Archive for Community theatre

Caped Crusaders?

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2011 by erikball123

There is something about masks that I’ve always found very intriguing. I don’t think you’re a true theatre person if you don’t like the occasional trip to the Halloween store and the smell of manufactured latex. From a theatrical stand-point, I’ve always been intrigued by the function of a secret identity and how it plays into a story, character or circumstance? Fun stuff. Superheroes immediately come to mind. Halloween too. Bank robbers, I suppose fall into that category.

Then I thought about how that particular “art” imitate life (to take a giant slice out of that drippy, cliche pie.) Then I started thinking about the masks we all wear, everyday.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with a phenomenal cast and crew of “LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS” for the past few months. The show runs until August 27. (Summerlin Library / Performing Arts Center – For Tickets: http://www.SignatureProductions.net.) With that said…it doesn’t feature any superheroes (although I suppose that’s arguable, in the figurative sense)…no references to Halloween…and no bank robberies. But, I’ve found the exploration of the main character, Seymour, to be very much like how we go about our lives: trying to reach that unattainable goal, scared of the circumstances, and ultimately hiding our true selves in the process.

Seymour, the meek geek of a botanist, doesn’t know how to effectively relate. He only has “life experience” and it hasn’t been a very good life thus far. So, his options are limited. In walks Audrey…a prim, perky package of pep in a tight-fitting dress. She’s a delightful caricature and has a strong-hold on Seymour’s heart. (Is it because of over-exposure? After all Seymour doesn’t get out too much. Or is it because she desperately needs rescuing…and Seymour desperately needs to rescue something because of his circumstance. Who’s to say!) One thing leads to another and before you know it, Seymour’s feeding bodies (limbs of the people who were obstacles in his mission) to an alien plant who talks. (Oklahoma it is not.)

Seymour is an underdog. Someone an audience member would want to root for. He’s brow-beaten. He’s only known the gutter. And here walks in a beautiful young lady who is simply out of his league. She’s abused, humiliated and a tower and a dragon away from being a textbook damsel. Any audience who wouldn’t yell “grab a sword, Seymour and rescue yon maiden!” is missing something. The plot is what one might call…a bit predictable.

The reason I like the musical so much has to do with Seymour. Sure, it’s a plight we’re all accustomed to. Sure we can imagine what might come next. But, here’s a guy who is willing to change his ways, and ACT on his feelings…to do what he thinks is right. You see it doesn’t matter if it IS morally right…or ethically right. All that really matters is that the character THINKS its right. That’s what creates such affective heroes and villains.

The mask I wear in front of my high school drama students is not the same mask I wear in front of my boss, or my next door neighbor or a police officer who just pulled me over. All are different (and perhaps a simpler) adventure then, say, Seymour’s…but the act of donning a different personality to do what’s “right” is very much the same.

Okay, now let’s take two giant steps back.

Ever been to Comic Con? I haven’t. I don’t collect comics…but I find them amusing. I have a deep respect for those who love comics, science fiction and fantasy. I think there is a place in this world for those whose energies are drawn to projects and efforts that are outside the realm of reality. In my eyes…that’s a hiccup away from theatre.

You ever wonder why people get such a thrill from dressing up and invading these conventions with their painted squirt guns and way too tight tights? “Whoa! Don’t get too close to that crazy chick who is spilling out of her unitard and trying in vain to convince us she’s Firestar! The situation may be combustible.” Yes. Combustible. Heh.

I sure have to give credit where credit is due, however. You cannot say these people aren’t passionate about their loves. (I mean, have you ever argued that Superman is better than Batman with any Super or Bat fan? By the way…Batman is WAY better.)

One thing that I’ve noticed about these Comic Con crazies is their willingness to don a mask (physical or otherwise) to completely immerse themselves into a character for the sake of an event…or rather a “coming together of like crazies.” This fascinates me, but not for the reasons you think. For the same reason I can enjoy the occasional Renaissance festival, but I would never keep an outfit of guilded, rustic armor in my hope chest in anticipation for the next event….I think Comic Con, Renaissance festivals, and even the first day of school (which is a mere week and a half away for me….yikes) all fall under the same category: they are meetings of like individuals, with common passions and a willingness to don a mask so as to create an acceptable character in the hopes that the performance will be well received. Arguable? I bet you ever teacher at Faith Lutheran has purchased their new outfit for the first day. My shirt (costume) is red.

Whether you are the actor portraying Seymour Krelbourn in the story “Little Shop of Horrors” (and an effective piece of theatre) or a scared freshman looking forward to embracing the trials of high school (again, an effective piece of theatre!)….everyone wears a mask. I think it is expected, appropriate and ultimately what brings people together. But just like every masked character, they go forth with the firm understanding that they will face conflict. (Otherwise, why wear the mask?)

As you waltz into Comic Con as Firestar (or rather, Math class as Jeff)…take a look at the wonderful fun house that surrounds you. All the lush characters and fun masks. Please remember that underneath each one lurks an actual person….with passions, feelings and secrets.

Perhaps if we embraced this…it would bring worlds together and make wearing capes socially acceptable! I don’t think you need superpowers, Excalibur or a stage to do that.

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The Transformation of “Beauty and the Beast”

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2008 by erikball123

Kari Curletto (Belle) and I during a particularly harrowing rehearsal during the first run of “Beauty and the Beast.”

When I first went into rehearsal for P.S. Production’s version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast last April (’08), I found myself very excited to jump into the colorful role of Gaston. This classic Disney tale has long been my favorite Disney movie, and I was thrilled to be a part of what was sure to be an amazing show. Rehearsals started with the usual aligning of schedules, theatre games and exercises and day-to-day rituals of choreography, vocals and blocking. Things went just fine for a while. I was feeling confident. But, then after about a week or so, (particularly when it was my time to beging in-depth character development), I found myself getting frustrated about what I was able to offer in my scenework. (Or, rather, what was being received by the audience…aka: the director.)

If you never met me, or are unaccustomed to my work ethic…allow me to detail my mind set. I’m a very energetic, passionate dude, who admits to an occasional A.D.D. fueled speed bump, but will always give 100%, all of the time. (Simply because productions demand that…and because I love to perform and consider the opportunity a great priviledge. It is my way of offering thanks…my devoted time, efforts and talents.) I try not to be arrogant…but I think the performing profession demands a level of confidence in order to be successful, so I try to over compensate that with an even greater level of gratitude and support for others.

I love working with others because I feel like I can take away ideas, processes, disciplines, etc. that I have not thought of before. There is no sense of “leading role vs. ensemble” in my little world. (Yeah, right, you say.) I truly believe that the best work comes from a strong, unified ensemble where everyone is there to build a perfect story. Anything we can learn from one another becomes part of that ensemble’s efforts, and anyone lucky enough to be in the room at that time should benefit from that.

With that said, the frustration I felt came from the inability to provide what I felt was being demanded by Belle and LeFou, my scene partners. (Both of these actors, by the way are very good friends…and brilliant. I mean it. I have no reason for false flattery.) I found myself at war with…myself! I wanted so badly to provide the nuance, the look, the gesture, the posture, the motivation…the whatever!…so that the moment in that story reads well to the audience, and adds to the show.  We worked and worked and worked. We tried games and exercises…we switched roles and even sat and had in depth discussions about the characters.

I will tell you the director’s name. It’s Phil Shelburne, and he’s amazing. For weeks this sort of frustration brewed in me. Over time it bubbled and grew into an acute determination to make something out of a character I had trouble connecting with. Phil never gave up on me, and even in the moments when I felt completely removed, he would ask me questions like “how did you feel about that?” I would answer. And he would simply look back and smile and say, “okay. Let’s do it again.” And we would. And I would be tired. And I would be stressed. And out of that repetition…out of that unwillingness to compromise….out of that “tough love” for lack of better words, Gaston slowly crept out. I remember at one point Phil looking over to me during a final dress rehearsal and saying “…now that was something. Why must you battle me, Erik!” That felt so good. But it also made approaching this second run of Beauty and the Beast that much sweeter.

I look at this upcoming second run of the show as my opportunity to work with what I already know in a very different way. My instincts tell me to remain comfortable and rely on already engraved processes, connections and discoveries. But, I want desperately (and so does Phil) to reinvent this character.

This week when I began character development work with Phil and others, I felt myself slump back into that same frustrating rut. (Dang it!) It doesn’t help that I was having a “bad” week. (Locked my keys in the car, incidents in class with students kept my frustration levels high, etc.) But, let’s be honest. Those are excuses. Theatre is an escape from reality. But, especially last Friday I noticed something I never realized before. My roadblock…or rather, oversized speed bump…was the fact that I was thinking about it too much. (Phil says this to me all the time. That I’m the very definition of a cerebrial actor. Someone who thinks too much. Imagine that. Wish my high school career was peppered with comments like that! Phooey on you Mr. Glenn!)

But seriously…I would be in the middle of a scene and instead of LISTENING to my partner….I would be thinking about what I should be doing. Instead of REACTING to my partner….I was thinking about how to react. Silly, isn’t it? Some may say….well, just STOP DOING IT! But that’s what’s going on…I notice myself THINKING, and I’m struggling with myself to STOP THINKING, during the scene! Yikes! It’s a bad, bad thing. Sounds crazy, I know! But add on top of that a wildy enthusiastic personality who ONLY wants to do well for the show and make his fellow cast members and director proud….and you’ve got a fine, fine mess. On a Friday, no less! (I even bought cookies!)

I’ve been there. Someone once said that a true actor find’s the difficulties of the actor’s art infinite. (I think it was Stella Adler. Correct me if I’m wrong.) Well, I suppose I’m on the road to being a true actor, because I’m frustrated. I slept in until 10am yesterday hoping to put to rest those icky feelings and re approach this week with new found vigor.

I suppose the show would sit differently with me if everytime I walked in the room, everything came completely natural to me. I always thought the thrill of theatre was watching a character or a scene or an ensemble develop and come to life on stage. I witness it as a director at my school all the time..but as an actor in someone’s else’s vision…I have a deep sense of responsibility fueled by a restless determination. I find myself like a lion tamer most of the time, attempting to put on a good show while keeping my restless self at bay. (With a whip….’cause they’re cool.) I am determined…you’ll never see me give up. The discipline and challenge of the theatre haunts me…but I’m not scared. My horns are down and I’m ready to charge.

Whoever said the art of acting is easy needs to be hit in the head with a snow shovel. I will let ya’ll know how things turn out this week. I’m in training. I’m drinking figurative Gaston protein shakes, and pumping Gaston iron on the road to a beautiful new Beauty and the Beast production. I’ll get there. But I promise I’ll try not to think about it.

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“New, and a bit alarming. Who’d have ever thought that this could be? True, that he’s no prince charming, but there’s something in him that I simply didn’t see.” – Belle

DISNEY’S BEAUTY & THE BEAST is playing at the Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center throughout the months of October and Novemebr ’08. Click here for show information. Click here to purchase tickets.

Tale as New as Time…

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2008 by erikball123

The cast of “BEAUTY and the BEAST” take a break after re-learning the song HUMAN AGAIN.

We began as a small group of young people anxious to offer the wildest take on one of the most “known” musicals out there. It started late February last year, and I was at my final callback for “Beauty and the Beast.” I was very nervous (of course)…but a bit uncomfortable as well. I have been called back for Beast and Gaston. And the young lady I continued to read with (as Beast) for Belle, was the wife of the guy I was in competition with for Gaston. (Got that?) Talk about awkward.

I left there thinking…”Sheesh! Even if I get the role…how is this thing going to pan out!” Well, I got Gaston and the cast was amazing. The varied approaches and disciplines were an inspiration, the creative team including  very gifted director challenged me, and the final product was one of the most widely attended musicals in Super Summer Theatre’s history. A success by many people’s definition.

It was a good experience and shortly after, we were all asked to come back and do the show again! Most of us were like “huh?” What do you mean, “do it again?” Signature Productions wanted the entire show to revamp the production for a “back by popular demand” run in October and November. It took most of us a few seconds to give them our answer (after all…it’s a really fun show to do!) but there were others that said they couldn’t come back. We were very uncertain as to how this was going to re-materialize. (Especially after strike and the manner in which the set was struck! Yikes. I thought claw hammers were meant to remove nails! Remind me to pick a few of those up for the second run of the second act and the “Kill the Beast” number!)

Fast forward to last week, the first full week of “second round” rehearsals. We have a new Maurice, a new Cogsworth…and to be honest we’re still looking for a Mrs. Potts! There is also a handful of new chorus members, all of which have helped this ensemble flesh out to be a rather exciting one.  I’m thrilled to say that Evan Litt who played LaFou to my Gaston (and is amazing!) will be returning. He originally didn’t think he could come back! I’m thrilled. We’re a little bigger, a little bulkier…and it’s going to be a BIG, HUGE show.

I run through the song “GASTON” with Evan Litt during vocal rehearsal.

One of the most exciting things about last week was the fact that our director Phil Shelburne, told us to drop our preconceived notions and approaches to the characters. “This is a new show, with new goals, and new approaches,” he said. But as our first read-thru indicated, that wasn’t going to be easy. Everyone (who was in the original cast, anyway) slipped right into the same routine. At break, Phil pulled Kari (who plays Belle), Sevyn (who plays Beast) and myself aside to ask us to really work hard on breaking down these characters to the bare minimum, so that we can rebuild them back up again.

After that read-thru, we spent the rest of the week perched at the edge of our seats, going over vocals. Our vocal director Lisa Fairweather (who’s amazing, by the way) has us relearning everything. Chorus parts I sang tenor last show, I now sing baritone and vice-versa. They are really working hard to make this a NEW show. It’s crazy. We all supported on another and really made the newbies feel like home….we played games…brought up memories from the past…we even stalked and smashed a killer dragon fly who was out of control!

“Who’s the DRAGONFLY now?! Huh??”

So, as I trudge forward this next, very busy week, I will be anxious to see what surprises await me around the corner. One things for sure, it’s not going to be easy. We approached this thinking it was going to be a casual transition back into a comfortable show. Instead, we’re going to take some rude, base “beast-like” notions…go crazy with them over the next two months, and then hopefully transform this puppy into a prince!

CLICK HERE FOR BEAUTY AND THE BEAST TICKETS.

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