Musings on life, the theatre, technology, culture and the occasional emu sighting
Author: Warner Crocker
I stumble through life as a theatre director and playwright as well as a gadget geek...commenting along the way. Every day I learn something new is a good day, so I share what I find exciting, new, stupid and often worthwhile.
Check out this video interview on Bluff City Live about our production of James Graham’s Ink at Playhouse on the Square featuring cast memember Stephanie Almeida. Stephanie plays Stephanie Rahn, the first Page 3 girl in The Sun after Rupert Murdoch’s buys the paper.
I’d embed the interview here, but that doesn’t seem possible so if you’ll need to click on this link to go to station’s webpage and view it there. Enjoy!
I have to express my appreciation for the way you and your team diligently communicated throughout the presidential election crisis of 2020. I’m also grateful for those communications now becoming public through court proceedings in the Dominion lawsuit you now face. You and your team manged to document so well how you kept the circus going in 2020. The fact that it is all tumbling out now more than makes up for the COVID 19 caused delay in producing James Graham’s play Ink at PlayHouse on the Square in Memphis. It helps our rescheduled presentation seem even more timely and I dare say, fun.
My gratitude is for how well it is providing fodder for discussion in our rehearsal process. Allowing things to keep bouncing in the news as we near our performances beginning on March 24 is fantastic. No one knows if it will help our sales or have the opposite effect. That remains to be seen. But you sure are giving this collection of artists assembled to tell this story more imptetus to dig in and keeping honing our efforts as we go about our merry elite way.
Of course no one with half a brain is suprised at the things we’re reading and hearing. Although some of the details spill out like the juicy tabloid twaddle you love so much, and in turn are reported by other news organizations with breathless velocity, we’ve all known how Fox News operates for some time now. You’ve taught us all so well. We use your fabulous statement “It’s not red or blue, it is green” in every rehearsal each day.
Especially fun is the fact that your news organization has been revealed to be no different than your entertainment evening headlineers. That certainly is not much of a surprise to us working on the play. The fact that you’ve been able to keep it going since the 1969/70 dates of our play is an astounding display of business acumen and insight that must delight you with how easy it was to con so many easy marks.
Oh, and that Tucker Carlson fellow? I sure hope he keeps on digging deeper holes for you and your organization to dig out of. At least for the next few weeks. The only thing better would be for you to fire him before we open because the headlines that would generate would only help our publicity efforts. Although I’m not sure you can run enough pillow ads to cover the attorney fees that would generate.
As you can surmise, we’re rooting for you to keep on fighting through our run that closes on April 16th. We know it’s painful when the media and others reveal secrets and pile on folks who think they’ve done nothing wrong in advancing their own economic interests. I’d like to say we feel your pain but that would be a lie. I don’t think any of us involved have experienced such a historic comeuppance.
Best wishes in your efforts and as you know so well, it’s not red or blue, it is green.
Doing a gig in another town offers challenges running right alongside new adventures. The challenges have to do with the simple acts of living: food, laundry, where to get prescriptions, etc… The new adventures include discovering things in a new place and making it feel like a temporary home.
I don’t require much when I’m on the road directing a show. I’m ususally tunnel focused on the work and the time away from home is typically of short duration. I’m long since past my post-rehearsal hit the bar days. Don’t much have the energy or stamina for that anymore. Not quite sure how I used to pull that routine off anymore. And while directing is a job that requires building a team around you, I enjoy and need the moments of solitude to keep the work focused.
This gig in Memphis at Playhouse on the Square is a bit longer than most rounding out to five weeks, so there’s more time to explore and accommodate although that usually only happens on off days. And since I’ve done gigs with this great theatre before it’s a combination of discovering the new while touching base with the familiar.
The weather in Memphis is certainly warmer than Chicago this time of year so that’s a plus.
I’m in the Midtown section of Memphis in an area called Overton Square and it’s brimming with arts activity. That’s a glorious bonus. Playhouse operates three theatres, Ballet Memphis is just down the street and directly across the street from POTS is the Hatilloo Theatre. It’s a joy and a bit of inspiration to walk to work and see those arts facilities regardless of whether I turn my head left or right.
But it’s back to work today with production concerns and an afternoon and evening of rehearsals.
There’s really no such thing as a day off when you’re directing a show. But today, Monday, is our day off. The actors do very much need down time to deal with the realities of life and also process a bit. And yeah, I’ll do a grocery run, throw some stuff in the laundry and some other personal stuff. But it’s also a breath when I prep for the week ahead. Sure is nice to be able to get away from all of those other screens and sit on the porch swing with just an iPad to do that.
We’ve reached that point in rehearsals. Scenes are being strung together into acts which will eventually be strung together as a play. We’re two weeks away from technical rehearsals and the story we’re telling with our staging of James Graham’s play Ink is coming into shape nicely. We’re still in the rehearsal room for another week and by the time we leave it, the actors will be telling a tight story.
And then we’ll tear it all apart in technical rehearsals. Those technical elements of our story-telling are coming more into focus in the little theatre in my mind as I watch the actors put chunks of the show together. But they have to get out of my mind, into the designers’ and then onto the stage. Clear communication and direction is the key.
Lighting, music, and in this show a voluminous series of projections that will play on multiple screens on the stage offer a full menu. It’s one thing to visualize them as pieces of the puzzle in the little theatre in my mind and discussions around the production table. it’s another to begin charting them out as assets for discussions with the designers so they can go and build those assets.
Over the years my toolkit is always evolving and changing as technology advances, always offering new options (and the opportunites to play with new toys.) For my prep work to flow on this show I am using several screens to keep track of spreadsheets, notes and of course the script as I chart out the assets cue to cue.
Back in my digs the M2 Macbook Air is the anchor. Hanging off it is an ESR Portable Kickstand Monitor. Sitting adjacent is an 11 inch iPad Pro with the script, sometimes connected via Universal Control depending on the work I’m doing.
When it’s time for rehearsal the iPad Pro becomes the anchor and travels with, bringing it all back home for the next prep session. For someone who loves both the making of live theatre and playing with gadgets it’s a dream world.
Last night we completed blocking Act 2. So the show is “in the books.” I could get hit by a bus and someone could step in and take the show home at this point. Blocking is painting with a broad brush and it reveals the picture slowly coming into focus. The staging of some scenes won’t change a wit from this point. Others will morph and grow and end up looking totally different as the characters grow and we flesh out the details. The moments begin to breathe and the story fills out.
It’s a good marker of our progress and I’m feeling comfortable with how we’re telling the story picture by picture.
It’s also the point where I start questioning the choices I’ve planned. You know when the story works or you’re working against the story. Or when new discoveries yield new paths.
Ok. Some of that above is a lie. I had one of those “Oh Shit” moments last night that leads me to a hunch that we’re on to something new and unplanned to get into the last scene. The play talked back to me as we neared the last scene. I was about to stage the transition into the final scene and I felt that tingle. That tingle that opens a new door and tells me that I had arrived at a different path to the conclusion. I didn’t and don’t want to articulate the new thoughts just yet. But they feel right. They feel dangerous. When we come back around to the moment in work sessions I’ll know because I won’t be able to do anything but follow that tingle in my gut and step through the door.
Unusual circumstances took us there. One of our actors was out due to local flooding from some heavy rains in the area and her understudy was standing in for her. (Doing a great job by the way.) The understudy has her own minor ensemble role in the finale of the show and as the clock was ticking down to the end of the rehearsal I had forgotten to take care of her assigned role in setting up the transition. When I realized my mistake I was about to go back and correct it, but then saw this new door open and I stopped. Cold.
We’d previously staged the last scene so all that was left to do was stage the transition itself. I cheated. Talked through the transition as planned and then ended rehearsal for the night vibrating with the energy of this new discovery. I’m both excited for this new approach and terrfiied of it. That tension won’t leave until I stage the moment.
Waking up ths morning the new door is still open and I’m having difficulty writing this post and talking about it. Guess it’s time to step through the door.
It’s a week on the calendar. But it’s actually only six days of rehearsal. It was six days of rehearsal that saw us accomplish a lot, especially since we were on our feet for only four of them. We’ve got Act 1 blocked and “in the book.” We’ve learned a lot about each other and it feels like we’re starting to work as a team. I can feel the ensemble starting to build its identity. But it wasn’t a week without challenges.
At this stage of rehearsal you’re always in a rehearsal room of some sort. And POTS has a good one. It’s not an exact footprint match of the stage. Rehearsal rooms rarely ever are. But we’re all used to that. That’s why we call the first rehearsals on stage “spacing rehearsals.” We got to take a look at the scenery being installed on stage and that was informative.
Given the nature of one of the major scenic locations in this play our original plan required a lot of furniture-desks, chairs, and other stuff you’d find in a newspaper office. It was a solid plan. Until I realized that we just didn’t have enough room to adequately rehearse those scenes and the transitions in and out of them in the rehearsal space.
So I changed the plan. On the fly.
I love those in the moment moments: following the plan, feeling something’s wrong, and knowing you have to make a change. Your senses tingle back and forth between panic and possibility. You don’t know what the change will be. But you dive in, articulate the idea and hope you’re on the right course. Sometimes the new idea flies. Sometimes it crashes.
I’ve learned through the years that when I hit one of these moments I find myself literally not being able to initially articulate the idea clearly and cleanly at first. Because it is literally forming as the words tumble out. The cast has that “what the hell” look in their eyes as they’re trying to follow what I’m saying. And then we put it into motion. This time it flew.
The new plan required some re-thinking after that rehearsal to make sure I hadn’t changed us into a trap later on in the show. I’m confident we’re in good shape. But hell, I was confident in the original plan. This new plan feels much better than the original, both in how it’s going to allow us to rehearse in the next two weeks before we load into the theatre and how it’s going to make the flow of the show much more successful. And dare I say-fun.
Everyone has the day off today after a fun, hard week of work and then tomorrow we turn the page into Act 2. Can’t wait.
Our play began to take life last night. We had our first read with the cast. It was exciting and in the end ultimately a great beginning. It might have taken three years from the point that I got this gig to get to this point but all of that time evaporated last night as we heard the cast breathe life into James Graham’s words. Iit was an excellent beginning.
The cast was surprised at how much humor flows through the show and brimming with questions about their characters, our process and next steps.
Next steps. Yeah, we’re off and running and the clock is now officially ticking. More table work tonight and then tomorrow we get on our feet. Here we go.