WARNING: The opinions expressed below are DEFINITELY those of The CoLab Theatre Company! Learn more at www.colabtheatre.org!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hearing yourself think

I am now of the opinion that everyone should experience having their own words read out loud in front of them. Even for a minute, just so they literally can hear themselves think for the first time. It doesn’t have to be with actors on a stage or in front of a camera. Even if you have to pay someone 15 bucks to read something you scribbled on a Dunkin Donuts napkin to random patrons until the manager bans you from Dunkin Donuts for life. And lets face it, that’d be a double blessing because you could probably stand to lose a few pounds.

OK, maybe you don’t, but I should probably lose more than a few.

My point is, that nothing helps you understand your own thought process and its place in the world more than listening to and observing how someone else interprets and interacts with what you’ve created. It gives you remarkable and startling insight into how the world perceives what you say and do. It’s the artistic equivalent of hearing your voice on an answering machine for the first time. Your voice sounds almost foreign to you even though it’s using the same words you did when you left the message and then you’re struck by the fact that this is how the world hears you.

When someone reads what you’ve written out loud for the first time, often, jokes that you thought were obvious were missed; subtext you thought was clear turns out to be muddied; and elements of characterization you thought were unnecessary turn out to be vital. It’s these moments of miscommunication between artists that make it obvious how much collaboration is an intrinsic part of theatre. This collaboration creates a desire to make your intentions clearer for the sake of your collaborators and the work drives you back to your pen, keyboard or hammer and chisel to begin refining your work. Because, thankfully, unlike your voice on an answering machine, you can work to make what you write more like what you heard in your head.

I’d like to thank The CoLab for taking their time with Dearly Beloved and allowing me to hear my words out loud with a plethora of different voices and as many times as was practical. The script would not have been as close to what I imagined without this opportunity.

** This post was written by Brendan Doris-Piece, author of Dearly Beloved premiering at Unity Somerville TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY!

Dearly Beloved
by: Brendan Doris Pierce
Directed by: Erika Geller

Alyce Householter
Patrick Poulin
Tony Rios

September 9, 10, 16, & 17
TICKETS HERE: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/190125

Monday, August 22, 2011

An Autobiography Of A Newbie Director

Preface. Dearly Beloved, A Brief History: We received this play in its original form in early 2010. Scene Two was included in play. Discovery in July 2010. It was workshopped at an closed reading in January 2011 and given a script-in-hand staging in April 2011. Two directors, three casts, and several drafts later, we went into casting for the world premiere staging in July 2011.

Chapter One. Pre-Production: We've been talking about and workshopping this play for so long that I can't remember a time when June, Julius, and Morrie weren't on my mind. For a long time, the idea of producing the show went hand-in-hand with where we were headed as a company. It was most realized goal we'd had for a long time and a definite jumping off point for us. We started interviewing for directors, and we spoke with some really interesting and qualified candidates, but the more we spoke with people, the more we realized we weren't quite ready to put our baby into someone else's hands. We had spent so much time on the play to the this point, it made the most sense to put the show in the hands of one of the Artistic Directors. Since I had been the play's editor for the workshopping process, we decided that I was the most prepared to direct the show. So off we went.

Chapter Two. Auditions: I don't think I'm a nervous person by default. There are definitely situations where I become a Nervous Nancy, but my general disposition is that of jittery excitement. And so with all of that jittery excitement in tow, I walked into the audition room for Dearly Beloved and started on a new journey. They say you learn the most about auditioning once you sit on the "other side of the table." This is a true statement. But what's an even truer statement is that no matter how nervous you are about walking into the audition room, there's a good chance the auditors are even more nervous that you are. Why? Because they need the right people to walk into the room. And I only needed three actors. I can't even imagine what it's like to cast more people. (Another lesson learned -- putting actors together into organized and productive groups for callbacks is no small feat. Holy mother.)

So we headed into callbacks. I felt better about it, but I was still nervous about "seeing it." Seeing my cast together and feeling, "there it is." But, what they say (I don't know who they are but they certainly have a number of words of wisdom running through this blog post.) is true - when you know, you know. The callback process was not without drama or stress. But eventually, when I saw three names on paper, I knew I had my final June, Julius, and Morrie and that was a fantastic feeling.

Chapter Three. Rehearsals: I'm new at this. I've never directed a show of this length before in a professional setting. As I've mentioned, I was jittery, but it was a good kind of jitter. From the first read, I knew three things: 1. Alyce, Patrick, and Tony are the right trio. 2. This is going to be a lot of work. 3. It is going to be worth it. I have a plan, but I've definitely learned that flexibility is a valuable quality. I don't always have all the answers. In many ways, I know this script backwards and forwards. However, at least once a rehearsal, one of the actors poses a question or makes an observation that I hadn't thought of before (or at least in that particular way) and it reminds me why we call it a rehearsal process. At the end of the day, it is, in fact all process. And I'll confess a little something about my process, sometimes I make it up as I go along. When you realize your first technique is failing miserably, you have to change it up. And thankfully I've got three actors full of imagination, humility, and the desire to try. (Everything from slow dancing to tag to magic lessons - thanks, guys!) And I've come to the realization that "they" were right again. If you cast the right people, half of your job is done for you. We've got 17 days until we open the show and while we've still got a lot of work ahead of us, we're on the right track, and I know this is a show I'm going to be extremely proud of.

Stay tuned for Chapter Four - and we hope you'll join us for the final chapter - PRODUCTION. Catch my directorial debut and the WORLD PREMIERE of Dearly Beloved, September 9, 10, 16, and 17 at Unity Somerville. Featuring: Alyce Householter, Patrick Poulin, and Tony Rios.

--> You can purchase tickets HERE. <--

See you at the show! (I'll be the one grinning ear to ear!)
- EG

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Business of Working With Friends - And Other Tales

In Spring 2009, my friend Kenny approached me about starting a theatre company. In August 2009, we asked Kenny's former co-star to join us. In the last two years, that co-star, Mary-Liz, gained the title of "friend" and we all officially (read: legally! eep!) became "business partners." And there it was - Kenny and I were in business through friendship and Mary-Liz and I were friends through business. And for the most part, that works well. From time to time we have our squabbles - like any relationship built-to-last, we don't agree on everything. But at our roots, we share the same goals, ideals, and a set of vocabulary we use to communicate with each other. The language creates a set of boundaries and a set of rules for our world. A world where we sometimes say, "I'm taking off my friend hat for the remainder of this staff meeting and I need you to listen to me as my business partner." And that works for us. But, as we expand our horizons and bring more people into the fold, I've started to wonder how we communicate our rules and boundaries to newcomers.

It's easiest when we start by bringing someone in on a professional level because we can neatly say, "Here are our expectations, if you don't think you can meet these, let's renegotiate." Fine. Done. It either works out or it doesn't. But then you start to work with people on a more regular basis and they enter the "friend sphere." So a new set of rules are created - a set where you can ask both more and less of a person because they've "crossed over." But this can still lead to awkward situations because ultimately we have to do what's best for The CoLab as a unit. (In a way, this is simpler because these people knew you first as professionals and hopefully have come to understand that it's not a personal matter, but a professional one... but I digress.)

And then you have the friends who start to work with you within your business title. For me, this is really where things get murky. No matter how hard you try to uphold them, the boundaries and rules get jumbled and confused. Why? Why? WHY?! This is a question I've asking myself for the last six months, one that's particularly started to bother me as we invite people to come out for casting. I like to think that everyone we invite is a professional as well and they understand that an invitation is only invitation and not a guarantee of anything. But if that's true, why do I still get that funny (emotionally gray) twinge in my stomach when I send out a rejection email to an invited auditioner? We try to say - "We invited you because we've enjoyed working with you before and we want to work with you again. I'm sorry it won't work out this time around but please keep us in mind for the future." And it's true - but it still feels odd somehow.

And if you thought that was bad, things get even more confusing as we begin to creep into other fields: directors, techies, playwrights, volunteers, etc. When you're casting a play, the words on the page help you decide what the right move is. The final decision (the final boundary or ruling) boils down to: is this person the right actor for the part? When we move out of the audition room into areas of production, the rules are created as we go and with so many balls in the air, it's often hard to set a standard for everyone to follow ALL OF THE TIME. Now don't get me wrong, I've been around this business long enough to know that it is, in fact, A BUSINESS. I'm not saying that I'm scared of making decisions based on friendships. (Because I'm not.) But it's no wonder that companies go under with this sort of push-and-pull pressure that's on them. And at 24, there's all sorts of other pressures on me besides my new title of Massachusetts Small Business Owner. Basically, what I'm saying (and you might have guessed it) my brain in on overdrive 24/7.

I don't know that there's a clear cut answer to my questions or if I'm really looking for one. The past year has been a crazy-steep learning curve and I anticipate the next year to be an even steeper one. I've learned so much but the deeper we delve into this world, the more I realize that problems I've never considered before will pop up left and right for the next several years. And that's okay, but it gets me thinking because I got into the business due to my passion, my sense of discovery, and the bonds I forged making theatre. I want to make theatre in this professional Boston scene and I want this for a career. Clearly I don't do it for the money or the fame (ha!). I do it for me. Because I love it. And part of that love is the friendships that cross through this professional life. And no matter how I emerge from this experience, as a Boston fringe company slowly staggering to its feet, I want to keep as many professional and personal relationships in tact as possible. This is an exciting time for me, but there's also a lot of heavy thought going on. So, internet friends, I unburden a little of that thought onto you for the time being. Phew. (And sorry for all of the run ons!)

As always, thanks for reading.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why Alyce Does It

Why I Do It. (Theatre I Mean.)

I never wanted to be famous or have the paparazzi follow me. I never wanted to be the new face of Revlon or have my hand prints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I just knew I wanted to act, but why?

The reasons for it changed throughout the course of my young life. First, it was because I wanted to express myself and seek the attention that I thought I rightfully deserved as a child. Then, it was to become someone else and escape the dreaded problems that were my teen years. Finally, when I attended college as an acting major, I began to realize that there was more to it than that. At this moment in my life, I have come to believe there are two solid reasons that I am drawn to work in the theatre.

*Reason 1: The Cathartic Experience that I have while acting has truly guided me through the struggles of my life.

When was in college, I was cast in a production of Samuel Beckett one acts. My one act was called “Rockaby”, which consisted of an old woman who spent 20 minutes in a rocking chair, just rocking back and forth, listening to a recording of her own voice, before she finally dies. At the beginning of the rehearsal process, I struggled to find those emotions and feelings that a person would go through before the end of their life. But suddenly, I received a phone call from my mother telling me that my father was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Because of my father’s already poor health, we feared that he may not make it through the surgeries and chemo. I couldn’t comprehend losing my father, and due to college and rehearsals for my show, I wouldn’t be able to attend any of his procedures. The guilt, fear, and utter sadness was very overwhelming and the only thing I had to get me through that very difficult time was dying in a chair every night. Without that show, I never would have been able to get through not being able to be there for my father. That role was meant for me at that moment in time. The universe gave me the perfect role to deal with my father’s illness, but also, gave me those struggles to be able to portray one of the most truthful characters I have ever played. I know this because my father surprised me on closing night and sobbed like a child watching his daughter go through the same fears and uncertainties that he faced in the hospital only hours before. Now, my father is cancer free and any time we discuss the play he always says, “How did you possibly know the feelings and thoughts that I had during treatment? But you did because I saw it in that play.”

*Reason 2: Theatre creates “oneness” that sparks an awareness of the world outside of ourselves.

Besides being an acting major, I was a Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution minor. I began a chapter of STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition at BSU, and I knew that I wanted to tie those 2 passions together in some way. So senior year, I produced/directed a play called In Darfur. The play focused on the genocide in the Sudan and all my actors struggled to relate to humans suffering through such an unbelievable crisis. However, by the time the production was ready to open, the actors had all found what they needed to portray their characters truthfully and with great honesty. The key for them was discovering more than their own self-worth, but the awareness of only their essence and connecting that essence with others. Stepping outside ourselves, with only our essence makes all characters and stories tangible.

Upon writing this blog, I found this video of Thandie Newton discussing this idea of “oneness”, much more clearly and eloquently than I. I believe her insight is inspiring to all people, not just performers. And these ideas of catharsis and oneness are the reasons I need to be routed in theatre. They are the reasons that I battle through the grueling audition processes and rejections. Because if I don’t, I fear that I will only get lost in myself and miss the connection to the people and world around me.

This post was written by Alyce Householter. See Alyce as June in our upcoming Dearly Beloved running at Unity Somerville, September 9, 10, 16, and 17. For tickets visit www.brownpapertickets.com

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tony Rios on training, ideals, and community

Hi. I have not posted to a blog before, so this is very exciting.

When Erika told us in rehearsal we would have a chance to post, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. It’s about an ideal theater training center I have; I like talking about ideal situations because you should always be working down from there if you can’t get your ideal situation, not the opposite. Before we go into that however, I’d like to share a definition of community: “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.” Well, theater communities everywhere have common cultural heritage to some extent, reside near each other, but don’t share much besides the stage and some drinks. That’s where the idea for this center came.

The center would be a place for the whole theater community to convene and train. It would be at a large space obviously, with “ideally” multiple studio rooms for actors, directors, and playwrights to book at no additional cost (there would be a small monthly fee for members just to pay rent and facilities). In the studios, artists could have workshops, staged readings, weekly classes, and if space is open, rehearsals.

Going with the idea that the center would be owned by the community all of the classes would be instructed by community members. I spoke, with my friend, of a Suzuki Method class in which there wasn’t one instructor, but the whole group were instructors for each other. We thought it would redefine the idea of ensemble building in Suzuki. A group would get together, stomp and run around a bit, and express positives and things that need work about each other’s training. The same could be true about Viewpoints; a group of actors can work in a grid until they decide they are done and talk afterwards. All together, it’s about having each others backs and trying to make the person next to you better as well as yourself.

Directors and actors can work together on scene showings, playwrights can have staged readings, actors can practice monologues, future instructors can take the reigns of a class for a day, designers can show their designs, the possibilities are endless if there was a space for the whole community.

The “ideal” once again, is just a place where theater artists can get together and train. I know for myself I can’t afford classes at a studio, or with a great instructor. The funds just aren’t there. This is a way for almost everyone to have access to training. This would be a way to create the tightest knit theater community in the country. But, like I’ve said ten million times by now to myself, it’s just an ideal. Where can we go from here?

This post was written by Tony Rios. See him as Morrie in our upcoming world-premiere Dearly Beloved by Brendan Doris-Pierce. Tickets and information at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/190125.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Confessions of a Multi-Tasker

So currently I'm working as production manager/ producer on two different and simultaneous projects. As well as holding down my day job at Tufts (where the back to school vibe started today...it's amazing how summer is over on August 1 like clock-work) and trying to keep some semblance of order and balance in the rest of my life (hahahahaha). Lucky for me, I am a born Multi-Tasker. I don't take the title lightly. And I enjoy doing the work I'm doing. But, if you know me (or another person who seems to handle juggling lots of projects/responsibilities at once with complete ease and even enjoyment) here are some things you should know.

Confession #1: It makes me secretly gleeful to feel more capable and productive than most people.

Confession #2: The level of anxiety created by the malfunctioning of my smartphone is seriously unhealthy.

Confession #3: I think "Getting Shit Done and Taking Names" should be officially added to all of my job titles

Confession #4: I actually prefer to get more than 4 hours of sleep. But I'm not supposed to tell anyone that.

Confession #5: Trying not to flaunt my multi-task abilities in an effort to make other people feel productive and useful is difficult.

Confession #6: Incompetence drives me insane and it is all I can do to remain calm when presented with raging mistakes, blatant tardiness, or flakes in general.

Confession #7: I realize that most of these things make me sound like a heinous bitch of an individual, but all I want is for people like me and to think I'm good at what I do...so I generally try to keep heinous bitchism to a minimum.

Confession #8: Asking for help makes me feel like I'm failing but being offered help is one of the most amazing things that can happen to me (even if I say I don't need help). Yes this is a flaw in the system. ** Related tip: the phrase "Thank you." goes an extremely long way.

Confession #9: There are times where I consider running away to join a minimalist colony in BoraBora leaving the rest of the world to their own devices.

Confession #10: I'm happy to take on more projects than a sane person should since it makes me feel like I have a place in the world and am lucky to get to do what I love every single day. Even when I want to throw things.

Stay tuned for more updates on my sanity level. And for the two projects I'm currently working on, our first production (!!!) Dearly Beloved by Brendan Doris-Pierce and Family Dinner a short film.

xo ML