Sunday, November 29, 2009
Hate to admit it ...
... but I don't want you to hear it from someone else ...
I am now a contributing drama critic for a theatre website.
That's what happens, I suppose, when you associate with some of those people for awhile ...
I mean, what can I do? Are there shots you can take for something like that?
(I guess the only saving grace is that I'm doing it under another name,)
Monday, November 23, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
WHAT MAKES GOOD THEATRE?
To explore an answer to this question, I must first expand it slightly – what makes good theatre for me? In other words, I start with the premise that not everyone looks at “theatre” the same way. This observation allows me to create a simple rule - If I see something and like it, it’s good theatre. If I don’t, it isn’t.
Why complicate something that’s subjective to begin with?
“This above all: to thine own self be true.
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Yeah, yeah, thank you Willy for filling in the last half of the rule – How can I expect anyone else to believe in what I do … if I don’t?
Look at it this way. We live in an age of “good enough.” If there’s something in your play that’s “good enough,” it’s not. Fix it! Find it and change it until it is a treat all by itself. Get the idea? Your work should be one treat falling over another. Make blah blah transitions into memorable highpoints.
Here’s another constant; as a director, make your stage picture attractive – always always always. This should be obvious, but apparently isn’t – your actors aren’t there merely to occupy space. Think of them as pawns in a Maxfield Parrish painting. Let one picture flow into another. Get passionate about this, because it’s important and infusive.
So … you getting the idea yet? Good theatre is all about you. Look your best. It’s your first date with a drop dead gorgeous redhead.
Weave your style throughout the play you are directing. Be bold in presenting your personality. Why? Because great theatre goes beyond what is on the written page. Once a playwright adds “The End” to a script, no matter how well written it may be, that script becomes history. Even before the first printing, the society that spawned it will have evolved. Your personality encourages a homogenous relationship between your audience and the playwright. (I presume you are in agreement, understand and support what the playwright is saying. I assume you actually have – or can convincingly fake – a personality.)
Listen to what your actors suggest. Your authority won’t be emasculated by listening, and sometime you will be given a real gem of an idea (for which, in spite of your modest denials, you will ultimately be given the credit).
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. A mistake won’t destroy your career. (Probably.) A mistake only tells you what doesn’t work. That’s all. (Mostly.)
Don’t be afraid to break the rules. In fact the rules change almost daily. Absolutely nothing is sacred. Expand your mind past the physical limitations you observe while ambling down the aisle toward the stage. What can you see? What could you see? What might be improved by being unseen? (And who knows? You could get lucky and actually do something innovative, and they would erect a statue of you directly across the street from the statue of George Cohan, thus forcing the pigeons to make hard decisions regarding which statue to visit in order to … visit. Wouldn’t that be great?!)
And finally – remember the old adage “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” followed by “It’s all small stuff?” Remember that? Well, ignore it. In creating great theatre it should be “Sweat the small stuff,” followed by “Because there’s no big stuff.” Past the obvious disciplines of blocking, pace, and characterization, everything – and I mean everything - is detail and nuance. Everything is foreshadowing, motivation, color, mood, temperament, subtext, and the list of details goes on and on. Take care of these, concentrate with everything that’s in you on these, and by seeming magic the big picture is suddenly there. It may not be exactly what you expected – it seldom is. But it will be true, and that’s everything.
A little over fifty years ago I saw THE GLASS MENAGERIE for the first time. I still remember that production, still distinctly remember all the sights, sounds – even the sweet smells. I’d like to think that – fifty years from now – someone will remember my work that way.
If that happens, I’ll know why.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
From: Theatre Vault Administration
Date: Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 11:04 PM
Subject: Re: INHERIT THE WIND at Little Theatre Off Broadway
To: (Jack Bunny)
Dear Mr. (Bunny),
I spoke to a board member of LTOB today and was informed that as a company policy they no longer invite reviewers to their productions.
Best wishes for a strong finish to your run,
I contacted the theatre. They told me that past reviews have been “inconsistent in quality.”
Huh? Have you ever heard of such a thing? I mean ...
This was a new and different kind of theatre to me.
As a result, the only thing I have to share is this letter, mailed to the theatre the day after we opened.
I attended my first play at LTOB last evening. I am writing this today because of my experience.
It was, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had in quite a long while. I have seen plays and musicals downtown, and even in Las Vegas, but your company's production of Inherit The Wind just stopped me in my tracks! It was brilliant.
I will be attending future plays, but believe me, the bar has been set very, very high.Thank you for a very enjoyable, wonderful experience.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
It’s been a long two days.
For the first time since July I’m not directing any plays, coaching any actors, holding or attending meetings, or writing furiously to beat real or self-imposed deadlines. Yesterday morning I spent almost half an hour just staring out my back door, zombie-like, willing myself to recognize the colorings of leaves covering my yard. When I turned back into my kitchen, the dog was asleep in a heated pool of sunlight. In closing the door, he muttered something under his breath. I couldn’t quite catch the inflection. Probably just as well.
I spent part of yesterday going through a collection of emails that had been ignored or set aside for far too long. Nothing earth shattering – those I had answered as they came in. Rather, here were requests of one kind or another – usually for information. And there were those friends who simply wanted to talk. I answered every one of these, often with sheepish apologies for not responding sooner. My friends understand.
One of the emails was from a close friend who has invited me and my wife to spend Thanksgiving with her and her family. Since I have no family who loves me within several states from here, I happily said yes. My friend’s daughter told me I have been adopted into the family. This brought me to tears. I miss large family holidays.
I have a project going. I tore out the carpet leading to my second floor, and am slowly refinishing the hardwood stairs. Right now I’m striping off old paint and varnish. The wood underneath – in a 60-year-old home, will be beautiful. When I finish. Some day. In the meantime, the dog is perfectly happy scampering UP the stairs, but, with no carpet to dig into, he’s afraid to come down. So he moans. (Did you know a dog could moan?) About fifty times a day he waits pathetically for somebody to lug his fuzzy … self … down to the living room. Man’s best friend? HA!
For most of today I read plays. I’m on the play reading committee for a local theatre, and – since I’m w-a-y behind in this commitment, today I played catch up. Here’s a couple of theatre facts for you; some theatres specialize in plays that are over a hundred years old. (Don’t ask me why.) Second fact – most of these plays are absolutely unknown today. Third fact – the reason they’re unknown is because they are bad. Bad! Bad bad bad! I suppose (I know) that there were good things written after Willie Shakespeare and before G.B. Shaw. Must be. Just my luck to be part of a theatre group that is trying to prove otherwise.
Tomorrow starts the third weekend of INHERIT THE WIND. As the director, I tell myself I’m there to make sure the show is consistent in presentation from one performance to another. In truth, that’s one of the tasks the stage Manager handles. Largely my job is to appear sage at the cast party. As do the others, I’ve learned to play my part well.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
With that premise in mind, I offer the thought that every good writing begins with a descent into madness; depth is never the result of a casual glance, but rather an unblinking stare, no matter how blinding that stare might become.
And behind the initial impression is always the question – “How do I feel about this?
How do I feel, how do I feel, how do I feel?”
And there’s the problem. Sometimes I get tired of “feeling.”
On the one hand, discovery is a wonderful thing. What does this mean? What is the subtext? Where would this or that naturally lead? To suggest answers, a writer will often step outside him or herself – an observer, rather than a participant, in humanity. Like an
intruding spirit, silently watching. To interject – anything – would alter direction of the story. And the writer, without substance here, would never do this.
On the other hand, there’s the gypsy thing. For months, late at night, I’d hear what sounded like sleigh bells. No kidding. I’d dream about being in a gypsy caravan, going I don’t care where. A friend suggested that I wanted to travel or perhaps move. Could be. This sounded like a real possibility. Strangely, after I started directing the play HARVEY in July, the dreams stopped. I hadn’t thought about that until right now.
During the time I’ve been in rehearsal for one play and then another, even a pretense of observation became impractical. (Other than drinking heavily, nothing isolates you from the attentions of actors.)
Life moves from passive to active. And this is a good thing. Isn’t it? Problems are addressed, insecurities seem somewhat farther away … life is skittles and beer (Don’t ask me. I heard it somewhere.)
But then, with the veneer of humanity imposed, something happens to sensitivity, ya know? No matter how hard you try, the will … hardens, and …
The process starts all over again.
Do you know something I don’t?
Monday, November 2, 2009
Here’s the cast as they appeared during one of the later rehearsals. Notice few are in costume. With thirty-four people in the cast, the only times we got everybody together on the stage was for performances. Oh well …
Here’s the setting as it was appeared on opening night. In a few places the paint is still wet.
It is my hope that, sometime before we close this thing, I might actually take pictures of all the performers TOGETHER, IN COSTUME, ON THE STAGE!
(Insert heavy breathing here.)
I mean, is that too much to ask?
On the other hand, here's the important part - the show went well, and was received with favorable reviews and glowing individual comments. Since the lead performers are highly respected throughout the state, I anticipate that we will have a most profitable run in every sense of the word.
And how was your day?