The cast did a glorious job at Friday night’s opening of Ink at Playhouse on the Square. They received a well deserved standing ovation. And now we’ve got our first review in from the Memphis Flyer, headlined Murdoch’s Legacy: Fast-Paced Ink Delivers at Circuit Playhouse.
The Circuit cast is solid and the production smartly executed. It’s entertaining from the get-go and stirs up enough issues to provoke discussions long after the final bows.
Check it out.
I’m not sure which summons the doubt demons more: Thinking over your work the next morning in the cold light of day or watching that work unfold standing in the back of a darkened theatre. One moment you’re thrilled with how you’re telling a story on stage. The next you’re wondering if you’ve lost your mind.
Self-doubt is an affliction most artists recognize. You see it in every mirror. No one questions you more than you. No one argues with you louder than you. And generally, no one has any idea but you. It’s a lonely, creepy, dark place.
I’ve reached that point, now that we’re rehearsing on stage, where I’m living and breathing more doubt than air. My oxygen intake will decrease in fits and starts over the next 10 days while the doubt swells. Things start to take shape and become searingly solid on stage and in my brain I’m thinking “wow, that’s good” simultanesouly with what I did with that moment just sucks. I dream the show at night and wake up in a cold sweat with anxieity over a moment I’ve just dream watched.
Fortunately I’ve learned better how to face those demons. I generally trust my gut and my instincts. But every now and then my gut ties itself up into a knot of Gordian proportions. That tangle tightens when you look to you collaborators for some sign of affirmation one way or the other and the answer you see in their eyes is “you’re the boss.”
Well, yeah. That’s true.
But you both long for and hope against pushback.
The dreams are another thing. If they keep landing on the same moments it means I need to reexamine that work. Or I just ate the wrong thing before falling asleep.
On the other hand, if those moments of self-doubt don’t creep in I would know I’m just pretending. Decisions beget decisions. Bold ones beget bigger moments of doubt and bigger chances of success. And bigger demons.
So. I’m back in the river of doubt. In a paradox, it feels good and right to be here again, swirling throught the rapids, simultaneously wondering if I’m just all wet and have hit my head on a rock
Last night we had the first run-thru of the show. As is typical there was some good and some not so good. Typically on a first run you loose about 30% of what you’ve been doing well. Our score? We fell back about 45%.
Not to worry. We’ll get that back and more as we prepare to head to the stage for spacing rehearsals this Sunday.
It’s an all too familar part of the process and the ritual of rehearsals. Each cast member is moving at their own pace, not necessarily yet at the show’s pace, or not necessarily with each other. Quite a few dropped the script for the first time last night. And that always features pain and gain before the text actually takes root in their brains and bodies.
From a director’s point of view it’s both enlightening and a bit infuriating. The story starts talking but only in fits and starts. But it starts talking. You watch some of your actors struggle without the crutch of the script (look Ma, I’ve got hands!) It’s also assessment time about what works, what’s going to work, and what might not work and need to be changed. We’re repeating, refining as we continue to explore.
The words aren’t really their’s yet. The words are still things they see on that page in their mind that they’re no longer holding onto for dear life. The ritual always reveals just how much of a crutch the script pages becomes. An actor will struggle with a sequence of lines and then choose to pick up the script again. The minute they pick it up the text comes back to life within them. And in most instances without them actually looking at those pages in their hands.
You have to take that neceessary step before you can really get your feet under you and we took some of those necessary steps last night even with the stumbles and bumbles.
The biggest takeaway? Today’s another day. Take some things apart and put them back together again for the next run on Saturday, our last day in the rehearsal space.
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!
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.
Makes it almost feel like a day off.
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.
Achievement unlocked. (Well almost.)
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.