Wednesday, December 9, 2009
My favorite scene is Fezziwig’s party, because of all the dancing and energy. But I wrote about that before, so I asked my dad about his favorite scene. Can you believe that I’m not even in it? Or even alive! He says that every time he sees Bob Cratchit (played by Ron Raines) hang my crutch on the wall in Scrooge’s future, he cries like a baby.
—John Babbo (Tiny Tim Cratchit)
The first year I was in A Christmas Carol was in 2004, and I played Belinda Cratchit. I was twelve years old and it was my first professional show, and I vividly remember my first day in "tech" rehearsal. I had never been on a stage that big! The first time I saw the counting house move onstage by itself, I stood there with my mouth hanging open until my Young Performer Supervisor snapped me back into reality. It was like magic. Of course, the beautiful scenery was only the beginning. The real magic was the warmth and energy I felt each night from our loving audience!
—Lauren Patten (Martha Cratchit/Young Woman)
My favorite memory of A Christmas Carol is the opening night performance. Everyone in the cast was really excited. My mom and dad were in the audience, and the entire audience seemed really excited to see the show. They laughed louder than any audience we had before.
Some people in the cast brought opening night presents for each of the cast members. Since it was my first time in the show, I didn’t know about this ritual. I guess some people bring closing night presents, so I might do that. But I did get lots of neat gifts, like Frango chocolate mints and candy. I also got a couple of really nice notes from people in the show. I have made lots of new friends, and we have a lot of fun together.
After the show, we all changed out of our costumes and put on our party clothes for the opening night party. I got to wear one of my prettiest Christmas dresses. I love to get dressed up! The party was at The Melting Pot, a fondue restaurant in Chicago. There were chocolate fondue fountains where you could dip marshmallows, strawberries and mini donuts. It was awesome. You could eat as much as you wanted! All the kids in the cast hung out together near the chocolate fountains. We had a lot of fun!
Mackenzie Wilkin (Belinda Cratchit/Fan)
We want to know all about YOUR favorite memory of A Christmas Carol! Post a comment below to share your story.
Monday, November 23, 2009
I became interested in A Christmas Carol because I watched my brother, Matthew, play the role of the Turkey boy in 2005 and 2007. He loved it and encouraged me to try out in 2008. In 2008 I went to the open call and was called back a couple of days later. I found out that I would be playing the role of Emily Cratchit and my brother would be playing the role of Peter Cratchit. So it turned out that I would be in the Cratchit family with someone in my OWN family!
This year I tried out again and was told a few days later I would be in the show again, but with some new cast members. It sounded like a ton of fun. I was very excited again! This year I am playing Child in the Doorway, Emily Cratchit, Want, School Boy and Fezziwig Guest.
My favorite thing about being in the cast of A Christmas Carol is either the Secret Santa exchange or the Dressing Room Wars. Every year for Secret Santa we draw a name out of hat and exchange notes or little gifts such as chocolate with one other cast member. They give hints but we can’t find out who our Secret Santa is until we have the pot luck at the end of the year. We get three guesses and if we don’t guess right, our Secret Santa stands up and tells us who they are. The one rule in this is that a kid can't get another kid.
The Dressing Room Wars is a contest between all the dressing rooms. Each dressing room puts together a skit to perform on a special day near Christmas. There are judges (usually our director, Bill Brown, and a couple of other people) and they select the winning dressing room. They put the name of the winning skit and year on a plaque that has the previous winners on it and hangs on the billboard backstage. Last year for the first time in MANY years, the kids won!
My favorite costumes are the Want and Child in Doorway costumes. I LOVE my other costumes but these are probably the coolest. I love the Want costume because it is so unique and scary. It is very light weight and easy to put on. I like my Child in the Doorway costume because I get to be a boy and no one really knows it's me!
Monday, November 9, 2009
Hi, my name is Mackenzie Wilkin and I play Belinda Cratchit and Fan in A Christmas Carol. I am nine years old and in the fourth grade.
Before I was in A Christmas Carol at the Goodman, I did lots of shows at my community theater. I was in Peter Pan, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Sound of Music and Broadway Bound. I love to sing, play the piano and read.
I was inspired to audition for A Christmas Carol because my mom and dad have taken me to lots of shows in Chicago. I thought that it would be really cool to be on the Goodman’s big stage with so many people watching you, so I asked my mom about it. She found the audition for A Christmas Carol online, so I auditioned!
For my first audition I had to prepare a one-minute monologue and sing a Christmas song. I must have done well because I got a “callback,” which meant they wanted to see me again!
For the second audition I had to prepare two pages of the script. I practiced it over and over again with my eight-year-old brother Jack. I had a lot of fun at the audition because I really got to act out the scene.
I'm really excited about being in the cast, and I can’t wait until the performances start!
See you soon,
Hi, my name is John Babbo, and I am so excited to play the role of Tiny Tim this year in A Christmas Carol! I just turned nine and I am in third grade. In my free time, I really enjoy playing soccer, piano and violin. I had to miss my last three soccer games of the season, but it was totally worth it because I like acting better. (Just kidding, soccer friends!)
The first rehearsal was AWESOME! I met all the cast members and crew and they are really kind! We did a read-through of the script and I could already tell that I was going to have a lot of fun. I thought, Wow, these actors are so talented! They spoke with great British accents and were really in character. After my first rehearsal, I was thrilled and tired—and couldn’t wait to go back the next day!
The rehearsals are so much fun. My favorite scene to rehearse is the Fezziwig scene. This scene is a Christmas Eve party at Fezziwigs’ house when Scrooge was a young man. Scrooge was apprenticed to Fezziwig. I really enjoy this scene because there is so much energy—we dance and dance. Last time, we danced so hard that another cast member, my “mom” in the play, accidentally (or so she says) whacked me in the eye. I have been a good boy ever since...
See you soon!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
We welcome you to join the conversation. Feel free to respond to our artists—or post your own thoughts about A Christmas Carol.
We'll see you at the theater!
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
I have been a fan of Alan Gross’ work since my early days in the Chicago theater. In the late 1970s he established himself as one of our city’s truly original voices with such plays as Lunching and The Man in 605, using his mordant wit and expansive humanity to examine in loving, sometimes savage detail the vagaries of human relationships. Although he continued writing plays for both the stage and screen, he has also explored other literary forms, where his finely observed musings on human actions and emotions have brought him particular success,
not surprisingly, in the world of poetry.
When Alan returned from a stint in Hollywood several years ago, I encouraged him to write what would eventually become High Holidays. I think it is his best work to date, containing both the subversive humor and passionate characterizations that distinguished his earlier plays, but with a newly forged maturity and command. Drawing from memories of his Chicago boyhood, Alan has captured the tensions, the celebrations and the uncertainties that are familiar to all of us. He examines the complexities of the relationships—between husband and wife, parent and son, brother and brother—that are echoed in every family. In his own words, Alan notes that “what emerged was a story about growing up—all of its joys, challenges and disappointments—and ultimately, what it takes to become a man.”
The distinctive humor and humanity of Alan Gross have been missing from our stages for far too long. It is a great pleasure to welcome him back.
We’d love to know what you thought about High Holidays! Please share your comments about the play with us, below!
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Joey Slotnick played
Frank Sinatra rendition:
No Business Like Show
Did anybody see
That handsome hatted fella
SM Intern Phil?
Gave me a generous gift:
Tissue wrapped tissue
Ride thundering steeds
To hilarity's battle:
Paul, Scott and Christy
Watching from the wings
Mara and Tony rip it
Bam Clickety Slam
Thanks to the Prop Gods
From Molly playing Harpo:
A Farting Ladder
Charming Edward Kross
If your adoring fans knew
What a cad you are! :0)
Your resounding tones and steps
O, Stanley Mathis!
Steve Scott. Santa Claus.
Have you ever seen the two
Inhabit one room?
Ora Jones down stairs:
Applause shatters Monday Night
Lady is a star
Never have I known
Such strong, quiet, smiling strength:
Thanks Old Joe Drummond
If Jessie Muehler
Ain't on Broadway in a year
Someone's going down
The real show happens
Back in the wings, Magicians
Make us look splendid
We missed you Bob Falls!
But we read your kind letter
Thank you for the ducks!
Work that chewing gum
Lift us on that tide of tune
Immortal Doug Peck
We'd follow you anywhere
We're at your house now.
Hey, Alden Vasquez!
You like Scrooge more than Groucho?
In your absence, tears.
Spinning, funny, delightful
Servers make our night!
Chicago Stage Scene:
You were mostly all there, friends!
THANK YOU for your LOVE!!
Will all be on insulin:
Green Room of Dessert.
Katie and Kelly
Hit on by Europeans
At the after bash
As I remember
Exactly what did transpire
I'll update this post
Friday, September 18, 2009
Hello from Doug Peck, music director of Animal Crackers.
As we enter our fourth week of rehearsal, I have the privilege to accompany this virtuosic company as we drill comedy routines, stage dances and perfect everything from miming harp playing to working with bullwhips. Running between the two rehearsal rooms with these amazing nine actors feels like rehearsing a variety show!
The music in this piece functions differently than the music in a lot of my traditional theater work. Marrying the comedic moment onstage to the right underscoring, when appropriate, is a constant effort. And we are constantly discovering the charm of the music from the 1920s, which could be considered “naive.” The word "naive" often has a judgmental connotation, but it needn’t. As post-Hammerstein, post- Sondheim artists we are always striving for more in terms of storytelling and emotional events, but the songs in this production don't require that. They do, however, require exquisite vocalism, charm and grace—as well as killer arrangements.
Many of these gorgeous songs have fallen out of popularity, and I think the audience will be delighted to discover them. You will be surprised at just how much music is in the show, since the Marx Brothers’ movies tend to have long gaps between musical sequences. It is a complete joy to work with (director) Henry Wishcamper and the team on how best to adapt a film comedy into a stage musical without losing a drop of the fun.
We look forward to sharing Animal Crackers with the Goodman audiences, since comedy and music aren't complete without you!
See you at the theater,
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Joey Slotnick (Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding):
“I first saw the Marx Bros when I was in junior high school. My dad turned me onto them, and when Woody Allen referenced them I knew I was onto something. They are just plain funny—and complete anarchists! I'd have to say my favorite Marx Brothers’ movie is Duck Soup. It's the one I've seen the most times. But I also love Horse Feathers. Groucho has such an excellent song-and-dance number with all of the professors of the college watching him.”
“Gloria and Mike Stivic dressed as Harpo and Groucho for Halloween on All in the Family, and I thought Gloria was so funny. It was only when the VCR was invented that I saw Horsefeathers and Duck Soup, then I watched Day at the Races and Animal Crackers when I started working with 500 Clown. Now I’m playing The Professor in Animal Crackers—the part originally performed by Harpo Marx!”
Paul Kalina (Clowning Director):
“I grew up on the Marx Brothers. While I didn’t necessarily get the jokes, I heard my parents laugh at them, so I would laugh. That’s how I began to understand rhythm and comic timing and verbal repartee.”
We want to know all about YOUR favorite Marx Brothers moment! Post a comment below to share your story.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Sunday night rehearsal:
Tonight's only four hours, some Equity thing, “Daylight Rest,” I guess. I don't know. I'm new to Equity. Nearly 40, and having made my actor living thus far without joining the guild, I'm a bit behind in terms of how this whole union thing works.
I'd spent the day rehearsing something altogether different. I went out to
But Sunday night is at the Goodman. THE GOODMAN. An involuntary grin or involuntary nausea makes an appearance whenever I think about it. We're running Act II, according to the call. It's shorter in runtime compared to Act I, but more complicated for me in terms of The Professor's prop sets, sleight of hand, changing into a chorus girl, etc.
I had run my beats at home, trying to remember my dance steps to the “Harp Ballet” so I don't break Mara Davi's face with my foot, and I STILL can't get the “Long Island Lowdown” steps: standing up onto the chaise with the uke, getting the “Three Musketeers” number down, etc, etc.
"Don't screw it up, Brennan," I tell myself on my bike ride from the
I walk in ready for action. As always, I get a little nervous entering that rehearsal room. Everyone is at the top of their game. Stage management is impeccable, the musical director Doug Peck is precise and positive, the cast is PRO. Half
The ever calm, clear and organized
Henry is awesome. What a leader. The type of leader I want to follow. His voice only rises in volume when he is excited about what we're doing. And years fall off when he gleefully gives us fun and funny and beautiful things to do onstage. He becomes a kid. He is also thoughtful, intelligent and a good listener. I want to make him happy. I think we all feel that way.
So, Henry speaks. Solemnly. My apologies for not remembering his exact words, but to paraphrase:
"I decided instead of running Act II tonight, we'd drink beers and watch Marx Brothers’ movies."
A cheer rises. Ed Kross bounds forward to hug Henry. I'm still figuring it's a joke until I see the actual beer, the actual TV and DVD player, and am eating the actual organic chocolate truffles Broadway veteran Stanley Mathis has brought for us.
The lights go down, and I sit with Paul and Ora and the rest of this unique and massively talented cast and crew, and we laugh and clap together through Night at the Opera and Day at the Races, inspired by the genius of these long-ago artists.
We are working very hard on Animal Crackers, picking up new skills, playing multiple characters, singing, dancing, prat falling. What a perfect way to spend our evening rehearsal, celebrating together, and learning from the folks we are playing in this refreshed version of a classic film and play.
I am lucky. Lucky, lucky, lucky.
I'm enjoying the work we're doing now, and look forward to September 18, to play with these amazing folks to a packed house.
Hooray, hooray, hooray!
Photos of Molly Brennan and Henry Wishcamper in rehearsal by Eric Y. Exit.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Hooray for Captain Spaulding!
When a celebrated painting goes missing from Mrs. Rittenhouse's fancy house party in honor of African explorer Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding, her guests set out to find the thief in a series of madcap antics and exploits. Based on the original Marx Brothers' Broadway hit and film classic, the Goodman's contemporary adaptation of Animal Crackers is an outrageous rollicking, laugh-out-loud musical comedy.
Rehearsals began TODAY!
(l to r) Jonathan Brody (Emanuel Ravelli/Chico), Stanley Wayne Mathis (Hives/Roscoe W. Chandler) and Molly Brennan (The Professor/Harpo)
Photos by Eric Y. Exit.
Want to see more photos of the talented cast in rehearsal? Click here!
Sunday, August 9, 2009
We welcome you to join the conversation. Feel free to respond to our artists—or post your own thoughts about Animal Crackers.
We'll see you at the theater!
Friday, July 17, 2009
We are approaching our final week of the Boleros run. This has been an incredible experience and the audiences have been just wonderful. Joe Minoso (who plays Eusebio/Oskar) and I walk back to our dressing rooms every night after the curtain call and just shake our heads saying, "We are so lucky to get to do what we do."
Near the end of the play, Joe and I are standing behind the scrim dressed in our clothes from Act One. As we wait to be revealed in the play’s final moment, we can really hear how the audience takes in the last three minutes of the play which are, in my opinion, fiercely moving. Feeling the audience experience all they go through in those final moments is nothing less than awesome. There is an overwhelming surge of emotion, and Joe and I just look at each other and smile and share our thanks to the universe. It will be one of the moments I will miss the most.
I am really going to miss this group. I have been thinking about that as the last performance approaches; I know from experience how fast the final week flies. I have been very lucky in my career to have been part of casts that grow into mini families. Sure, there are sometimes black sheep, but for the most part I have truly been blessed with tight, good-natured casts. This is indeed one of those casts, and I will miss them all. We have wonderful playfulness off-stage that keeps the spirit and energy up on stage, especially on two-show days and during the long haul of a five-show weekend.
I have so enjoyed going to work these last two months. It’s been a true gift.
Monday, July 6, 2009
This week has been quite hectic with family coming in for the show and, of course, the holiday. It was a real treat to have a day off for the Fourth of July. I’m not used to theaters giving us days off on holidays like the Fourth. I always wonder why more theaters don’t have the day off, since audiences are usually small because people have other plans. It was so nice to have Friday and Saturday off to enjoy the weekend.
We opened last Monday and it went very well! It was evident that we were all eager to start the run because we were all giddy backstage. Everyone was hyper, popping in and out of their dressing rooms playfully chiding one another. I love that energy, especially with a piece like Boleros that really needs to drive. And we all had a great time doing the show.
My parents came for opening, which was really special for me because my father is Cuban and I wanted to share this experience with him. My folks see everything I do, but don't always get to make the openings because of scheduling. When I was cast in this show, I made it very clear that I wanted my parents in the audience for opening night.
My father was born in Havana in 1947 and came over to the US in 1962, so he has faced many of the themes in this play. When my Abuela (grandmother) was growing up in Cuba, she was just two years older than my character Flora. My Abuela just passed away this March, so doing this production has been part of my grieving. My Abuela inhabited many of Flora’s qualities. They are both very pious and very stubborn, and I celebrate my Abuela’s memory every time I tell Flora's story.
We had the day off after opening and got back to the show on Wednesday. We had a show Wednesday night and two on Thursday. It’s always a bit of a challenge to get back to a show after the big opening night. You just have to really settle in and keep your wits about you. We are back in the groove now, and all of us are looking forward to the run. I think it is such a lovely play to be doing in the summer. It feels so right to me.
I have to mention, too, how much I adore this cast and crew. It’s such a wonderful group of people and I feel so very blessed to be doing this production with them all. It’s always such a great gift when you get a dynamite group like this. I am grateful that I get to do what I love for a living—and having a gang like this to do it with seems almost criminal. :-)
Thursday, June 25, 2009
We are at the mid-point of the preview process with Boleros and it has been very exciting. It is such a gift to be able to have close to a dozen previews before the official opening because you learn SO much from the audiences. We have made some small—and some big—changes this week because of what we have learned. I always enjoy thinking back to the first few previews when I am about to close a show and musing about how much it has blossomed.
The audiences have been truly lovely and the show is getting a nice reception. We were all so exhausted Sunday night due to the arduous tech week, and yet the audience was on their feet at the end of the show. Last night many of us remarked that we felt a bit “wonky” and attributed this feeling to getting back on our feet after a couple days off, but my friends in the audience said that the show was solid. You just never know!
We are meeting today for a few hours of rehearsal before our fifth preview performance and I think it may be our last called rehearsal. It goes so fast! It really feels like yesterday that I met this lovely cast and we sat down and read the play out loud together for the first time. Now we are sharing the whole thing with close to 700 people a night. All in five weeks!
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Last night was our first preview for Boleros for the Disenchanted. As always, I was quite anxious and eager for our first audience. When you perform in front of an audience for the first time, the final element of the play falls into place. After living with the play in the intimacy of the rehearsal room and then going through the process of tech, giving the play over to unknown guests is always a bit jarring for me at first.
The house was full and we really could not have asked for a warmer and more charged reception. I felt like the audience was with us the whole way—taking all the turns from humor to despair to humor again. It was a true thrill and gave us a great boost out of the gate.
I am looking forward to our week of previews and to see how the play is received by new eyes and ears. Preview performances provide a great opportunity to learn more about the play.
So far, I’ve blogged about the crew and my teeth. I said I was going to blog about my cast, so now is the time. As this sentence is being written, our final show is three hours away.
Now, when I said I was going to blog about the show, a couple of the members in my cast requested that I not mention their names in the blog. I suspect that it was partially in jest, but probably mostly…not. So with respect to their wishes, I will attempt to talk about my cast mates with some degree of anonymity, which will provide me with an interesting challenge and will also provide you, the reader and past audience member, with the game of trying to figure out who is who.
I’m a big fan of the movie The Dirty Dozen, so I will assign names from that film to members of my cast. I will not assign the name “Major Reisman,” however, because that was Lee Marvin, and I’d like to be him.
First, I’ll begin with “Victor Franco.” He has been a delight and very generous to me from the very beginning of this process. He is also a father and we’ve bonded over the challenges of being actors and trying to support our respective families while walking the tightrope. Franco is a very thoughtful actor, always searching for the truth of each line and the intention and meaning behind each moment. I respect his work a great deal and it’s been a blessing not only to be able to call him my ensemble member, but also my friend.
I was talking to “Vernon Pinkley” last night about our approach to the work. I’ve got a background in sketch comedy with The Second City and have a great deal of comic experience and Pinkley gets do carry a heavy comic moment in the show pretty much by himself. We were talking about the laughs he’s pulling and the timing of when to hold for laughter and when to barrel through to maximize the thrill for the audience. We also talk about gangster rap, basketball and babies. And last night, we talked about the dance of laughter with the audience. In all my time at The Second City, I rarely had a conversation like that with the members of my ensemble, so I sometimes felt like I was thinking too hard about something that everybody else simply understood. Since Pinkley and I are both off-stage at the same time for a chunk of the play, I’ve enjoyed the variety and depth of my conversations with Pinkley and look forward to watching him dance with the audience for the next week and a half.
Let me tell you about working with “Richard Jefferson.” She is such a gifted performer and so incredibly warm. She was actually the first member of the cast that I actually had any contact with after I found out I had been cast. She sent me a note on Facebook. It was literally like, “Hey Major Reisman, my name is Richard Jefferson and we’re doing Crowd together. We’re cousins! We’re both from West Michigan! We’re Dutch! People always mispronounce ‘Jefferson.’ Can’t wait to start!” Our first day of rehearsal was like a homecoming because of her—even though we had never met before that day. Coming to work at the Goodman for the first time can be intimidating, but it helped that Jefferson was there—as an actor she knew how much it meant to be at the Goodman, and she and I were coming from the same place. She also happens to be a first-rate actor. During rehearsals, I got choked up every single time she told Franco why she wants kids. She’s such a fabulous person, and I’m honored to call Jefferson my cousin.
Then there’s “General Worden.” Now, Worden is a comedy vet. He has appeared in The Second City, Saturday Night Live and Wild Men, and on most of the stages here in Chicago. He has been such a marvelous role model to me throughout this entire process. He’s been someone I go to for help on a laugh line or a moment that feels a little off since our director has left town. Worden also has the greatest laugh and I love telling dirty jokes in the men’s dressing room and cracking him up. When I get Worden to laugh, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It’s great fun to spar a little on stage with him. I direct a good deal of my Bob Dylan monologue to him, and it’s wonderful to feel such a strong connection with him through that segment. We’ve shared a lot of train and cab rides back up to the North Side after the shows and rehearsals and it’s a privilege to call him a friend.
Actors always use words like “amazing” and “fabulous” to describe working with someone—so often that those words begin to lose their power. So I’m going to attempt to coin a new word for what it is like working with this actor: Wladislaw.
“Joseph Wladislaw” is one of the most consistent professionals I have ever worked with. There are so many things to say about working with her, but the two things that leap out at me, first is consistency. She is always deeply rooted in the truth of the moment. ALWAYS. She is SO natural and generous to work with. And secondly, Wladislaw is such a kind and giving person. She’s like a breeze that pours through a screen door on a hot Iowa summer night. I’m really going to miss her, and I look forward to our paths crossing again. On stage or off. What a delight.
Finally, a few words about my dear friend “Samson Posey.” From our first read-through, Samson has lifted her character off the page with so much more intelligence and fear than I ever imagined when I initially read the play. She just nails the vulnerability and gentleness of her character. She’s such a dear person and I have so totally enjoyed getting to know her. We’ve had long martini- and Hacker-Weiss-fuelled conversations about cars, loss, cast-iron pans, cigarettes and sandwiches. Posey played my wife on stage, but she is my friend in life. Regardless of whether she smokes crappy cigarettes or not.
Well, you may know The Dirty Dozen very well. If you know the crowd I’m in with as well, you’ll see that the names are actually quite fitting. But there is one major Dirty Dozen character not represented in the cast, and that is “Archer Maggott.” Now Maggott is a reprehensible and terrifying psychopath and there is absolutely no one who can even jokingly be referred to in that way, except the one thing that I knew I would dread after our first read-through, and that is closing. Maggott is coming today at around 3:30pm. Maggott always comes. It’s a necessary part of theater that with every opening comes a Maggott. While I’m looking forward to spending time with my family in the evenings again (we’ve got a two-year-old and to be honest, my wife is looking forward to Maggott’s arrival—I am, too, in a way) I’m sad to say good-bye to the rest of my unit.
It’s been an honor to serve alongside them, and as much as I hope we get assigned to each other’s company once again, the chance of this exact pairing is very remote. An ensemble like this doesn’t happen often and when it does, you do well to enjoy it while it lasts and reflect fondly on it when it’s gone.
And I’m really pleased to report that unlike the film, we had no casualties.
We all made it out while out lives (and friendships) intact.
That’s also a rare thing.
So, thank you my dear friends for an amazing couple of months.
And if you haven’t seen The Dirty Dozen…well, I can’t tell you what to do.
…but you should see it, ’cuz it’s awesome.
Friday, June 19, 2009
We also want you to feel welcome to respond—either to the thoughts of our artists, or your own feelings on Boleros for the Disenchanted. We'll see you at the theater!
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
There are two types of audiences an actor dreads on opening night: number one, the glazed-eyed judgmental types, who perhaps both absorb and exude the blasé temperament of the critics scattered throughout the house, and number two, the yelping over-enthusiasts who feel duty-bound to show their love and support for the friends or relations in the cast who provided them with free tickets to a show they’d otherwise been unable to afford—or summon up the desire—to see.
In short, the ideal opening night audience is a normal audience, people who love theater and are interested in the intellectual and aesthetic stimulation it offers. And that's what we got last night on our opening: a crowd that was with us, but not making things too easy for us, who were there to enjoy the show and to participate by bringing their own life experiences and intelligence to the table. A good night.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
We’re in previews, which means we have audiences in the evening and rehearsals most afternoons. We rehearsed the other day without an audience. We had full tech, lights and costumes—but performed in an empty theater. It felt strange and incomplete.
Then last night, we were in front of an audience again, and THAT felt strange at first. Given the choice, actors always prefer to have an audience. The audience gives us our rhythm and guides us where the show should go. It’s a cliché, but the audience really is a part of the ensemble and the show is not complete without them.
Every audience is different—every audience has its own personality—which makes every performance different. Any time you see a live play, it's a unique experience. You share that with the actors and the other audience members. No one else will ever have the same experience, nor will they see exactly the same show.
This is a big reason why I so deeply prefer working in theater to working in film or TV. (Well, honestly, I'd prefer root canal to film or TV, but please don’t tell any film or TV producers I said that…)
So, I've been working on reconstructing my teeth. I see Dr. Richard Hoffman in Lincoln Park. He's very good. My agent turned me on to him and I've never had a better dentist.
At any rate...
My lower-right set of teeth has a temporary crown—I guess it’s tooth number 13 (for those of you with dental schematics). It's been very comfortable, and we're making sure it holds before switching to the porcelain crown.
During tonight's show, around page 6 or 7, just after Tom and Karen have entered the back yard, I was enjoying a fistful of Ruffles, listening and engaged in the action at hand as I always am, preparing for my next line.
Suddenly I feel the equivalent of a joy buzzer shock my mouth where tooth number 13 should be.
Somewhere in my mouth, mixed in with the partially chewed potato chips is a temporary crown floating around.
Chips crunch and break apart. Temporary crowns do not. They shatter other dental work, teeth, gums and moments on stage.
I say my next line.
Now my mind is racing. I'm laughing and reacting to my scene partners on the outside, but inside my tongue is scanning my mouth like a guy who has lost his keys and is late for work.
I isolate the crown and stash it between my cheek and gum and wait for a moment when I can turn upstage and grab it out.
It seems like an eternity.
By page 15, the crown is in my pocket mixed in with my prop car keys (which come out of my pocket right before Windsong and I exit) and a random assortment of bottle caps. I spend the rest of my time on stage trying to forget about all of this. I do OK with it, but every time I take a sip of "beer,” the joy buzzer in my jaw goes off.
I found the crown and rinsed it off, got it back in place and settle down finally, once I get off stage.
The best part about all of this is that nobody knew. Not my fellow cast mates, not the director, not a member of the audience. It was own private wheel of pain. And it's satisfying to carry that burden and make it off stage with a story to tell.
Live theater, baby. Doesn’t get much better!
Saturday, May 23, 2009
We had an invited dress rehearsal for The Crowd You’re In With last night, and our first audience was a terrific crowd. It’s incredibly helpful to have actual human beings out there responding to the material and to our performances. We appreciated (and were sometimes astonished by) the laughs in unexpected places. And we relished the audience’s gratifying, quiet attention when the show slows down and becomes contemplative toward the end.
Rebecca writes dialogue the way people actually speak, which makes saying her words a genuine pleasure. After the show, I discussed the play with my 25-year-old unmarried niece and a few older, divorced friends, and the conversation really brought home the universality and relevance of the play.
Different people will respond to this play in different ways. I predict a lot of couples may find themselves in pretty deep conversations after seeing it… and who knows, some babies may be born as a consequence of these chats!
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I’ve been performing in Chicago for about three years now, mostly in television and radio commercials—and a good deal of what I call “live event” work. Let me give you an example: you go to a business meeting for a couple days and on the first night there’s a “get acquainted and get loaded” type of event. Well, look up to the front of the room on the stage and you’ll see a couple of guys doing improv or a custom sketch about acronyms or something…that’s me. It’s great work, and I love it.
In fact, I love the massive variety of work I get to do on my particular career path: I go from performing the voices in a video game one day to playing a coffee cup in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts two days later (true story for another blog). This is the nature of my work, and it’s exciting and challenging. The thing is, though, I often work alone in a voice booth. Of course I collaborate with the client, director/producer and mixer. But the work usually involves a couple of people sipping Diet Coke and eating Nutri-Grain Bars in a recording studio.
I must say that the cast, director Wendy C. Goldberg and playwright Rebecca Gilman of The Crowd You’re In With have been such a delight to work with. I’ll write more about them in the future, but right now, I need to talk about the crew.
We started tech rehearsals on Tuesday. This tech has been amazing. The level of the crew’s true admiration for each other’s respective labor has been unlike anything I’ve experienced. When you combine Rachel Healy’s costumes under Josh Epstein’s lights on Kevin Depinet’s set with Josh Horvath and Ray Nardelli’s sound design…suddenly there’s a backyard BBQ indoors.
And as amazing as the design team is, the running crews and stage management department, who often bear a really heavy load during tech, have been so professional. And on top of everything, Kim Osgood and Sylvia Fellin have just been fantastic.
The thing that has impressed me the most about working at the Goodman so far is not just the prestige and history of the theater, but the people who occupy it today. From Kelly Ann and Erin, to Adam and Logan, to Patrick, Nick, Matt and Yvette, Christina, Sara, Jess…it doesn’t feel like a family, it feels like a crew—and that’s even better than family in my opinion.
In your family there’s always somebody who’s tripping or making decisions you question, but in a crew everybody has everybody else’s back, and no matter what your responsibility is, no one person is more important than the SHOW.
That’s how I approach my position as a cast member: it’s my responsibility as a member of the crew. I take that very seriously. And I have to bring my performance up to the level of Josh Epstein’s lights and Kevin Depinet’s set.
The bar has been set very high.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Go behind the scenes with the cast of The Crowd You’re In With, an intimate and relevant new play from Chicago playwright Rebecca Gilman (Boy Gets Girl, Dollhouse, Spinning into Butter).
We also want you to feel welcome to respond—either to the thoughts of our artists, or your own feelings on The Crowd You’re In With. We'll see you at the theater!
Monday, May 11, 2009
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to visit and explore the Goodman’s 2009/2010 season on a special new website we have created just for you. Here you will find useful information about all of our upcoming plays, including biographies of the principal artists, historical and dramaturgical information which contextualizes each of these shows and interviews with some of the major creative forces behind each production.
The 2009/2010 season is already shaping up to be one of the most exciting and varied in our history, and I hope that the material that you will find here will add to your enjoyment of this remarkable array of theater offerings.
We hope that you will feel free to let us know of any additional information that we can provide in order to make your Goodman experience as rich as possible. We welcome you to share your thoughts, comments and questions about the new website by clicking comment below.
I hope that you will enjoy the glimpse into each production that this website provides you—and we’ll look forward to seeing you at the theater.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
I’ve been to a lot of great concerts: Creedence, Ten Years After (Alvin Lee!), Jethro Tull, Eric Clapton, Miles Davis, James Brown and a Motown revue that changed my musical life—but for Rock ’n’ Roll, here goes:
#5 B.B. King, The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane in 1968
A great concert with my brother Michael at the old football stadium at IU in Bloomington, Indiana. (Remember the race in the movie Breaking Away? That was the place.) B.B. had a big hit with “The Thrill is Gone” and educated Hoosiers on the finer points of the blues. The Byrds were morphing into something beyond “Mr. Tambourine Man” but Roger McGuinn was still playing his Rickenbacker. And Grace Slick was simply the coolest and sexiest woman on the planet.
#4 The Small Faces
Again in Bloomington in 1973. This was a great gritty band when Ronnie Wood was still lead guitarist and Rod Stewart (before disco) was one of the gutsy-ist singers in rock besides Joe Cocker. The J. Geils Band opened, which was great as well.
#3 An all-day outdoor concert on Bull Island near Evansville, Indiana, in 1971
My memory of the day is a little haaaazy shall we say, but not the music. The lineup went: Boone's Farm, Black Oak Arkansas, Howlin' Wolf, Sleepy John Estes, Mississippi Fred McDowell, The Ike and Tina Turner Revue, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Procol Harem and The Steve Miller Band. Howlin' Wolf crawled out on stage on his hands and knees growling with the mic in his teeth. My friend John Long and I got right up to the stage for Ike and Tina and got whiplash from dancing.
#2 A tie: The Rolling Stones in Indianapolis in 1972 and Prince at First Avenue in Minneapolis in 1983 or 84
The Stones were fabulous and Mick and Keith were in rare form. The revelation was Mick Taylor's guitar work. Stevie Wonder opened. He had just released Talking Book and played every instrument on the stage.
Prince was doing an unannounced preview of Purple Rain at the club and a friend told me to hustle over. My Lord can that dude do it all! The place was electric and The Kid burned it up with his guitar.
#1 My claim to rock immortality: The Last Waltz at Winterland in San Francisco in 1976
A buddy was working security and got me in about a third of the way through the concert, so I stood along the wall house-right. The Band has always been one of my music totems and all the other incredible musicians that night made it very special. It had a real communal feel. And of course there was this dark little guy with a movie crew doing a guerilla shoot of the concert. People kept saying "stay out of Marty's way." Who knew? Whenever the movie is playing on TV, it brings back warm memories.
Friday, May 1, 2009
Do you have a coming-of-age tradition you’d like to share? If so, please share your comments by clicking the link below.
Learn more about High Holidays, and all of our 09/10 Season here.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Goodman Theatre, which commissioned this work, is so proud of Lynn and this extraordinary accomplishment—and we hope that you will share in this honor. Ruined premiered at Goodman Theatre in the Owen this November and then moved to Manhattan Theatre Club in New York. To learn more about this production, and the Pulitzer Prize, click here.
Please share your thoughts and experiences of Ruined, and Lynn's entire body of work, by commenting below.
Let the celebration begin!
Hi, I’m Mattie Hawkinson (playing Young Esme/Alice in Rock ’n’ Roll). The cast of Rock ’n’ Roll agreed to make lists of our top five concert-going experiences for this blog, and I’m the first to post. My list probably pales in comparison to the one my character Esme would write. There was no Syd Barrett in ’68. There were no Beach Boys from behind the Iron Curtain either. I’m lucky to be in a play where all the characters have better musical taste than me. But these are my sentimental faves:
1) Violent Femmes at Bumbershoot (94?). I stole my mom’s car to get there, and the long-term grounding was worth joining thousands of people in a stadium for the whisper chorus of “Blister in the Sun.” It was the first big show I’d ever seen. It was kind of hilarious to be a teenager in Seattle back then—it had to be 85 degrees, but the flannel shirts never came off. We loved Mudhoney, Liz Phair and Built to Spill. Ok, I still love Built to Spill.
2) Mid ’90s. The then-totally-unknown band Modest Mouse was playing in Bellingham, WA, at Arts Alliance, which was just a black box theater that seated about 12 people. The bullhorn Isaac Brock used wasn’t really necessary. All the 16-year-olds in hoodies were listening. And they still are.
3) Gillian Welch with David Rawlings in New York, recently. These two have been touched by the guitar gods. They make me want to speak in a fake Southern accent. David’s solo on “Black Star” is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.
4) Kurt Elling, September 14, 2001. I had been stranded at an airport in Newark after September 11th, and it took me days to find a way home to Chicago. As soon as I walked through the door, my roommate said that he had tickets to see Kurt Elling at Park West. I was still pretty shaken up, and I didn’t know if I was ready to be in a huge venue with other people yet. But when Kurt Elling sang “Nothing's Gonna Harm You” from his album Flirting With Twilight, it was like the entire crowd exhaled.
5) The Who. Amazing.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Working on Ghostwritten at The Sundance Institute Theatre Lab (or “Theater Geek Camp,” as I like to call it) was one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had.
It was July 2007 and I had never been on a mountain, so I stuck pretty close to the recommended packing list: ChapStick, sunscreen, bug spray, flashlight, sweaters for the early mornings and late nights and hiking footwear.
I was part of a company of about 30 actors working on six new plays. Let me tell you, Sundance does not mess around.
Our first night at orientation, Producing Artistic Director Philip Himberg said, “We, the staff, are committed to maintaining an environment where you don’t have to think about living.”
There was maid service once a week, minivan drivers who did runs up and down the mountain three times a day and a big meal tent!
I stayed with my two roommates in the beautifully furnished Hillam House on the dark side of the mountain. (I could see Robert Redford’s property from our porch, and I still say I’d marry that man circa “The Great Gatsby.”) We only had Internet connection and cell phone reception in a few locations at base camp, so we really were isolated from the outside world and able to fully focus on our work as artists. What a tremendous gift!
It was comforting to return to Ghostwritten seven months after the Goodman workshop. But it was odd to come back to the play with the new group of actors and it was challenging to let go of comparisons to the previous workshop. We rehearsed every other day, and each time Naomi had new pages for us to read. There’s nothing better than new pages. It’s so exciting!
And Lisa kept our imaginations humming. Our first homework assignment was to improv the voice and body of the best cook we know. We had a barbeque lesson from Alabama, a “best hangover cure” from the Philippines and a spaghetti with clam sauce lesson from my dad in Indiana.
Our amazing dramaturg Jocelyn Clark coined us the phrase “fabulate,” and in another improv, we paired up to share a personal story—something secretive and dark, along the lines of Rumplestiltskin betrayal. (As actors, we tend to have those kinds of stories readily available.) Then our partner had to “fabulate” the story by retelling it with exaggeration, magic, twists and turns. That exercise tapped me in to the tone of Ghostwritten. For me, Ghostwritten is a fabulation of a fairy tale with the search for home and self discovery.
Naomi had written a solid Act One, and we spent our third week rehearsing it at music stands for the final presentation. We were the last cast to perform, and had prepared a surprise for everyon. After we read Act One, we arranged our chairs in a half-circle on the stage, and Lisa handed us the first three scenes of Act Two. Literally hot off the press, the pages were still warm as we did our cold reading. The raw energy of sharing new pages in front of an audience was the perfect way to end our time on the mountain. The audience was left hanging—and so were we.
Needless to say, I was a wreck when I boarded the plane to return to Chicago. The play still didn’t have an ending. And it would be another three months until I heard anything about Ghostwritten again.
We also want you to feel welcome to respond—either to the thoughts of our artists, or your own feelings on Rock ’n’ Roll. We'll see you at the theater!
Friday, April 10, 2009
Posted by Tiffany Villarin (Bea in Ghostwritten)
“Hi. It’s Goodman Theatre. Lisa Portes gave us your name. Would you be available for a four-day workshop with Naomi Iizuka?”
“Whoa, whoa,” I thought in my head. “Naomi Iizuka? The Naomi Iizuka?! Yes! Of course!”
It was December 2006, and I had only ever walked into the Goodman as an audience member. As an undergrad at the Theatre School at DePaul, I spent many afternoons digging around the library for any and all plays written by Asian American artists. And now here was my opportunity to actually work with one.
On that first day there was no script, for it had not been written.
On that first day we started with a question:
“What is your first memory of tasting something?”
“Oh gosh. No one’s ever asked me that before,” I said nervously. “Ramen noodles. But the good kind. The Asian kind…um, Ichiban. I had them almost every day after kindergarten when I was five. My sister loved the noodles, but I loved the broth. It was salty.”
One by one, we went around the room calling up the memory files. Files that held our first culinary experiences, our best culinary experiences, our most awkward culinary experiences, the things that haunt us, the times we lied and our recollections of Rumpelstiltskin.
Lisa, Naomi and Tanya Palmer (the Goodman’s Literary Manager) listened, prodded and took notes. It was challenging, fun and sometimes therapeutic (okay mostly therapeutic). But we didn’t know what was going on. I mean, sure my stories are kind of interesting, but I’m pretty sure the Goodman didn’t call me in here just to talk about myself. Isn’t there a script for us to work on?
Finally, after two days of personal story telling and many group and individual improvs, Naomi gave us the first 25 pages of the play. It was thrilling! There were six characters—somewhat like the six actors in the room—very distinct, with strong points of view, and already on a journey somewhere. And we had a title: Ghostwritten. It didn’t make really make sense then, but I liked it. We rehearsed for a day and a half, did a reading around the table for the Goodman staff, and then went home.
That first four-day workshop stayed with me for a long time. I remember reading Bea’s first monologue about her earliest memory and how it connected to my own story of what haunts me. It was strange and rewarding. And I didn’t want it to be over. What would happen to Bea?
Phone ringing. Three months later.
“Hi. It’s the Sundance Theatre Lab. Lisa Portes and Naomi Iizuka gave us your name. Would you be available for a three-week workshop for Ghostwritten?”
More to come…
Friday, April 3, 2009
Go behind the scenes of Ghostwritten with Tiffany Villarin, who plays Bea in this powerful, haunting, quirky new play from Naomi Iizuka.
We also want you to feel welcome to respond—either to the thoughts of our artists, or your own feelings on Ghostwritten. We'll see you at the theater!
Saturday, March 28, 2009
“Look. It’s the guy who played Paul.”
After one of the previews the other night
I was on the Brown Line at Clark/Lake
when a group of people got on.
One of them was holding a program.
I was doing a crossword and listening to my iPod,
so I couldn’t hear what they were saying,
but out of the corner of my eye
I’m pretty sure I saw the woman point at me.
I thought to myself.
“They just saw Magnolia. She’s probably saying, ‘Look, Daniel. It’s the guy who played Paul. He’s sitting right next to us. On the Brown Line. Should we say something to him?’”
I thought about how awkward it can be
for actors and theater-goers to share public transportation after a show.
For the audience member,
does it break the spell of the show you just saw if you see me reading The Onion afterward?
Is it exciting to see the actors after a show in a space other than the theater?
Is it kind of bizarre?
Do you enjoy talking to actors about the show you just saw?
Or do you absolutely dread it?
I’m actually quite interested in this.
Because I’m one of those actors who never minds talking to you.
Just so you know.
I think audience members are fantastic.
And I thought this woman and her husband and her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend were fantastic, and I wanted to say to them, “Hey, it’s okay. I’m not a crazy hippie like I am in the play you just saw. You can talk to me.”
I wanted to make their train ride less awkward.
And so I began to take off my headphones when the woman turned over her program.
She was definitely not pointing to me saying, “That guy played Paul.”
She may have been pointing at me saying, “Look at that guy’s beard. Hmph. City-folk.”
And there I was, about to start a conversation.
Talk about awkward.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
I did a show once where I was positive
I was going to fall off the stage into the audience at one point during the run.
Thankfully that is not a concern to me during Magnolia.
I have a sneaking suspicion that during one performance
I will forget to wear my character glasses in the first scene,
forcing me to not wear glasses for the rest of the play.
I also worry that during one performance
I will forget to take off my wedding ring in the first scene.
(This is the first play I’ve done since getting married.)
Doing this will change my character’s arc in the play considerably,
seeing as he lives by himself, kisses another girl and never talks about having a wife.
I’ve also had a nightmare that during one performance
I will trip and fall while making one of my entrances
and the guitar I am playing will get caught between two of the moving set pieces
and it will snap in two onstage
and there will be no way to pretend it was, you know, just part of the show.
I am always ready for my guitar to be wildly out of tune.
Even if I’ve just tuned it the second before I hit the stage.
My dressing roommates and I have agreed to watch each other’s backs,
just in case one of us forgets to change outfits during intermission.
This has almost happened to us.
Like I said,
Not falling off stage is totally within my reach.
Monday, March 23, 2009
“It’s the day of the show, ya’ll.”
I don’t usually fire off Waiting for Guffman references at the drop of a hat,
but today it’s pretty unavoidable.
There’s probably an 80% chance that somebody will quote
Parker Posey’s line from the classic movie today.
And kind of like Pavlov’s dogs,
I will probably hear it and immediately have myriad physical reactions.
Maybe my knees will get weak.
My mouth will certainly get dry.
My stomach will push its way through the turnstiles and hop onto
The Goliath at Magic Mountain.
Suddenly I will be acutely aware of all the things I am doing.
Because every little thing could add up to…
(cue triumphant sound effect)
…THE PERFECT OPENING NIGHT PERFORMANCE.
I can’t speak for every actor,
but I know that I usually find myself wantingneedingbegging
Opening Night to be perfect.
And so I become highly routine in my pre-show activities,
based on how the Preview Performances went.
(One would assume that I would pay attention to the work I’ve been learning onstage, and try to focus on that. This, of course, makes a lot of sense. If I had any sense at all on Opening Night, I’d do just that.)
On Tuesday I got a Green Tea at Argo Tea and the show was great.
What size was it?
Argh. Small? No, medium. I’ll buy a small tonight and get it in a medium cup.
On Thursday I had some yogurt right before the show and felt slow onstage.
Yogurt is now banished from my diet.
On Friday I took the Red Line to the theater and the Brown Line home,
and that show was pretty good, so that’ll be my route today.
I realize that it doesn’t really matter how I get home,
Seeing as though the show is already over,
But the universe just knows.
Over the weekend I went correctly predicted 15 out the 16 Sweet Sixteen Teams.
And the weekend shows felt pretty darn awesome.
I will have to write a letter to the NCAA
asking if they can replay those games tonight.
I’ll also have to make sure that I:
Drink four bottles of water before my first entrance .
Go to the bathroom 7 times exactly before my first entrance (not impossible, actually).
Do NOT buy a cup of coffee on my way to the theater.
Tune my guitar precisely when the William character says, “Boo-Weevils.”
Do my pre-show shuffle dance that I’ve done before every one of my performances for the last 10 years. (I’m not kidding.)
Weird, isn’t it?
And I’m not a very superstitious person, either.
Just on Opening Night.
All part of the fun, I guess.
I love it, I’m thankful for it, I welcome it with open arms.
Because what is life
(especially an actor’s life)
without at least one day of all out weirdness?
Monday, March 16, 2009
I know that for most people,
Monday is a pretty dreaded day.
But for us theater folk,
Monday is our day off.
Which makes for very short lines at the grocery store.
So we’ve got that going for us.
The first Monday after an exhausting tech week is especially nice, for a few reasons:
First, it’s just nice to be outside of the theater and maybe see the sun for a bit.
I get a chance to do some normal things.
Like the dishes.
Eat dinner with my wife.
Fill out my March Madness NCAA Bracket.
(If you have any good Cinderella teams, by all means, let me know.)
Second, it gives the actors time to ruminate on the past week.
Especially the last few days of the past week,
when the little show we had been rehearsing all by ourselves in our basement
actually went out in the world and met some people and tried to connect.
One could say that a show’s first preview is very much like a first date.
Everybody is nervous, right?
Nervous and excited.
80% nervous, 20% excited.
Both parties just want to have a good time.
The show wants the audience to enjoy hanging out with it for a few hours and maybe consider seeing it again.
The audience is praying that the show will not be boring and not tell too many lame jokes.
We all want to report back to our friends with a resounding,
“That. Was. Awesome.”
And I will say that Magnolia’s first date was pretty awesome.
A couple highlights from our first preview include:
Laughter. Always the most surprising and welcome sound at a first preview. It often reminds you of things that you thought were funny in a first read-through. It also often comes in places you never expected it and throws you off for a second, but then forces you to sink deeper into the scene and slow down. It’s just the best thing ever.
The absence of laughter. I’d say this is just as important as getting a laugh. Knowing when something is either:
a) not working
b) simply not funny
is one of the most important things an actor can learn from a preview audience. It influences one’s pace, one’s actions, everything. I had a few of those moments on Saturday night. I got a note to be less serious, have more fun and go faster. And during the Sunday matinee, boom. Got some laughs. Gotta love the science of it all.
A couple of nice “Story Grunts.” Not really a gasp and not really a laugh. This sound is only heard when the audience is fully with the play. Usually it occurs when a plot-point mentioned in Act One suddenly comes full-circle in Act Two, and one or two audience members make a sound that can only be translated as, “I hear that.” We got a few of those.
“Quick” Changes. There’s nothing quite as terrifying as a quick change. It’s really something an audience should get to witness sometime. We are still perfecting quick changes during preview performances. That said, on our first preview there was a quick change that wasn’t quite quick enough and a fellow actor and I were left to improvise some lines. We failed miserably. I drew some diagrams in my prop notebook and showed them to my scene partner. Unfortunately, they were diagrams of nothing. (By the second preview, the quick change was lightning fast. Thank God.)
Cell Phones. I think six cell phones went off during our first preview. Not bad, actually.
The Solo Standing Ovation. There may have been more, but I could only spot one person at the front of the house who stood up during our curtain call. It was a fantastic thing to see. Don’t get me wrong, an entire audience leaping to their feet is amazing, but when one person does it, you just know that they mean it. It takes a lot of courage to say, “I don’t care what ya’ll are doing, I’m standing up.”
So yeah, our first audience was a great date.
Smart, encouraging, patient.
They taught us a few things about ourselves that we weren’t aware of.
They laughed at (most) of our jokes.
And as far as I could tell, they may be up for some miniature golf next week if the weather stays nice.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
The rule in the rehearsal room is that if your phone rings, you have to bring sweets. How great is it that the director’s phone is always the one ringing? I love it!
I love sweets, and so does our director, Anna. I'm looking forward to the next treat she’ll bring. She bought Garrett Popcorn the first time her phone rang. I ate so much I decided to help her—and help myself not to eat so many sweets. Now I call out to her as soon as she arrives, "Anna, is your phone off? I have no intention of gaining weight because your phone keeps ringing. But also intend to eat whatever you bring."
As soon as I got that out of the way, I discovered that Alden, our wonderful stage manager, likes to bring cakes to rehearsal. CAKES! There was an eight-layer coconut cake sitting on the table when I got to rehearsal today. I had cake for breakfast. And then John Judd brought cupcakes so good they just make you wanna holla!
I don't think they realize just how much I like sweets.
I think my cast members are trying to kill me.
Somebody help me!
Friday, March 13, 2009
I were to be asked to be a guest on
Inside the Actor’s Studio,
(not that I’ve thought about this at all)
And were asked the question,
“What is your favorite sound?”
I would respond with this:
“The sound of Tech.”
You know what I’m talking about, theater people.
(Do you know what I’m talking about, theater-goers?)
Tech is a quiet process.
It’s also very sleepy and tiring and long
And weird because you’re inside all day and you have no idea what time it is.
As for the specific sounds, here are my favorites:
The click-clack of cues being entered into the light board.
The whispers between the director and the designers in the back of the darkened house.
The conversations on headsets between the crew. (Usually you only hear one side of the conversation and a lot of the time you think they’re talking to you but they’re not and it’s totally bizarre.)
The shouts from offstage when set pieces fly in and out. Ah, safety.
The laughter amongst cast members backtsage when the “late-night tech delirium” kicks in. This laughter is usually prompted by something lame and ridiculous that under normal circumstances would not be very funny at all. Happens every tech.
The sound of a lone cast member standing onstage quietly saying their lines to themselves.
And now I’m wondering,
What are some of your favorite theater sounds?
For the record,
I also love the sound of an audience through the monitor from backstage,
Right before the show starts.
Annnnnd now I’m late for my train.
(How much do you hate the sound of your train leaving the station as you run up to it?)
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Yesterday a cast mate and I got this note at the beginning of rehearsal:
“Your scene yesterday was perfect. You nailed it. Don’t ever do it differently. Great work.”
It may be one of the best notes I’ve ever been given.
Totally made my day.
Then we did a run of the play.
And I promptly went and ruined the aforementioned scene by trying way too hard to do exactly what I had done the day before.
Being a director must be exasperating.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
There are several motivators behind my excitement, so I'll mention just a few. Bear with me. First and foremost, my mom can finally tell her friends, "My baby's on stage at the Goodman!" I was born and raised in Chicago, and I’ve been waiting and wishing for this opportunity for a long time. I've worked at many theaters, and my mom is always proud, but my family never fails to ask, "Baby, when are you going to do something at the Goodman?" because, of course, "It's so much easier then traveling out of town." You gotta' love ’em!
I introduced my nephew to the magic of A Christmas Carol in the old Goodman space (over on Columbus) when he was seven, and I told him, "Aunt's going to be on that stage one day." He's 17 now. Whew! And now I'm considered the cool aunt. What's better than having a 17-year-old think you're cool?
Okay, so two more reasons I’m excited about this production: Regina and Anna! What a cool couple of ladies to work with, for and around. They’re just so cool. I usually enjoy my work, but I have to say that I enjoy it even more when working with such great women. If we were family, Anna would be the cool middle sister who makes you think everything you do (even when it's wrong) is still totally great. Regina's like the slightly older sister who you think is going to be so serious about everything, but then she gives you insight and wisdom and makes you feel wiser and smarter. Then there's me—the actress—the baby sister who just trusts my sisters and does what I’m told because I know this production is going to be great!
The last thing I'll say, ’cause I can go on forever (I'm what you might call “a talker”) is that this cast is so beyond talented that I learn a little bit from everyone every single day. They are very generous and thoughtful people who make you laugh out loud over and over again. I have had a really great time working on Magnolia, and I’m looking forward to every moment to come.
Monday, March 9, 2009
I have to kiss a girl in this play.
A lot of my non-actor friends ask me if it’s weird.
Kissing a girl in a play.
You know, since I’m like, married and all.
And honestly, my answer is no.
It’s part of the job.
A sort of bizarre part of the job, but part of the job nonetheless.
If you have a cool scene partner, and you trust the director, which I do in both cases, then it’s all good.
Not weird at all.
It’s just acting.
Per this whole kissing somebody in a play issue, I will say this:
Every time we run through the show I feel extremely bad for my scene partner, Caitlin.
Because even though it’s all acting, one cannot ignore these two simple facts:
I have a 4-month-old beard.
I’ve eaten a peanut butter and honey sandwich every day for the past 5 years.
That can’t be fun to kiss.
It can, on the other hand, be very, very weird.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
The great thing about working and rehearsing at the Goodman is that if you ask for something, like a prop, there’s about a 100% chance that you’ll get it.
The next day.
“Is there any way I can get an old-school capo and a leather guitar strap?”
“Can I get a harmonica for that scene in Act One?”
“Of course, here’s eight of them. In different keys.”
“Hey, I was thinking my character should be eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in this scene.”
“Those weren’t invented yet, Cliff.”
“Damn. You. Are. Good.”
Is quality Stage Management.
The Goodman is packed with awesome Stage Managers.
And Run Crew.
And Sound Operators.
And Prop Masters.
And the list goes on .
An actor must never forget that they do the real work.
We just get to play.
I have to say.
It’s unfortunate that there’s no curtain call for those who are backstage.
Monday, March 2, 2009
My character’s name in Magnolia is Paul Steele.
Paul is a member of the Beat Generation.
He writes poetry, plays guitar, has a beard.
He participates in Freedom Rides and is active in the Civil Rights Movement.
He’s a great gift of a character.
So many things for me to research and learn and study.
A great part of this whole “being an actor” thing is the preparation.
It gives me a chance to study things that I won’t read about in RedEye.
It’s also a great way to get out of doing the laundry.
“Honey, I’m not just watching a DVD. I’m doing research. I’m working.”
In no particular order or measure of importance, here are some fun things I did—slash—got to do while preparing for the role of Paul:
1. I started growing a beard on November 1, 2008. The day after my wedding.
2. I downloaded two of Bob Dylan’s early albums, The Times They are a-Changin’ and The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan. And I will admit: They’re the first Bob Dylan albums I’ve ever owned.
3. I busked (played guitar and sang) for a bit at the North/Clybourn stop on the Red Line and made $1.50. It was one of the scariest and most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. I swear, when that dirty, crumpled dollar bill came my way (yeah, some dude threw an entire dollar bill in my guitar case) I just about exploded. (My wife is not sure how she feels about my having busked. “What if our friends saw?” My answer? I simply hold up the dollar bill and say, “How would they feel about this?”)
Did You Know?
4. To obtain a permit for playing guitar in the Chicago subway it will cost you about $100. I learned that by talking to a professional busker at the Red Line Lake Station. I figured Paul would find that crazy, so I didn’t get one. That’s right. I broke the law for the sake of theater. It’s a good thing, too, because had I paid for the permit I would have been down $98.50.
5. I read Howl by Allen Ginsberg for the first time. That thing is intense.
6. I watched a documentary on Martin Luther King Jr. that featured the entire “I Have a Dream” speech. Maybe you’ve heard of it. One tends to hear of things that change the world.
7. I IMBD’d and Googled all the fancy people in my cast. That’s right, I admit it. I pay for this Internet thing; I might as well use it. Let’s see. There’s an Oscar Nominee, a Tony Nominee, a Jeff Award winner, a woman who opened for Richard Pryor and a bunch of other equally amazing rock stars.
Upon typing that, I now feel a bit intimidated.
These people are the real deal.
Who am I to be writing this blog and listing these...things.
I mean, who am I kidding?
My claim to fame is being voted Best Dancer at New Haven Elementary School.
Will all this external preparation even matter?
Have I done enough of the real preparation?
Have I asked enough questions about who my character is inside?
Have I done the homework of his heart?
Because I’m damn sure my cast mates have done theirs.
Just look at them.
All award-winning and stuff.
Now the intimidation I feel is starting to turn to panicbutwaitjustasecond.
I almost forgot.
There it is. In my guitar case. Reaching out to me.
My own little award.
I pause from typing for a moment and hold it in my hands.
A beautiful, dirty, crumpled dollar bill.
Gosh, it’s heavier than I expected.
I take a moment to compose myself.
I look out to the hushed crowd that is in reality only my wife making coffee.
And I say to her triumphantly,
“Are you intimidated by this?”
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Are you going to the show, or have you just come back from a performance?
We want to hear from YOU!
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Ah, my first blog post.
This is exciting.
“Where do I start?” I wonder.
I guess I might as well start by introducing myself.
My name is Cliff. I’m one of the actors in Magnolia.
Let me re-phrase that.
I’m one of the “extremely luckygratefulandterrified to be a part of the cast” actors in Magnolia.
I’m lucky because Anna Shapiro is directing Magnolia.
She won a Tony Award.
She’s a Tony Award-winning director.
You may remember her acceptance speech because it was the best acceptance speech in the history of acceptance speeches.
And let me tell you.
Anna Shapiro makes a Tony Award-winning acceptance speech pretty much seven times a day, just minus the Tony Award-winning part.
She’s just naturally that good at, well, the art of speech.
The art of communication.
And she’s super smart and patient and kind and funny and wears cool scarves and even though she won a Tony and could probably be directing on the moon, she makes a living right here in Chicago and she tells the truth and likes her actors to turn upstage if that’s the natural thing for her actors to do and she can sum up the human condition more precisely than anybody I’ve ever met so that I find myself constantly nodding my head and going, “Yeah...Totally. That story totally makes sense and ohmygodthat’swhatmycharacterisfeeling you’re a genius.”
Also, she’s in my Top 5 list of The Coolest People I’ve Ever Met.
So she’s got that going for her.
I’m grateful because Regina Taylor has written Magnolia.
Regina has written, like, 4,000 plays.
Many have been performed at the Goodman.
And somehow I’m now in one of them.
I have an actual part.
And Regina is okay with that.
Regina Taylor is okay with me being in her play and saying her lines.
It’s a dream.
You know what else is a dream?
Seriously, just having a normal conversation with Regina is like talking to somebody in one of your dreams. And by that I mean that you can swear that you hear music playing somewhere in the distance and you’re pretty sure it’s a harp or maybe a trumpet and time seems to slow down and you feel you’re in quicksand and you’re thinking, “This woman is tapped in to something more powerful than the rest of us and when she talks to me I feel gooooood.”
Regina was the first black woman to play Juliet on Broadway.
Scratch that one off the list of fantastic things to do in one’s lifetime.
I’m terrified because Anna Shapiro is directing Magnolia.
I’m terrified because Regina Taylor has written Magnolia.
Terrified because they’re on top of their game.
They’re like Tom Brady in the 4th quarter (before he hurt his knee).
They’re like Tiger Woods on the back nine (before, after and during his knee problems).
They’re like Kirk Gibson, bottom of the ninth, ’88 World Series. Home run. Game over.
I’m just hoping that I can keep up.
So the pressure is on.
I mean, even without two forces like Anna and Regina in the room,
I constantly find myself being driven by two things when I act:
1. Make honest, specific and brave choices.
2. Don’t get fired.
Like I said.
It’s still early.
A little terror is a great motivator.
Maybe I’ll get lucky and make a few nice passes.
And I’ll be grateful to have been given a chance to play.
Being in plays is fun.
We also want you to feel welcome to respond—either to the thoughts of our artists, or your own feelings on Magnolia. We'll see you at the Theatre!
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Theater asks a lot of you, and with no small amount of fear and pride I believe The Hypocrites demand a good deal on top of that. It’s crazy, really, that when you think about it we are asking, Please give us some money and come to this place at this time and celebrate with us how deeply painful and alienating it is to be a human being. We’ll have a few laughs along the way but make no mistake, consciousness is horrifying. We’re very mean to each other most of the time and there’s no doubt that we all would have been much happier had we been born otters.
But it’s better than TV.
Just think, in 1922 there was no TV. But there was Eugene O’Neill, complete with his broken heart, bottomless glass of whiskey and a stack of paper upon which he wrote this savage little play about Yank and his quest to belong somewhere. Here we are 87 years later and Yank is still searching. A sacrifice never ends well for the offering, and Yank is our sacrifice.
And yours, if you’re game enough to join us. I hope you do. If not for the audience, all of our work won’t be worth a monkey-fur coat.