Saturday, March 28, 2009

Actors on the Train

Posted by Cliff Chamberlain

“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.

Jersey Boys.

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

What If…

Posted by Cliff Chamberlain

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.
You know.
For consistency.

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.

But yeah,
Like I said,
Not falling off stage is totally within my reach.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Opening Night

Posted by Cliff Chamberlain

“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)


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.)

Let’s see:

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.
The weirdness.
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


Posted by Cliff Chamberlain

It’s Monday.

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.

That’s right.

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

Sweet Tooth

Posted by Tyla Abercrumbie

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!

Much love,

Friday, March 13, 2009

The sound of Tech.

Posted by Cliff Chamberlain.

If, someday,
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.
Very zen.
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.

And finally,
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

The Perfect Scene

Posted by Cliff Chamberlain.

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

I'm so crazy excited!

Posted by Tyla Ambercrumbie

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.

Much love,

Monday, March 9, 2009

Stage Kiss

Posted by Cliff Chamberlain.

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

Curtain Call

Posted by Cliff Chamberlain.

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.”

My friends,
Is quality Stage Management.
The Goodman is packed with awesome Stage Managers.
And Designers.
And Costumers.
And Dressers.
And Assistants.
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

Preparing for Paul

Posted by Cliff Chamberlain.

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.
Oh yes.
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?”