Working on text – the early phase of rehearsal

UPDATE – this is an out of the archive post reworked a year or so on. If you’re a regular here or to my other blog Groundling, from which this is taken, you may have already read my rehearsal and performance posts for the Empire Theatre’s 2008 production of Cabaret directed by Lewis Jones.  I played the role of Fraulein Schneider. You can find these posts elsewhere on the site. Just type ‘Cabaret’ in the search pane, and stand back. I’m revisiting some of my posts on actors’ process, which I hope you may find useful. This one looks at text analysis.  As always, I would love your commentary.

Sunday’s rehearsals swung into a first shuffle-through of the play scene by scene. This was table talk about character, backstory, and relationships followed by a work through of a couple of scenes in which my character first appears.

First appearances are critical for character revelation. For a start, an audience starts to make up its mind about how it relates to a character. First appearances are also where a play’s obligatory exposition is revealed. A good play will give out the information on who, what, were, why and so on via character interaction and dialogue that hopefully doesn’t beat you over the head, as well as through other subtle clues in the script. These are things the actor needs to pick up and feed the character.

Text analysis for the actor is a bit like the forensic analysis of a crime scene. However, there is something you also need to bear in mind, and that is to balance what the character knows with what the actor knows … or as it’s often expressed, don’t play what’s on the ‘next page.’ I got a bit carried away myself today wondering how significant the first mention of Jewishness in the play would be to my character. Of course the audience is going to prick its collective ears at this point … ‘Uh oh, we’ve got an issue here that is going to come back later!!’ but the characters themselves are at this stage, blissfully ignorant of the fate in store.

This is what I like about these early turning over the text rehearsals … playing with possibilities and making choices, and seeing where they lead. It’s good to have a director like Lewis who allowed me to stumble my way around the set, getting its geography and furniture layout into my head, getting the feel of ownership that the character would have; it’s my house after all – it was once a large home and where I was born and where I grew up. Alas, nowadays it’s been converted into a boarding house. Yes, this was one of the creative choices I’ve made, along with what has brought Schneider to where she is right now … New Year’s Eve 1929.

I’m really going to enjoy the next phase of rehearsals, and it’s going to include something I’m not all that familiar with … making the transition in and out of a musical number. I’m sure it’s going to be all about finding the right energy level and bridging from speech to song, though handily all of my songs tend to do this with quite a bit of ‘spoken in rhythm’ appearing on the score. Although we are not singing within scenes yet, this finding the right heightened energy was something the director worked on quite a bit during the final run-throughs of the scenes this afternoon.

In praise of (much) older (women) actors …

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for at least a month. Given we’re in the International Women’s Day time-zone, it seemed appropriate to get my thoughts down at last.

I was inspired by a couple of performances I saw in NYC in late January: Stockard Channing in Pal Joey (among other things a master class in how to use lyrics in a song) and Estelle Parsons in August: Osage County * (high octane performance, subtle, multi-layered, and done eight times a week).

I came home to find Jane Fonda blogging her rehearsals and now performances in Moises Kaufmann’s 33 Variations, her first Broadway play in 45 years. She’s also using Twitter to keep in touch – she’s @janefonda, and yes we follow each other. She’s open, honest, and writes well. She started blogging in January because she wanted to see whether an old dog could learn new tricks. Her words.

Now this morning I see that Margaret Tyzack whom I saw in a revival of The Chalk Garden last summer in London at the Donmar has walked away with a best actress award in the Olivers. That matriarchal performance was also extraordinarily captivating.

OK, here’s the thing that gives me great hope for my own future as an actor: Stockard is the youngest at 64, Jane is 71, Margaret 77, and Estelle 81. How’s that!

Ladies, you are an inspiration. We salute and thank you.

* August: Osage County by Tracy Letts (Pulitzer Prize and Tony Winner) is another play with three sisters. I wrote about this a while back. What is it about three sisters in drama – anyone?

Telling our story: using digital media

You might be interested in the media page from Pilot Theatre York in the UK. They’ve taken to social media in a big way. Classy site that ‘tells their story’ through slick design too.

I took part in a discussion a month or so ago with some international theatre colleagues on how business … specifically the theatre … is or is not using digital social media to market their ‘product.’ It’s a conversation that is ongoing, and a process that continues to unfold.

We’re all used to being stymied from time to time by technology. We have the imagination, we have the tools, we see the potential … but stuff goes wrong, people resist … sometimes it can all get too hard. Why bother?

With that in mind, I’ve posted an audio file of part of that conversation I had back in January 2009. I talked about using digital social media to engage with audiences, and I mentioned the challenges we face in Australia with regard to access by customers and the experience of those who are marketing what we do.

This podcast is 6 minutes long.

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Dear Theatre Colleagues …

This is a modified version of an email I sent through to some of my theatre colleagues this morning. It’s part of my strategy to get the word out about World Theatre Day celebrated this year on March 27.

As one of the international facilitators for World Theatre Day 2009, I’m writing to ask you, as an Artistic Director, producer, company marketing, general manager, or theatre advocate to consider joining in the global celebrations on Friday March 27th – 3 week from today as I write. It’s not hard … in fact we’re making it very easy for theatre companies around the world to share our love of theatre on this one day.

WTD has been celebrated – if lightly – as part of the International Theatre Institute (itself a part of UNESCO) since its inception in 1948. Never heard of it? Not surprising really; it’s been a local celebration internationally, and news of what happened on the day has tended not to cross borders. This year it’s different. Now we have the internet.

You can get all the information on ideas for the day, who’s who, links and so on at the official World Theatre Day Blog

One of the facilitators in the US has written what I think sums up the reason for us all joining in. Here’s Travis Bedard, the Artistic Director of Cambiare Productions in Austin Texas:

World Theatre Day isn’t about creating a global theatre experience. It’s about celebrating the local theatre experience globally. World Theatre Day is an acknowledgement that we are all doing this thing that we love.
And the internet allows us to share those local celebrations and revel in the fact that we’re not alone in our pursuit, and that no matter how many times they try to prove it to us mathematically, theatre is not dead.

That’s it … an opportunity to celebrate, to share, to advocate, and to profile your group internationally.

We’d love you to mark the occasion in any way you wish, and then to share those individual and diverse celebrations with the rest of the world via the web. We’ll be using the WTD09 Tumblog site as a ‘stream’ to hold your contributions. We’ll be providing the email address with details on how to add images, videos, sound files … whatever … in the week leading up to March 27. Again … easy.

This year the World Theatre Day address has been written by Augusto Boal. Consider sharing it by putting it on your company blog, or read it out on WTD itself at curtain time (if you have a show on that day) … indeed, this has been the tradition for many years.

I hope you’ll consider joining those other many, many of your colleagues from around the world on March 27th. Let us know via the WTD09 blog, on Twitter (please tag your message #WTD09) or if you’d prefer, email directly to me what your plans are. I’ll make sure your message gets out there.

And in the spirit of the day … and because it’s so easy to do so …. please cut and paste, link or forward this on to other theatre colleagues in your network.

With warmest wishes


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Queensland’s Matilda Awards 2009: where to now?

Artifical beach at Southbank, in central Brisb...
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Congratulations to all winners at the 2009 Matilda Awards held on March 2 at Brisbane’s Judith Wright Centre.
Best Mainstage Production: ANATOMY TITUS FALL OF ROME: Queensland Theatre Company
Best Independent Production: HOODS: Real TV
Best Direction: Michael Futcher; RABBIT HOLE Queensland Theatre Company; THE WISHING WELL La Boite Theatre Company
Best Actress in a Lead Role: Helen Howard: RABBIT HOLE: Queensland Theatre Company
Best Actor in a Lead Role: Jean-Marc Russ: I AM MY OWN WIFE: Queensland Theatre Company
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Kaye Stevenson: SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL: La Boite Theatre Company
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Andrew Buchanan: FEMALE OF THE SPECIES: Queensland Theatre Company
Best New Australian Work: ATTACK OF THE ATTACKING ATTACKERS: Matthew Ryan: La Boite Theatre Company
Best Emerging Artist: Kathryn Marquet: JANE EYRE, BRONTE, RISK
Best Design: Jonathon Oxlade: ATTACK OF THE ATTACKING ATTACKERS: La Boite Theatre Company
Best Technical Design: David Walters: AUGUST MOON Queensland Theatre Company, RABBIT HOLE Queensland Theatre Company; WISHING WELL La Boite Theatre Company
Best Musical Production: THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE: Oscar Theatre Company

Hooray for Queensland’s theatre community, and hoorah for the Matilda Awards which support it. However, given some of the comments in Katharine Lyall-Watson’s recent blog post, I’d reckon the awards are ready for a comprehensive review. Herewith my 2c worth.

As I understand it, the Matildas were originally conceived to celebrate Queensland theatre talent. From the list of this year’s nominees, they are clearly Brisbane-centric. This is a real pity, as there is much great work going on outside the capital city of our state.

As to the categories, these are clearly problematical for some, and I include myself in this. The panel of judges which once comprised reviewer-critics (now as I note no longer solely so) have chosen to copy the Green Room and Critics Circle categorisations, themselves a copy of much larger awards. Do we really have the critical mass yet of Melbourne and Sydney to support all of these categories? IMHO, the fewer the awards, the more prestigious and probably, more affordable.

Instead of the constraints of categories, why not simply recognise outstanding practitioners or groups to reflect any aspect of our profession? I understand this used to happen. Whilst I am sure not all would agree, I have a problem separating out male and female actors for awards as outstanding performers, for example.

And finally, putting on my theatre academic’s hat, where do we and those coming after us go to read all about this thing called the Matildas? I did a Google search and was sent to Wikipedia to get some background for this post.  I found an out of date entry at Wikipedia, and nothing more. So I added an external hotlink to Lyall-Watson’s blog post which contains this year’s nominees and the subsequent discussion on the pros and cons of the awards.

I’d like to see the theatre community pitching in by contributing to this entry on Wikipedia. It shouldn’t be a one-person job and it certainly isn’t difficult to do. Wikipedia is intensely democratic and, like the theatre itself, collaborative. Bloopers, glitches, and the like are quickly erased and replaced by others with the right info. It’s another way of endorsing and supporting the theatre, and getting the word out beyond Queensland.

PS Congratulations to all the nominees and thanks to the panel of judges who have worked long and hard to keep the Matildas going. You’re champions all!

PPS What’s the definition of a ‘Mainstage Production’ please? Curious as to its application as a category – presumably the other side of the coin to ‘Independent Production.’