Stacy Skinner sits down with Brock, again, to talk about working together again, and again, and again. Sit back, relax, and enjoy these two friends sitting down to talk about doing good work together. Big thanks to Ben Cureton (yes, that Cureton family) for the music in the podcast. You can check out his music here.
Hedgerow Theatre Fellow
When Penny first asked me to help her create a play to celebrate the 225th birthday of Delaware County, I was honored and excited for the opportunity. I had no idea then what a unique, creative, and collaborative experience this was going to be.
The process began with a few meetings where Penn and I discussed her vision for the evening, a festive party at the townhouse, where people in colonial dress, myself included, would greet the guests, important people would give speeches, and we would conclude with a reenactment sketch, to be created. She shared with me the rich history of the Delaware County, a story that included militias and beer, and certainly peeked my interest.
We then began to bring others into the process. Carol Fireng of the Delaware County Historic Society shared her passion for Delaware County history, eagerly filling in our evening with facts, dates and historic anecdotes, which not only contributed to our piece, but also brought to light the importance of this little place in which we all live.
When we began rehearsals, the enthusiasm and talent of the volunteers who made up our cast, crew and creative team in one astounded me. It is inspiring to see a group of people so dedicated to making an event. We had volunteers to help with research, with props and costumes, with writing, with tech and acting. These people gave us their time, in exchange for the chance to be part of Delaware County history.
As rehearsals went on, our script began to take shape. We had some nights where the actors would improvise entire scenes, directed by Penn, and me at my computer, recording as much as I could and shaping it later. In this way, the play was truly devised by everyone. In true Hedgerow fashion, every person involved in this project touched every aspect of the play and can therefore take ownership of it. I cannot wait until we get to share our work with the guests of the Towne House. I think William Penn himself would be proud.
As it turns out, theatre is about conflict. Who knew? I think this was discussed sometime early on in my career, but I seemed to of missed the lesson at some point or another. Somewhere between the spontaneity of improv and the introduction of inner monologue, the core of theatre can be lost.
Conflict comes in so many shapes, from relationship dramas to time-traveling-prevent-the-murder-fiasco. No matter the play, the scene, the monologue if there is theatre, if there is acting going on, if there is life, there must always be a conflict present. Even if “you” are a one-dimensional, plot pushing, psychopath bent on destruction and validation, “you” must have conflict within the character.
Enter Julian. When we meet this character for the first time in Communicating Doors he is the prototypical bad guy: suit, slick hair, and devilishly handsome. He is lean. He is mean. He is only concerned about the green (and Reece, but that didn’t rhyme). Julian drives the conflict of Alan Ayckbourn’s thriller. In fact, he is the thriller element of the show; however, and this is key, even though Julian does all these horrific things, and although he is driven by the will to win (personal character choice I might add), he must have more than one side.
Trust me, I relish in this bad guy. It is fun to play the Iago’s, the Scar’s, and the Julian’s of the world, but we must not beat the audience over the head. Is there anything worse than an actor screaming, in the subtext, his intentions at the audience? “Hey! Hey! I’m evil! Do you get it! GET IT!”
As our Artistic Director Jared Reed aptly put it, “I don’t have to make Hamlet sad. The playwright did that for me.” The fun, or one of the fun things, about playing great characters, whether it be Hamlet or Julian, is finding all the idiosyncrasies about them: that is, discovering the details that make us up as people. We are all of two minds. Whether it be the conscious or the subconscious, or the limbic and the neocrotex, man loves to argue. And what is theatre but a brilliant argument?
As Anthony Hopkins put it, Hitler is human. The scary thing about Hitler was not that he was some monster from another planet, but that he was born and raised right here, that he is one of us. The scary thing about bad men is with a few wrong choices, it could be us. Therefore, as an actor it becomes our job to find those human moments, those contrasting choices of self, to make up the character.
Ayckbourn gave me everything I needed to be bad. What I had to do, as guided by our director Liam Castellan, is find ways to, “lighten Julian up.” What makes him laugh? What makes him sad, not angry, but actually feel? The fun of characters like this, is that each and every night I get search for those answers. Internally, I have playable goals. There are the goals of the script, world domination and all that polka, and there are the personal goals like finding the playfulness the human side of a man so clearly disturbed, and they all add to the experience.
When we first started working on this project, it was, and still is, so easy to get hung up on those elements of intimidation and fear. Yet, as Executive Director Penelope Reed pointed out, when we see the joy of his acts and the fun he has in these moments of horror, we see ourselves and that, is truly scary. Good playwrights give us all the tools we need. Men such as Shakespeare and Shaw, write so well that the “acting” comes from the actor’s enjoyment of the role. Ayckbourn gave me every brassy bass and screechy violin note I needed. Half of the equation was finished. Now, each and every night I play Julian, I go up there in search of the other side of that half.
Therefore, “Then what’s he that says I play a villian?” Care to answer? If so, “I’ll be waiting for you. Don’t you worry. I’ll be waiting for you.”
Liam Castellan, Communicating Doors director
As I write this, Opening Night is less than five hours away. When I sit in the back and watch the actors and the audience collaborate on telling this story, I will finish saying goodbye to it. Oh, I’ll visit once or twice to check on things, but it won’t be my show anymore. It will be the cast’s show, the stage manager’s show and, yes, the audience’s show. I will be merely visiting.
Typically, once tech rehearsals start, the stage manager is running the rehearsal almost completely. The director, while still a leader, is less and less the person to take questions or information to. The stage is no longer “my” space, it belongs to Rosy and Joel. My job is to stay on and give everyone a strong enough vision of this thing they’re in the middle of to sustain them through a five-week run.
The end of rehearsals is a process of planned obsolescence for the director. Each dress rehearsal, each preview, I am less and less important. This is as it should be. It happens with every show, but there’s still a small part of me each time that feels sad at the loss. Actors and crew celebrate and/or mourn a show after the closing performance, but my time of celebration/mourning is now.
Some directors deal with this by throwing themselves into preparations for their next project. Some obsess over reviews, some ignore them. Catching up on dishes, laundry, and chores can help “re-set” one’s life. Reconnecting with friends can help. I generally do a mix of these, and will already be in the middle of it by the time you read this.
Thank you to my hard-working cast, crew and design team. Enjoy your wine and cheese and applause tonight, for you have earned it.
Thank you to Hedgerow, which has been an important artistic home for me since high school. I am grateful to you for the opportunities, the wisdom, and the kinship that I find here.
And finally, thank you to the audience who makes what we do possible, and to the readers of this blog. We theatre artists spend a great deal of time talking to each other about our craft, and it’s been useful to write about my work for an audience not of my colleagues.
It’s been a very long week. I’m not sure I have the mental energy to write something coherent. (Only one way to find out, I suppose…)
We added the rest of the “stage magic” in the past few days. This is known as “Tech Week”, because we take the actor’s efforts and add lighting, sound, costumes, and all the other technical elements. The hours get longer for cast and crew alike.
During the day on Friday, I sat in the theatre with Jared (as Lighting Designer as well as Artistic Director) and Sound Designer John Tiedeck as we worked on cues without the actors. This is called “Dry Tech”, because it’s most efficient to do all the work you can on lights and sound before you add them to an acting rehearsal.
Tech rehearsals often involve a certain amount of multitasking, as we try to get the most out of the remaining time we have. Stage management might be reviewing cues, I might be onstage working a scene with some actors, and the rest of the cast might be running lines, talking over things with designers, etc. Outside of rehearsal, we’re putting finishing touches on scenery, costumes, and props.
This week also involved a big transition backstage: Joanna Volpe got a job offer that she couldn’t refuse, so she was only able to be the stage manager for rehearsals, and left Hedgerow on Friday. We all wish her well, and look forward to seeing her in the audience on Opening Night! Rosy Amaya has run a few rehearsals already, and took over running lights and sound this weekend. She’s co-managing the run of the show with Joel and the Hedgerow Fellows. It’s more common for one stage manager to be in charge all the way through, but this situation isn’t unheard of in a company as busy as Hedgerow.
The actors’ primary concern this week is all the new information: how a costume unexpectedly affects how the character moves,timing entrances with lights and sound, whether their makeup reads right in the light, making sure their props are preset on the correct wing of the stage, et cetera. Beyond that, most of our work has been on pressurizing the whole production. Just as your bike or your office chair functions best when all the loose bolts are tightened, so too a comedy thriller benefits from its dialogue staying taut and urgent.
Two dress rehearsals next week, and we’ll be ready for you!
…But are you ready for us?
Shaun Yates is a jack of all trades (an especially skilled one, too).
He’s been a company member for almost four years and you’ve definitely seen him at least once on stage. But did you know he has a few more tricks up his sleeve?
This man can build a porch, direct a cabaret, and build a set for the same show he’s in with the strength of ten men. Perhaps we exaggerate? Or maybe not . . .