Director's Log

04/20/08

Home
Production Concept
Cast
Director's Log
Photo Gallery

 

As an experiment in attempting to fully document the creative process of this production, I am keeping this log.  I hope this account will eventually help other directors undertaking collaborative projects.

 


2/12/08 AUDITIONS

Because this is a collaborative project, I was looking for performers who not only had a certain look and could read lines with expression.  I also wanted actors who could work with others and who demonstrated an ability to create a dramatic image on stage.  Therefore, instead of traditional readings from the script or monologues, I came up with a series of assignments for my auditionees.  I asked them first to divide in groups of three and gave them a short cutting from the novel.  Their task was to come up with a way to present the cutting that would have all three performers actively involved in creating the scene the entire time.  They could assign lines any way they chose.  Next I split them up into groups of four and had them go back and look at the first cutting again.  This time they were free to cut lines and add repetition.  For the final run-through, I gave them a new cutting that was very action-based.  This time the groups were to incorporate all the previous instructions and add a soundscape to the scene generated by the performers.

To see a video of the audition footage, click here.


 

 

 

 

   

2/16/08 BLOCKING REHEARSAL

First rehearsal! Hooray!  In advance of this first meeting, I sent all the cast members a copy of the entire novel.  Our first task was to divide it into scenes to create a "rough cut" version.  We'll do further cutting  as we stage.  I'm worried about getting this novella down to the one hour running time we need to fit our slot at the festival and convention where we'll be performing.  The cast's response to this exercise was a little sluggish.  I wasn't surprised. Cutting a novel isn't a good ensemble-building exercise for most performers, but I felt we needed to get this done first.

After getting the "rough cut," we started work on the first scene. Since it's a relatively short scene and incorporates materials that the cast was already familiar with from auditions, I thought this would go pretty rapidly.  However, several of these performers have never worked together before.  Therefore there was a certain amount of adjusting to each other's way of working.  I was pleased with what we came up with, though.  I feel I've chosen performers who are not going to be intimidated by the freedom of working collaboratively with a director who suggests and edits rather than dictates.

To see a video of footage from this rehearsal, click here.


 

 

   

2/21/08 BLOCKING REHEARSAL

This rehearsal got off to a slow start.  Andrea is on a trip to Chicago and wasn't at rehearsal.  I knew about this in advance and had planned to split the cast into two groups (with my assistant director Kris taking charge of one and I the other) to pitch ideas before we started staging.  I was hoping this would help the guys get a better feel for the way each worked and would encourage everyone to speak up.  However, Jay had a last minute conflict with work and couldn't come. Groups of two were workable for my idea. Group of two and group of one was just not going to work, so we all worked together on scene one.

In the first part of the scene, Nellie is walking through her neighborhood and makes her usual stop at her favorite vendor's kiosks.  The guys tried a couple ways of representing the various areas of the city she describes in her narrative, but I thought what they came up with was too abstract and suggested we just represent a selection of people in and around the kiosks.  We're not 100% thrilled with what we came up with...yet, but it will do for now.

The guys started to have more fun once we got into Nellie's encounter with the first "boss" who tries to send her on a mission, Mr. James.  Once we got into the death scenes, ideas started to flow more easily and the staging began to develop in a more organic sort of way.

I was more "hands on" in this rehearsal than I'd really like to be, giving out blocking without always waiting to hear all suggestions first.  I think this was just a function of my being nervous about the cast not having the creative energy we do when all the performers are there.  Have to watch that in future..

To watch a video of footage from this rehearsal, click here.


 

   

2/23/08 BLOCKING REHEARSAL

Our second -- and hopefully final -- Andrea-less rehearsal.  I've directed Andrea in productions twice before.  She's sort of my "security blanket" on this project. It's probably good for me to get used to working with the guys without her being there, but I miss her!

Jay was back, but this time Andy was gone.  Once again, I couldn't use my "divide and conquer"... uhm, guess that should be "divide and collaborate" idea. Directors reading this, the lesson is "always have a backup plan".  I had sent the cast (as I did last time, but forgot to record) the rough cut of this scene in advance. 

Chandler and Adam both already seem more confident about what we're doing and how we're going to be working.  Adam initiated a conversation at the beginning of the rehearsal about the way Mayerson incorporates extreme, self-aware, and sometimes self-parodying violence in this script.  I like that the guys are already starting to think about the piece conceptually and not just in terms of who's going to stand where when.  I like very much that this conversation seems to be coming out of the work instead of being something that I have to find ways to incorporate.

Kris, my AD, is doing a great job of juggling the tasks of standing in for Andrea, keeping a running "things to do/get" list of production notes from me, and being "script monkey" in charge of recording our edits and line assignments.  Our tech director graciously stood in for Andy -- since we have no tech to direct yet.

We tentatively placed Andrea as Nellie in the foreground narrating for most of this scene and worked on the kiosk vendors who will serve as background for her descriptions and comments.  This was the first time we'd worked with our "blood" props (red handkerchiefs). Having a prop to deal with seem to spark a good deal of creativity as well as getting everyone thinking even more about the hyper-violence of the script.  I started thinking about how cannibalism -- organisms and organizations dysfunctionally consuming themselves -- appears over and over again in the script. It was hard not to think about that sort of thing while I watched the guys come up with new and more outrageous ways for the Limo Brothers to prepare and deliver their "manwiches."  I'm going to try to have a bigger variety of shapes and sizes of "blood" for the guys to play with at our next rehearsal.

Note to prospective collaborative directors, I think for a lot of performers, this is an element that invites collaboration and eases the transition from being just an actor to being a director/actor -- finding something that makes you feel free to play.

To watch a video of footage from this rehearsal, click here.


 

    2/28/08 BLOCKING REHEARSAL

We finally had everyone here, but this was just a goofy rehearsal for some reason.  These Thursday rehearsals are proving to be a little tough on me.  Even though my asthma isn’t that bad right now, after teaching all day, I’m low on energy and mental acuity.  Chandler and Adam were in a goofy mood today – which was fine since we are working on the manic, comic book, Bruce Willis movie quality of some of these scenes – but the rest of us weren’t in a particularly goofy mood and the contrast made the rehearsal seem somehow lopsided and off balance. 

The scenes we worked on today were really just variations on a lot of what we’ve already done.  I like the repetition in this text.  It’s one of the things that convinced me this would be a good text to adapt.  On stage, the repetitive confrontations with yet another boss, yet another question about genocide, and yet another example of cultural self-mutilation take on a ritualistic quality.  The violence naturalizes and become inevitable and cyclic. We constantly have performers playing someone who dies then rises again to kill someone else or be killed again – like it’s all in a day’s work.  And today it was also all goofy fun…

To watch a video of footage from this rehearsal, click here.


    3/01/08 BLOCKING REHEARSAL

To be honest, we had a kind of a… well, less than optimally productive though not entirely crappy rehearsal and I think a lot of it was because of me.  I finally got a chance to try a couple things I’ve been wanting to do since moment one.  Before we started blocking, I took time out to talk concept with them.  I rolled the blackboard out and got them to help me list some of the themes that I/they saw emerging in the work. We came up with things like: repetition, blood, genocide, cannibalism, zombies.  Last year, I’m sure my cast would have killed to get me to spend a little time teasing out ideas and talking about them.  They always seemed to be reassured when I did teacher-y things like that that offered a little meta-commentary and offered a roadmap of where we were going with the show.  I’m sorry I didn’t think of starting a rehearsal out this way until long after the production was over.

Current cast participated but seemed impatient to get on with blocking.  Talking about themes primarily seem to make them think about music we can use for the show – which I’m sure will be valuable later.  I don’t feel it was wasted time, but it didn’t seem to reassure them… and they are starting to get anxious.  No matter how many rehearsals I schedule, it never seems to be enough at this point in the process to prevent us all from panicking a little… or a lot.  I’m not panicking.  I have a date in March penciled in for doing that…

Next idea that didn’t quite work – I split the cast to pitch ideas for the “Lincoln Heights” descriptive paragraphs.  I took Andy and Chandler and sent Kris to the Grad office with Andrea, Jay, and Adam.  KB went back and forth taking pictures… and spying a little at our request. Even though I knew this was not the most efficient way to generate blocking, I wanted to do so for a number of reasons.  First, my AD, Kris, is a very talented actor/director.  I wanted to make sure he got a chance to work directly with our actors.  Second, Chandler and Andy have excellent ideas but tend to defer to Jay, Adam, and Andrea who are all more aggressive about pitching blocking concepts.  Third, Jay and Adam both have wonderful ideas, but there’s an undertone of friction between them.  Their ideas often contrast instead of immediately meshing.  They don’t know each other at all outside of this production and are still getting used to just being in the same room together let alone collaborating.

I think you can see how I was hoping this was going to work out.  I hope Kris had a good time working with his group.  He didn’t say.  Otherwise, I struck out completely.  Instead of deferring to Jay, Adam, and Andrea, Andy and Chandler came up with several great ideas, but tended to defer to me.  Instead of patiently facilitating, I found myself pitching ideas aggressively to try to keep the momentum going.  (We did have a really good conversation about health care in the middle of all this.) When the other group came back and we tried to put the two blocking ideas together, we ended up using just as little of their input as usual. Jay and Andrea were in a good mood, but Adam seemed like he’d just decided to go with whatever the two of them had suggested – despite his better judgment.  

What we came up with was pretty cool and the rest of the rehearsal went okay – except we ran out of time and will have to do the second “County Hospital” scene next time… Which isn’t making those who are becoming anxious any more confident… Big sigh…

Well, sports fans, that’s how the collaborative directing game runs.  Sometimes you’re the genius who takes chaos and makes it into art and sometimes you’re the idiot who makes everyone miss the latest episode of “Lost” for no apparent reason…

To watch video footage of this rehearsal, click here.


 

 

 

 

    3/09/08  BLOCKING REHEARSAL

We were snowed out on Thursday – which never happens in Texas, let me note (7 flipping inches in 7 hours!) and most of the cast already had plans for Friday and Sunday, so we ended up doing a six hour mega-rehearsal on Saturday.  We started out cutting the script, worked on an idea for what we’re calling “the Genocide sequence” in Scene VI, then went back and blocked the “Mario Brothers Haunted House” sequence from Scene V,  and then broke for lunch.  After lunch we blocked Scene VI and we’re done with blocking! Hooray!  I know the cast is relieved – well, they told me they were, so, yeah, there’s that – but working in this collaborative style, I’ve found that the blocking segment of the rehearsal is much harder work for the cast.  Normally in rehearsal, blocking is a little boring for the actors.  You spend most of your time standing around waiting for someone to tell you where to stand, then stand there and wait for them to tell you to stand somewhere else.  Because in this style (and in this show where everyone is on stage every minute) they have to help come up with the blocking they get to share in the pleasure of coming up with good ideas but also with the frustration of being stuck for ideas or having an idea that seems good but won’t work.  Also, it can’t help but feel to them that there’s no plan, that this could all go horribly wrong and that we would have a show that looks terrible and is embarrassing to all of us – so, essentially when you share the director’s responsibilities, you also get to share “Director Angst.”  Poor darlings…

We started out cutting the “rough cut” version down to our working script.  I’ve not found a way to get the whole cast excited about this process.  The guys participate, but don’t have the kind of enthusiasm that Andrea and I do.  For example, when we got to the part where Nellie talks about genocide, Andrea said, “I think I have a little crush on these paragraphs.  We’ve sent each other notes and facebooked a few times already” to indicate how much she wanted to keep that part in the script.  The guys also have favorite lines and sequences, but don’t seem to like to sit and talk through what we’re going to keep.  Adam likes to cut while we’re on our feet.  And I must admit we do a pretty good job of that.  I think I probably could have given them “rough cuts” that are much closer to the final cuts… but then again, there’s some blocks of narration that I might have cut that turned out to be someone else’s favorite lines.

The thing that really strikes me about the whole experience thus far is the difference that gender makes in small group dynamics. Even though I have taught Gender, I’ve always taken the “rules” of gender specific communicative behavior outlined by Julia Woods et. al. with a big grain of salt because it’s perfectly clear to me that these “rules” are at most rules of thumb – learned behavior that is very culture and context specific  -- and that it is entirely possible and even usual for individuals to engage in code-switching and even be comfortable and happy using the “rules” for interaction that Woods delineates as more typical for the opposite sex.  However, the guys (I habitually think of my cast now as “me, Andrea, and the guys”) do seem to have a marked preference, as Woods predicts, for solution-oriented discussions (which they like to take place as we work through blocking problems) and an atmosphere that is openly competitive – including lots of teasing and trash talking.

To make a remarkably oversimplified and relatively sexist metaphor, comparing last year’s working mode to this year’s is like comparing basket weaving to basketball.  Last year, my cast seemed most comfortable when I played the role of teacher/mediator.  It was important that I made sure everyone got their chance to speak and had their idea heard respectfully.  I was in charge of making sure everything blended together seamlessly and everyone felt appreciated and supported.  

I am from North Carolina, so it could just be the March Madness talking, but this year, I feel like I’m the coach.  I’m in charge of calling the plays, motivating the players, running the drills, and making sure everyone is giving 110%. As you see from other posts, I felt bad that I was falling into the habit of just dictating my ideas.  However, today after I had just delivered one of the “Jay, you stand here and Chandler, you do this” commands that I have been cringing over as being woefully non-collaborative, Adam immediately came behind me and said something like, “I have a better idea – Andy, you do this and Chandler stand there.”  Without my noticing it, we’ve reached the point where they no longer feel obligated to defer to my ideas. They know their ideas are just as good if not better and that when we combine everyone’s ideas, we get the best ideas possible.  It’s gone from being my show to being our show. Bingo. Collaboration.

So the moral of the story, kids, is that collaboration comes in many shapes and sizes.  I came into this show feeling very confident that after directing four collaborative shows, I knew what I was doing.  But as always, collaboration teaches me that there’s so much more to learn about the creative process.  A director following a Stanislavskian or Brechtian style has a playbook (damn, another sports metaphor.  I have got the Madness)  that gives you a goal and techniques for achieving that goal.  If nothing else, this show has taught me that collaborative directing is not just about having an arsenal of collaborative techniques to impose on a cast, but rather about approaching rehearsal with an open mind and a willingness to adapt to the approach that best releases your cast’s creativity.

To see video of this rehearsal, click here.


 

 

 

   

3/13/08  FIRST RUN-THROUGH

For me, this will forever be the “Big Gun” rehearsal.  We brought in a variety of nerf guns and water pistols to “audition” tonight. And let me tell you, a fine time was had by all…

Acting and all other sorts of performance are really just refinements on the impulse common to most mammals to rehearse combat and defense – to play, in other words. Having interesting objects to manipulate seems to cut through the societal inhibitions that discourage creativity and playfulness in even the shyest and most reticent casts. Advice to other directors collaborative and otherwise – get props into the hands of your actors ASAP.

 I was happy to see that the energy level of the rehearsal no longer seems to be tied to me at all.  I was very tired and had trouble concentrating. Had a small asthma attack two hours earlier. But the guys didn’t seem to even notice. They were playing and problem solving to beat the band.

This is an incredibly high-energy cast.  Let me backtrack and explain what I mean by “energy”.  Directors too often use this as a blanket term without being specific about what they mean.  This leads to the annoying situation of a director sitting in the back row clapping their hands and demanding, “Energy, people, en-er-gy!”  As a former actor, I can attest that this request usually about as helpful as having a significant other clap their hands in the midst of an act of passion and say, “Orgasm, honey, I want to see an or-ga-sm… Some time this week, okay?”

So in interest of clarity, when I say “energy” I’m talking about perceivable levels of emotional involvement in the performance.  Big, fearless gestures that involve the full body, bold choices with vocal and facial expression, investing words with meaning, and creative problem-solving are all signs of energetic engagement in the creative process.

As difficult as it is to define, energy is also difficult to inspire in a cast.  For my part, clapping your hands and demanding it rarely achieves the goal.  Distributing double barrel nerf shotguns, however, seems to work like gangbusters…

To watch footage of this rehearsal, click here.


 

 

 

 

 

   

3/15/08 SECOND RUNTHOUGH WHICH ACTUALLY WAS A BLOCKING REHEARSAL

I’m going to spend a lot of time in this particular entry talking about a decision that we made in the last few minutes of the rehearsal.  If my cast reads this, they’ll probably be surprised since we spent nearly and hour and a half re-blocking Scene IV and a grand total of maybe five minutes talking about this decision which in the end, I made for everyone.

We cut Fyodor Chandler.

Well, not completely.  We still mention him several times and I put a line in at the end that reveals that he’s Nellie’s brother.  But the scene between Nellie and Fyodor got cut for once and for all at this rehearsal. We are a week and half from opening this puppy, so the desire not to add any more lines or block any more scenes is significantly high.  However, it wasn’t simple expediency that led us to make this cut.

When we do talk about the production concept (and generally we don’t) the cast talks about it in terms of movies like “Escape from New York” and the “Die Hard” movies. In my production concept statement that I’ve just written and posted, I talk about the production as if it were a futuristic version of “The Big Sleep.”  This disparity is fine by me.  “Escape from New York” is essentially a futuristic version of “The Big Sleep.” (And if my cast wonders why I never just told them that I think we’re doing “The Big Sleep” it’s because that if I did, you (and I) may have never been motivated to think about the many ways it’s like “Escape from New York” and the “Die Hard” because traditionally the director dictates the interpretation of the script to the cast... And we might never have thought up that cool motorcycle battle at the end.) However, these differing genre models may go far to explain why the cast didn’t really care if we cut Fyodor Chandler or not and I wake up thinking about it at 4 am.

The scene with Fyodor Chandler provides a moment where Nellie at least momentarily finds her moral compass. It makes what she does afterwards make more sense.  In the modern action-adventure film, actions don’t necessarily have to have moral motivation… or even make sense, for that matter.  

I still worry that I’ve just become the studio hack who cut the scene from “The Big Sleep” that explained who committed the murder Phillip Marlowe was supposed to be investigating.  I think my cast knows everyone will be too busy listening to Bogart and looking at Bacall to care.

Click here to watch video of this rehearsal.


 

 

 

 

   

3/18 – 3/24/08

We had a several run-though rehearsals over Spring Break.  I’ve decided to lump them all together and write about them all in one entry – primarily since we do our first performance at the Petit Jean festival this Friday.  Preparation for that is taking up most of my time right now. In the midst of being a little panicked because we didn’t have the lines down well enough to bring in a preview audience, I have to say that I was really impressed by this cast’s commitment to this project.  We had several long rehearsals during this week.  I had only asked for a few days.  However with no grumbling (well, with very very little grumbling) the guys came in, worked hard, and stayed as long we needed to each day.

We added lights early in the week.  That made a big difference.  Chandler Thompson gets a lot of credit for our lighting design.  I had just asked him for a general wash to light the stage.  He played with gels and focus until he’d come up with design that had the center stage (where most of the “boss” scenes are) in red and the two sides (where most of the “outside” scenes are) in blue.  This gives the whole production an appropriately surreal look and clarifies the scene changes. Well done, sir! Well done!

We also finally finalized what we’re going to do with music and transitions.  Our “technical” director, Kevin Badger was originally going to be in charge of music.  However, we ended up using Kris’ ipod as our sound system.  It made sense to have Kris in charge of sound.  We’d talked about doing something to “keep score” of the kill total for the play.  During these rehearsals, we finalized what KB would be doing and how that would help create a transition from scene to scene.  The “Ring boy” idea was a good example of the way we tended to work as a cast.  The bit started out as a rather vague idea of something that we thought would be cool and funny.  We initially came up with several rather complex ideas on how to achieve it (sports scoreboard, flipchart, writing numbers on a big pad of paper).  What we ended up with was something so simple – the “Ring Boy” walks past the audience at the end of each scene holding up a board with the kill count (and a clever saying, thanks to the irrepressible ingenuity of our “technical director”).  At the end, Nellie kills him.  In retrospect, it seems obvious that this is the way it should be done (and reinforced some other Brechtian staging choices we had made in a very effective way, in my opinion).  In practice, though, it was long process of gradually stripping the idea down to what was important and what would work. 

To someone unfamiliar with collaborative work, it may seem that it would be more usual to start with simple ideas and build them up into dramatic choices that are rich and complex.  This is true some of the time.  However, a good deal of the work is accomplished by starting out with a big, vague, multifaceted idea that everyone in the cast can buy into and then whittling it down via group critique to a simple gesture that gets the message across.

During this final week of rehearsals, I became less and less collaborative in my approach.  As showtime approaches, I feel the director must start to vigorously serve as the “outside eye.”  I’m not suggesting that you suddenly switch from being a supportive teammate to a demanding dictator, but during the last phase of the production, I think it is useful for even the most committed collaborative director to shift gears.  You are less needed as a facilitator as your are as an editor for your cast.  During this time, I started asking questions like, “Are we committed to this particular gesture/choice or is this something we can/should drop?”  “Why are you making this gesture/performative choice?”  One thing in this production we really concentrated on in the last week of rehearsals was making each of the “bosses” and each set of “goons” distinct from the rest. To work on this, I’d stop the scene and state the challenge as I saw it. For example “Mr. James must be different than Kevin” or “The DSL must be distinct from the Ulluminati.” (Since all these characters were played by the same actors, being able to clearly separate the bosses/goons was particularly important).  Next I would illicit the cast’s input – “How can we make more of a clear difference?” I would usually also offer a suggestion – “Let’s try making the Ulluminati’s gestures more military.”  Then after the rehearsal I would offer critique like a conventional director (while always trying to be as specific as possible) – “The Ulluminati’s salute was sloppy that time.  It needs to be in unison to contrast with the more free-style, In-Sync movement of the DSL goons.”

By this point in the rehearsals, your cast should feel enough ownership in the decisions that they have made (and will continue to make in response to audience feedback) to not be overpowered by critical input from you.  Like I said before, I think that in order to have a clean, aesthetically pleasing final product, the director needs to move from being a co-author to being an editor in the last few rehearsals. Your cast should be confident enough in their choices and interpretation of the material to be receptive to critique and able to make adjustments to their physicality without feeling artistically inhibited by your input.

I think this cast made this transition very successfully. They’ve always seems to appreciate my being direct and unambiguous with them.  If anything, they were bolder than ever in offering suggestions, coming up with new ideas, and refining their characterizations with increasing confidence… At least I chose to interpret it that way… I’ve never before been shot from three directions at once with nerf guns while I was giving notes….

Click here to watch footage from these rehearsals


 

 

 

 

 

RIP - Tiffany

 

   

PETIT JEAN, AR - Performance for the Petit Jean Festival, March 27, 2008

I was and was not worried about this performance.  [First up, I was co-hosting the Petit Jean Festival – which was plagued with a continuous series of near disasters this year – so I was worried about EVERYTHING.  That was my job] The two big things that had me jittery were that we had not rehearsed in front of an audience and it looked like we weren’t going to be able to rehearse in the space where we would perform.  If you’re reading this and you never ever ever plan to do a collaborative project, still listen to me on this one – ALWAYS have at least one rehearsal with a “test” audience and ALWAYS insist on having a run though in the space where you will be performing.  Performers need time to adjust to the physical context of the performance in terms of acoustics, proximity to the audience, amount of traction provided by the flooring, and a hundred other little details that can all potentially cause major problems. Running though in the space where you will perform makes your cast feel more calm and centered going into the performance.

Performing for an audience – even a tiny audience -- is also very important.  In comedy, it gives them clues as to where they’re going to have to hold for laughter.  Beyond that, the presence of an audience gives the performer an adrenaline rush that will push his/her brain into overdrive. Good performers who love performing will always get new ideas, have new insights, and will speak and move with greater emotional intensity in front of an audience.  This is a good thing.  It is this spontaneous, sometimes unpredictable, sometimes unrepeatable interaction between performer and audience that makes theatre emotionally and mentally stimulating. This interaction is the real “magic” of performance.

Some conventional directors are threatened by the loss of control they feel as they watch their “brainchild” continue to evolve in front of an audience in directions they may not have anticipated.  For the collaborative director, such growth should be the payoff of your efforts.  The production now is a unique, ephemeral creative moment that belongs to you, your cast, and your audience.  This doesn’t have to mean that you just stand back and say, “well, whatever happens, happens” though.  If you’ve done a good job of establishing yourself as the editor, as the extra set of eyes in the audience, you’re still an important part of the creative process.  You can still come back and say “That moment worked well to show the paranoia of the DSL” or “We still need to make a cleaner transition here” or ask (as I did my cast) “What the hell is up with that line about cabbage?”

To get back to Thursday night in Arkansas, though, I was jittery.  We hadn’t done the show for an audience, the cast was still unsteady with the lines in a few spots, and it didn’t look like we could get the rehearsal hall.  I had faith that what we had was going to be good… but I was jittery.  We ended up rehearsing in one of the cabins we were staying in.  That was a big blessing in disguise.  In the very small, shallow space, the amount of blood onstage was just overwhelming.  The guys started to play in the blood during some of the “zombie” scenes.  I loved this (I think we all did).  Literally taking bloodbaths was a beautiful metaphor for the willful self-destructiveness of our society that is being highlighted by the script… Plus, it was really funny.

The best, unintentionally and unknowingly brilliant moment of directing I may have done in the whole production came in this rehearsal.  Glen (ably played by our Adam) shoots Mr. S. Crowe (played by our Not-Andy with equal aplomb).  In this rehearsal, Not-Andy (sometimes known as ‘Drew) kept moving after he was shot – probably to keep from hitting his head on the fireplace.  I said, “If he’s still moving, shoot him! Shoot him!”  It started as just one extra shot, but by performance time Adam and not-Andy had come up perhaps the most spectacular execution of the show – including fountains of blood, spitting, and co-participation that verged on the homoerotic…

My memory of events is unclear, but I think the guys also added the giant “splurt o blood” to the destruction of the helicopter in this rehearsal.  I don’t remember seeing it before this.

We did eventually get into the Rec Hall late Thursday night for a run-through.  By this time, though, I was nearly catatonic from dealing with an endless stream of the unexpected that had nothing to do with our show but was making my life miserable.  I thought (and have said here) that my cast was completely weaned from any sense of dependence on me.  However, I’m no good at hiding my emotions even under the best of circumstances.  Even though I said only positive things, my cast was concerned. I think we have become interdependent. What concerned one, concerned all.

By showtime on Friday afternoon, though, all was well and the performance was fabulous.  This was perhaps the most perfect possible audience for this show – a mixture of undergrads, grads, and faculty (and our Baker Co. High School kids), liberal and literate enough to get all the jokes, performance-savvy and ready for fun.  The cast had a ball.  They were rock-stars.  Sarah Lee came into her own and I swear to God that blood from the helicopter spurted at least 20 feet into the air.  I was so proud I almost cried.

Click here to see footage of our performance at Petit Jean.


 

 

   

SAVANNAH, GA -- Performance for the Southern State Communication Association Convention, April 2, 2008

I have been to Savannah, GA, once before.  I remember it as being a pretty city, but it wasn’t as beautiful as it was this time… and may never be again.  Theatre practitioners talk a lot about ensemble – the feeling of mutual trust, interdependence, and respect as artists – that can sometimes develop between a cast and crew.  For collaborative directors, this is the Holy Grail… well, maybe not the Holy Grail because we all think we can take concrete steps that will allow us to achieve this each and every time we direct…unless things go horribly wrong… which sometimes they do… However, if you’re really lucky, this sense of trust and respect extends beyond the production into the personal lives of the participants.  Traveling, eating, and boarding together for two straight weeks through three states can sorely try this fragile web.  It is entirely possible to respect someone as an artist and still not to be able to take their snoring and bizarre fascination with American Idol and/or Naruto.

We, the cast and crew of “Darkness at Sunset and Vine,” were among the lucky few.  Although it has happened to me before, I’m still amazed at how through performance a group of people – half of whom did not even know each other before January of ’08 – can come together and connect.  Although after this show, we will to a greater or lesser extent go our separate ways, I will always look on Savannah as one of the very good moments of my life.

Okay, Hallmark card moment over… sorta.  The show went on without a hitch.  Our beloved KB (who tells me that the title of technical director means that he is “technically” the director of the show) could not come to Savannah with us... although he was there by the magic of text messaging.  Therefore we had to have a guest star fill the important role of  “Ring Boy.”  Dr. Justin Trudeau graciously filled in, bringing his inimitable enthusiasm and je ne sais quoi to the role.  Chandler Thompson’s portrayal of the repulsive, lipless Kevin continues to grow.  I like the hilarious byplay that he and Jay are developing between Kevin and Rush.  Sarah Lee and Tiny Gun Man must have a sequel….

Click here to see footage of us in Savannah.


 
   

4/10/08-4/12/08 -  PERFORMANCES AT UNT

We did three shows at UNT.  During the question and answer session after our performance at SSCA in Savannah, someone asked how it was to perform the piece in Texas.  When we said that we hadn’t done that yet, a big “ooooo” of sympathetic apprehension swept through the crowd.  I wasn’t (before that moment) greatly concerned about the prospect of playing this text in front of an audience that might be predominantly composed of viewers with more conservative views than my own.  I figured we might have one or two people walk out, but I expected my show would get a fair hearing.  Dentonites, both liberal and conservative, tend to be open-minded and willing to listen to other people’s messed-up, wrong-headed opinions – even if only to have the opportunity to mock and vigorously dispute them later.

I was not wrong.  Liberals, conservatives, and moderates attended. No one walked out.  Most seemed to have very good time.  It always seemed to take the audience about five minutes to drop into the right gear, though.  I find the show very funny and laughed from moment one.  I don’t know if it was the non-stop violence, the slap-your-granny’s-face anti-Bush sentiment, or the sheer number of times cast members uttered certain synonyms for the word “fornication,” but my giggles were usually audible above the stunned silence through the first scene.  By the time Glen murders S. Crow to death, though, we always had ‘em – laughing perhaps despite themselves.  “Darkness” is such a bizarrely joyful show, you can’t help getting caught up in it, even if you violently disagree with the sentiments expressed.  [Now, of course, this was all part of my secret plan to get people to think about the views expressed – especially if they disagree…]

We had a very special guest in the audience for the Friday and Saturday night shows.  Ginger Mayerson flew in from L.A. (the city of angels, baby!) to see the performance.  The cast was nervous, but knowing her as well as I did, I was proud and excited to have her see what we’d done to her deathless prose.  She loved it. [Ginger, I’m saving space right here to link to commentary from you to support or rebut this statement.]  Although she mourned a few lines and scenes we cut (as did I), she was amazed at the way we’d been about to compress the novella down to a script that would play out in around forty-five minutes, delighted by the characterizations, and enchanted by my bright and personable cast.

She was also there to see one of the more remarkable moments of the entire run.  In the middle of one of the “County Hospital” scenes, Jay Wilkinson does a flying back-kick flop-drop thing that always noisily takes out one of the folding chairs we use.  On Friday night, he also almost overturned one of the heavy, wooden, black flats we use to block the doors.  As the flat teetered and started to fall, audience members gasped, KB started towards the stage, Ginger gripped my arm, and poor Mr. Calvert interrupted his narration to have what looked like a small heart attack.  I didn’t even have a second of panic, though, because Andrea -- without ever breaking character – walked (yes, I said “walked” as in “not ran” but “walked”) up to the flat and one-handedly set it back into place before going on with the scene.

For me this serves as a good allegory for the state where we as cast and crew ended the run of this show [You could call it a metaphor, Jay.]  Although things still happened that surprised us, like Nellie and Andrea we had become fearless.  We worked with a confidence born not of the assurance offered by rote repetition and submission to a single figure of authority, but rather of our trust in each other and in our own judgment.   This is the true goal of directed collaborative – creative self-confidence that leads to bold, innovative action.

My thanks and love to my cast and crew.

Dr. Kelly S. Taylor

April 20, 2008

Click here to see footage of our UNT performances.


 

 
       

Home | Production Concept | Cast | Director's Log | Photo Gallery

This site was last updated 04/20/08