sweet Malaysia