WAVES – A Black Box Experience

I’ve been down the rabbit hole of theatre the past month, producing my new show “Waves.” We had a successful three performance run which concluded Thursday night with a great, responsive crowd, and a group of young actors who had loosened up to show their grit on the stage. It was a great experience.

For the production of this show, I decided to create a black box theatre experience. I was introduced to this concept more than a decade ago when I walked into the now-defunct Penang Performing Arts Centre. Their black box theatre had seating for 120 max, and it was modular and could be shifted into different configurations. I was intrigued by the intimate setting and quickly fell in love with minimalistic shows which brought the audience right to the cusp of the action.

My new show “Waves” was a one-hour show featuring three dramatic duets and then the 30-minute one-act entitled “Waves.” My school does not have a black box theatre, but it does have a large stage and many platforms which had been constructed for graduation ceremonies. Hey, why not create my own black box theatre? I did, for the second time ever, and it turned out great.

Let me walk you through the photos below. Let’s start with the middle top one. That gives you the perspective of where the black box theatre is: on the stage. The empty chairs in the auditorium look on, wondering what is happening. It’s the same look the audience members have when they enter the auditorium and ask: “What? I go up on stage?” Yep. The photo on the top left gives you and idea what the audience perspective is like during the show. It seats 80, so it’s intimate, and the actors are just a few feet away from the audience. It’s creates an urgency and an energy which couldn’t be duplicated if the audience was WAY DOWN BELOW.

The photo on the top right shows the complete set-up. It had three acting areas – two on platforms and one in the middle. We created the waves backdrop and these strange cage-like structures on either side, with beautifully painted waves on a wooden ramp. Everything worked great and the audience loved the lighting effects and the intimate setting.

The last photo shows some weary-looking director who needs a couple days to recuperate from a crazy, intense week. But these are the kinds of weeks that this crazy director lives for. Watching students come into their own on-stage, in as close to a professional setting that we can give them. Waves was a great success. Now let me rest. Be back soon.

Ponderings on My First Show in 2 Years

Live theatre gets into the blood. When the curtain opens, and the nerves take over, and the hair stands on its end, and the bumps on your skin realize that it’s time, finally, after such a long hiatus, one begins to understand just how much the cult of theatre has seeped into the blood stream.

Last evening, we finished our final show of the Rodgers’ and Hammerstein classic “The King & I.” It ended just days past the two year anniversary of the closing of my last show in December 2019, Seussical. Yeah, two very different shows.

In April of 2020, my nearly produced show “Crazy Love” was washed away by that thing we all know about. I’ve been in theatre hibernation since then, but what a life-giving experience to have to wait so long to get back on the stage. I typically go from one show being finished to starting almost immediately on the next show. It’s been that way in my life for years. But being forced to pull away and not do live theatre made me realize just how much I missed and how I always want it to be part of my life.

The Palace. I built this with my students.
We took the colored panels I had made for the show “Crazy Love” and then tried to retrofit them into the palace design that I had. I had some talented students who created the color textures.

When I do a show, I’m typically doing it all. And I love it all. Stage design. Lighting design. Sound design. Of course, to accomplish this, I basically fall off the grid for a couple months just trying to get all of the work done. I’ve had people tell me they think I’m crazy. I am. Obsessed, even. But when the students hit the stage, and the bows are over, and the tears start flowing from students who didn’t know it was going to feel like this; who didn’t know theatre would seep into their being; who didn’t know how much satisfaction and benefit they would finally get from all those long and boring rehearsals; it makes it all worth it.

So I LOVE it. And I’d be CRAZY not to continue. And that might just be a reference to my next show. The students started clamoring recently about what the plan. “What about next semester? What are we going to do? Are we going to have another show?”

How can I say ‘no’? That’s not an option. Not with the ghosts of the stage pulsing through my body’s every beat.

(PS: But I will take some time before starting the next show. I need to get back to writing. I miss that too. I’m a man divided. And I like both halves equally as much.)

Frodo Is Becoming Obsolete

I started teaching drama and acting right about the time that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy was finishing up. Nearly everyone had seen it, and almost universally raved about it. The characterizations of the film provided the perfect example for me when I attempted to illustrate for my young actors what it means for their character to have a scene objective and a super objective.

Let me break it down for a second. Every character in every play has a scene objective in each scene. It is explained by the reason for them being in the scene and the goal or objective they are trying to accomplish in the scene. I often would have actors who were on stage without lines ask what they were supposed to be doing. My first question for them would be why did the playwright put you there? What does your character want to accomplish? This will tell you what you should be doing.

What about the term super objective, sometimes referred to as a character’s spine?  The super objective is a character’s overarching objective—the one thing he or she wants more than anything else in the world. Aren’t objectives and super objectives the same thing? Don’t ones scene objectives always align themselves with their spine? Not at all.

Enter Frodo. His characterization is so clearly defined as to provide an excellent example of both. Frodo’s scene objectives vary but revolve around the ring and his obsession in making the journey to Mordor to destroy it. His obstacles change from scene to scene and even from book to book, but they all feed into the idea of journey and accomplishing his mission and destroying the nasty ring.

Hey, wait! Isn’t destroying the ring also his super objective? Absolutely not. What does Frodo want more than anything else? And why is he going through all the pain that the ring is causing him? He wants to be home in the Shire. That’s it. He fights creatures and inner demons so he can be rid of the ring once and for all and go home to his beloved shire.

But sadly, this example is becoming obsolete. Ten years ago, all of my students knew the story. Today, most don’t. Usually a few of them do. “I kind of remember it.” “Yeah, I didn’t like it very much.” “It’s such an old movie.”  “I heard of it.”

Sigh. I thought Ben-Hur was an old movie.

So now which movie series can I use? That’s the problem. I don’t watch many movies these days, and please don’t say Marvel Universe. I’m pretty sure all of their super objectives revolve around making money.

Who would have thought that Frodo wouldn’t have staying power?

It makes me realize one other thing: someday a new director will come along to remake the LOTR Trilogy because the entire series has become obsolete.

They did that with Ben-Hur, remember? And look what a disaster that was.

What is Wrong With Us?

I’m worried about us. Humans, that is. And it has everything to do with cell phones.

I had my final show tonight. Seussical. A culmination of 3.5 months of hard work. It was a great show. I’m so proud of my actors and tech crew who pulled it off. But what I saw tonight sickened me. And it made me worry about us. Us humans.

I was sitting in the audience. That’s what I do as a director. When the show comes around, I always consider my work to be finished. So I enjoy the show from the house and see what my many months of work has produced.

I’m proud of this show. We had a lot of things go wrong, but we weathered the storm and put on a great show for the audience. But here’s where my worries enter.

Right in front of me was the uncle of one of the performers. And he couldn’t pay attention. At all. I mean at all. If he went a minute without checking his phone I’d be surprised. He came to the show, paid money for a ticket, was there to watch his nephew, and yet couldn’t pull himself away from his phone long enough to even pay attention to the show going on in front of him.

I’m worried. Very worried about us. Us humans.

He was looking at his Facebook feed. I mean studying his Facebook feed. The same feed he monitors all day long. And he couldn’t pull himself away from it for even a few minutes to watch a great production with his NEPHEW being one of the leads. No. That was too much. His Facebook feed was so compelling that he couldn’t look away.

What does that mean for us? It’s not good. These screens have become our dictators. Our gods. Our everything. And he (and it’s not only he, it’s many people) couldn’t bother to pay attention to what his nephew was doing on stage. (rather brilliantly, might I add) He couldn’t bother with actual life. He needed the virtual. He couldn’t pull away. He needed the feel of the screen — the thrill of the scroll. He turned his back on his own kin for a cheap thrill of a tiny screen.

I am sickened. For all of us. What will we become?

What is wrong with us?

My New Show: “Crazy Love”

This afternoon, I was thinking ahead a little bit about my new show coming up at the end of the year. It will be my first, all-original production since December 2016’s “Tales of Wonder II.” Not that I haven’t produced anything since then.

May 2017 – RLT “Our Best” did include some original content though it was mainly a best-of show.

May 2017 – RLT Musical also was a re-hash of old musical numbers except for one new piece.

January 2018 – “For All Generations” was a re-designed show based on my 2014 RLT Players’ show.

April 2018 – “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” – the Broadway Musical.

So finally, it’s coming, the new show:  “Crazy Love.” This is a MOSTLY original show. It does include two of my award-winning scripts from previous shows, but it is mainly new. Six new dramatic sketches and one mini-musical. This 9 piece production will be about one and a half hours long and it will be performed in our brand new campus’ brand new theatre! I can’t wait. Lots more to come on this later. But here’s the lineup.

CrazyLovegraphic1

Ten Months in the Making: A New Beginning

It was in December 2016 that I accepted an offer to teach drama in Saudi Arabia.

Ten months later, in September of 2017, I am finally set to have my first class. Tomorrow.

This is a huge shift in many ways. I had a terrific position in Malaysia, a position which had few limits on creativity, and that time period fueled my love for writing, my love for drama, my love for all things theatrical.

However, it was time to move on, so when I signed on to this new adventure, I knew there would be a lot of waiting and work in the between time.

Now all of that is over, and like any good thespian, the butterflies are flitting their wings against my insides. Nervousness is a good thing. I teach my students to expect nervousness, to want it, to need it, to embrace it. It signifies change and risk-taking. Before the curtain goes up, you pace around in a death stare, pale-faced, jittery, mumbling lines and vocal exercises in a desperate attempt to keep you focused.

As the moment arises, you step out in character, playing a role, connecting a concept with people. Delving in below the surface and expressing a glimpse of the desires and struggles you went through to get to this point. And the lights crowd the stage, and the magic comes alive.

Acting or teaching acting. There’s not a lot of differences when it comes to preparation and implementation. It’s all smiles from there.

Tomorrow is the day when the curtain rises on my time in Saudi Arabia. I’m ready. Not perfectly prepared. But ready.

And when the students arrive and we start the process of developing our passion for drama, I will finally reach a 10-month goal which, at times, felt like would never come.

I’m excited. On with the show.

Farewell, Penang Performing Arts Centre (penangpac)! I will miss you!

At the conclusion of my last show at penangpac yesterday, I was highly honored by my friends there with this amazing parting gift. This was completely unexpected. I was bowled over by their thoughtfulness. I have grown my theatre arts background and experience at their famous stage 1 and stage 2 venues. So I thought, as a way of reminiscing, I’d list all the shows I had a part in since penangpac opened in 2011. It’s quite a list, and I completely enjoyed everyone of them.  But first a look at this amazing gift – a commemorative pewter Malaysian kris (asymmetrical dagger). It’s so awesome!

penangpac gift

So here’s my chronological, penangpac drama/musical list. I’m so grateful for everything.

  • November 2011 – Stage 2 – “Romans on the Couch-INTERACTIVE” (writer, director, producer)
  • November 2011 – Stage 1 – “Romans on the Couch” (writer, director, producer)
  • December 2011  – Stage 2 – “RLT Players’ present The Road Less Traveled” (first RLT show ever! – writer, director, producer)
  • May 2012 – Stage 1 – “Life with Stewart” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2012 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer)
  • November 2012 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “Drive All Night) (writer, director, producer)
  • May 2013 – Stage 1 – “Grandparents’ War” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2013 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer, director)
  • November 2013 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “Captured in Time & Space”
  • May 2014 – Stage 1 – “Boardwalk Melody: A Musical” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2014 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer, director)
  • November 2014 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “For All Generations” (writer, director, producer)
  • May 2015 – Stage 1 – “A Tad of Trouble: A Musical” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2015 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer, director)
  • December 2015 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “Tales of Wonder”
  • May 2016 – Stage 1 – “The Secrets of the Magic Pool” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2016 – Stage 2 – penangpac Black Box Experiments “How to Build a Dictator” (writer, actor, producer)
  • November 2016 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer, director)
  • December 2016 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “Tales of Wonder II” (writer, director, producer”
  • January 2017 – Stage 2 – “The Last Bastion: A Staged Reading” (writer, actor)
  • May 2017 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “A Collection of Our Best” (writer, director, producer)
  • May 2017 – Stage 1 – “RLT Musical Revue” (writer, director, producer)

Wow! That’s 22 theatrical productions I had the privilege of being part of at penangpac. I shall miss it all very much.

Thank you, penangpac! Hopefully we shall see each again one day.

 

 

It’s not the words. It’s the emotion behind the words.

I was working with one of my actors on a pivotal scene in our upcoming play. She gives a short speech which spurs on some tremendous societal changes. Yes, it’s a few lines of dialogue which changes the story dramatically. It’s the crucial point in the play.

The actor had not been getting it. The speech she has been giving in rehearsal has been flat and unemotional. Today, I pulled her aside to correct it, and I started by saying: “It’s not the words. Don’t worry about what you are going to say. Work on how you prepare to say the words.”

First off, as a playwright, I was horrified at myself. Don’t worry about the words??? Am I crazy? But as a director, I needed to shift her away from the words because the words were hollow to her. I told her, if she can put herself in the right emotional state, then the words will flow appropriately and I won’t even have to tell her how to say the words. She will say them authentically.

So we put down the script, and we walked through the scene. We focused on the action, the moment, the setting, the character’s emotional connection to what had just happened. Then we designed a set of actions, a slow plodding walk, a purposeful turn, hands coming to her face. We dug deep into the feelings she had, the sadness she felt about what had happened. She forced herself to block our her surroundings and focus on the feeling in her chest.

She walked slowly into position, she raised her hands over her face, she put her head down, then lifted her eyes into the auditorium and started to speak. Her voice crackled, slight tears formed in the corners of her eyes, and she raised her voice strong and spoke the words – words which at the last rehearsal were flat and ineffective. Now they were purposeful, emotional, powerful, and perfect.

Young actors focus so much on the words, wondering how to say the lines. But a little exploration of the scene and some purposeful movement and trigger mechanisms can make the words flow naturally from the emotion and action of the actor. This is when the magic happens.

So, playwright, at times you have to take a back seat because the meaning of the words will only reach peak impact if they are said with the emotion and attitude of the actor.

Well done, young actor. And that was just one short rehearsal. I can’t wait to see the final result.

Coming Soon

Coming soon:

OurBestPosterBoard

Here’s a little graphic I put together about my upcoming show. It’s a collection of comedic and dramatic sketches I’ve written over the past seven years. My good friend Doug is directing Act I while I have the helm for Act II.

It’s going to be a bittersweet look back of what we have accomplished from an ensemble standpoint. Typically, RLT maxes out at 12 members, but we extended the casting for this very special show, and it’s worked out great. I have some directing insight I want to share on a later post. I’m finally figuring out what kind of director I am.

Oh, and look: Could that be our sometimes movie review guest columnist Inha Kim in the middle of that photo? Could be.

I can’t wait for this show: May 12-13 @ penangpac.

Theatre: The Open Art Form

I enjoyed giving a mini-lecture to my Intro to Theatre Arts class today about the topic, “What is theatre?”

Theatre is many things, but most importantly, it’s an open art form. The live audience makes it unique and ever-changing. The interaction with the audience makes every performance different. It can inspire the actor to achieve heights previously not achieved. It can deflate the actor when the audience is “dead” or when they don’t laugh at a crucial part or, even worse, when they laugh at a dramatic climax.

But it’s this interaction which thrills and elevates live theatre to terrific peaks.

One of the fascinating aspects of live theatre is that during the intermission, while the audience is mingling and chatting about the performance, the actors are indubitably back stage chatting about the audience. Is it a good audience?  Is it a bad audience? Are they catching the jokes? Were they brought to tears? What in the world is wrong with them? What can we do to get them more involved? Yesterday’s crowd was much better.

I’ve heard all of these and more about the audience during intermission. Actors are fragile beings in this way. They  need the encourage, support, and utter love from the audience. They crave it. They demand it. And if they don’t get it, their egos will never be the same (or at least until they have a better audience the next night.)

Live theatre inspires me, so I love to inspire students to try this completely wonderful art form. It’s a life-changing experience. It’s a unique open art form. It’s the stage, baby! Love it if you dare!