Tuesday, November 25, 2014

new team - new questions


Centre College's cast is meeting once a week for Sunday dinner at director Patrick Kagan-Moore's house. I believe rehearsals begin officially in January, but they wanted to start the discussion before break. They have met twice and I am thrilled to hear that the cast if feeling the same enthusiasm as was generated out of Ashland. I am also excited by the different questions that are being asked about the play.

What is exciting for both schools so far is that these characters feel like their students. The real life issues that the play confronts - the actors confront in their daily lives. That enhances the enthusiasm about the investigation of the play. I was concerned that the questions would remain similar as the first go, and I was anxious to see how Lindsay would confront the rep edition of that part of the process. However, with new artists come new questions. Or they may be asking the same types of questions but with a different point of view. It is really valuable exploration. It truly give Lindsay a three hundred and sixty degree view of the world she is creating.

It was great to talk with Matt Hallock, Chairman of the department at Centre and to hear about the exploration the company is doing on the play. Some of the questions they were asking were how is the world changed? Or is the world of the characters changed at the end. Does the cycle continue? If Freddie killed himself because he is gay, what is Brianna's sexuality? What are the politics around 'outing' someone in that community? The great thing is that everyone is invested in the text and the characters' journeys. They are asking those questions from their point of interest in the world.

We also had a wonderful discussion about the difference of when a writer has a character light a fuse and leaves the room before the explosion and when the character stays to add gasoline to the fire. Both are interesting choices - but it was observed that the playwright is ready to alter the world forever at that moment, and those are the moments to explore about what is being changed.

There is also a discussion about what is left for each of these characters in their hometown at the end of the play. Will they return? I'm a believer in what happens in the play afterwards is up to the audience because I can't control what happens next in that world. However, what I liked about the discussion with Matt today was the realization that the characters are growing up. That they are confronted with mortality, responsibility for their life choices, and that they now are becoming the adults that they view their parents. I appreciate even more that the play takes place in Pete's house, that his parents have left town, and it is now his house. Highlighting that they are now the parents. That the elements of the story are very specific to this generation but that the theme of growing up and maturation is constant for each generation and eventually we all have to face it.

I also take personal joy in the fact that they meet on Sundays because Centre College Football plays on Saturday. Congratulations to the team, and quarter back Heath Haden (plays Trevor), for going 10-0 this season. The only other time the school had that record was in 1921!

Excited for the journey.

Talk with you soon.


Friday, November 7, 2014

women work harder


I hate generalizations. Especially about people because it feels like an inhalation of the individual. So, I'll say this at the start, many men work very hard. Most days I think I do. However, I want to share what I have noticed during my last two directing jobs. It was subtle. No one pointed it out. And this by no means is a scientific study. I noticed that the women in the casts were all off book before the men. No matter the size of the role. The women learned their lines sooner.

I am currently working at a University. I'm directing a play with nine cast members. Five men. Four women. (yes, less roles for women.) We are half way through our rehearsal process. I realized the other day that only one guy, who is in only two of the nine scenes, was not carrying his script. The four other men in the play were still carrying their scripts. None of the women had scripts in their hands. Each of the cast members were all in the same theater department. They were all getting the same training. What's the difference?

When I pointed this out to the students, the assistant stage manager said she was well aware that she had to work harder because she's a woman. She realized that she was going to have to work harder when she was eight or nine years old because there were less opportunities for girls.

Oh, and there are four stage managers supporting this production. They are all women.

There has been a lot of awareness lately brought to the issue that female playwrights are not produced equally to male playwrights. You don't need a study to see this, you just need to look at what your local theater is producing and you'll most likely be able to recognize the disparity. If you are looking for it. Until the last couple of years I wasn't looking for it.

I can't exactly put my finger on what changed. I know that there was a study a few years back about this issue that proved it as a fact. A fact that I didn't care to accept. My feelings as a theater director and writer were that it is a hard profession for all of us. And it is. However, it is harder for women. I know that I witnessed a theater company I am a member of reject a play, by a female writer, I submitted to work on at our annual retreat. The reason for the rejection was valid. I didn't question it. However, I later learned that the only plays by non-members that were accepted were all from men.   Another thing that could've made this issue grounded in my awareness is my girlfriend's corporate job. She is a V.P. of a global corporation. She works with what would be considered a small team of 'equals'.  She is the only female on the team. She is paid less and she is the one that is asked to do anything that would be considered administrative.

Oh, and while I am directing on the MainStage of the university there is a student production in rehearsal. The director of that production is male. I was told that he didn't take a directing class. He didn't assist anyone. He hasn't stage managed a production. He decided he wanted to direct and was given the opportunity. I imagine a female student would be able to do the same.  If ...

Talk with you soon.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ashland - Night two


The second show was as good as the first! It really is incredibly valuable to be able to see a play fully mounted. Reading a play, you can tell if you're engage, you can tell where the jokes are, you can tell if you went on a journey. And in production the challenges of making all of those things work become clear and ironed out. However, the value of seeing the play the second time was seeing these living characters and their situation become real - and in that reality comes awareness of things you would like to know more about or struggles that can be intensified.

During our time at Ashland we were very engaged with the campus community. We met with a class of theater majors and spoke openly about play development and our careers in theater. We were interviewed on the campus radio station, and we did a Q & A session with the audience.

During each discussion on the play Lindsay was asked about her inspiration. She spoke about how she was interested in exploring about how we learn about major events through social media, events like the death of a friend. And what does that change us as a society. That is the impetuous for event of the play. That exploration is clearly happening. One of the questions asked by the students in class to Lindsay was about her point of view on the subject. That is probably the main opportunity seeing the production gives the playwright.

Next week I will meet with Lindsay and talk with her about her take aways from seeing the play. The direction and rewrites are obviously her discretion. It is her play. I will share that I saw the foundation of a very important play. At the moment the play is a successful journey of eight friends mourning the death of a friend. It is full. Each character goes through a rich experience. The audience is highly engaged. That is success unto itself. Besides a few nip and tucks along the way to tighten the script the opportunity is there for Lindsay to clarify or challenge her point of view about the changing world the millennial are living in.

Things that were clear through the production of the play is that characters want to be seen for who they truly are. The first action is Pete cleaning up his house before guests arrive. Creating a certain image. Amber asks "Am I that invisible?" more than once. Trevor and Freddy's relationship is secret and Trevor has wanted for years to let people know. Becky tells Conner that they've seen each other recently because they're Facebook friends. And it most strongly resonates when Becky announces that all of them that claim to be close friends of Freddy's didn't really know him. The theme of being seen ripples through out.

Along the idea of being seen is the need for human contact. This is seen in Amber desire to be at Pete's house with friends that really knew Freddy knew him. She doesn't seem to get comfortable until Trevor shows up and they receive the first physical contact between two characters, a hug. Trevor shares his relationship with Freddy with an unlikely Becky and that actions seems possible because of the simple act of putting her hand compassionately on his arm. The climax of act one is all of the mourning friends celebrating their friend in a dance. The healing pile of an embrace of the group of friends at the end is what allows them to all move forward. The idea of how social media doesn't replace the need for human interaction is clear in the physical life of the play.

Lindsay also shared at a dinner conversation with the cast that she started the idea of one particular character. Pete. The one who stayed in his hometown. Pete in this time of mourning is clearly questioning his choice of staying home. The idea of what it costs to stay and what is lost to move forward was an active struggle that he is going through that seems to lift the play beyond the event of the day. But that the suicide of his friend could ignite.

There is clearly the theme of sexuality and acceptance is in the play. Amber and Pete point out a character we see is possibly gay. Trevor and Freddy's relationship is secret. Meg, Freddy's sister, is in active denial that her brother was gay. It was interesting that once this secret came out about Freddy's sexuality his friends didn't seem to judge him. Only his older sister did. It struck me seeing the play that maybe this generation doesn't have an issue with sexuality as the ones before it have. Maybe. It was interesting statement to be made about the generation.

I mention these elements in the play because as you watch the life of the play unfold in front of you fully achieved in production certain ideas stand out. Certain threads that may want to be explored. And I'm excited as a producer of this event to see the shaping of the point of view of this world. To see which ideas get developed further. That is the value of the three shows.

My strongest take away from the two days though was the students' commitment to these characters. They voiced a strong desire to remain in contact with the actors who play them next. As a resource, a sounding board, a voyeur, a friend. They are protective of the characters and they are excited to see them grow. Listening to them talk was like listening to proud parents. I"m grateful the collaboration between students will continue from production to production. Also, during a dinner conversation with the cast each of them were given a chance to say what questions or interests they have for the future of the play and each one of them had a specific thought to share. It was wonderful to see young artists have such confident voices in the development process. The entire two days confirmed for me that this program is a great opportunity for all artists involved.

Talk with you soon.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Ashland - night one.


When we arrived on campus, it was incredibly exciting to see the college's newspaper article about the production and the project on the front page and director, Scott Hudson, was their spotlighted professor on the back page. There was a lot of excitement about the play and that was a thrill. However, the real thrill was in watching the cast bring the play to life. WOW! The cast, director and university as a whole did an amazing job.

It is clear that each of the actors has forged a strong connection with their characters and with one another in the ensemble to communicate the long-term relationships that the play requires. Each actor did a great job living moment to moment throughout the play. Seeing each moment filled with specific behavior is a great opportunity for the playwright to fully experience the world they have created. Lindsay was given that opportunity through the actors' excellent work. They are a tight ensemble.

Meg, Amber, Conner, Brianna, Conner
Each actor truly caught the essence of their character. Upon entering they were immediately recognizable. There was one moment of revelation for Lindsay and I, and that was when Conner entered. Conner is a challenging part. He has the least clearly defined need and journey at the moment. There are elements in the script that inspire behavior and help to define him. But he seems hard to put your finger on. Then Mason Adams, who played Conner, entered and the character became immediately three dimensional and his essence was clear. There was something wonderfully off kilter about Mason' portrayal. Conner became confident and yet recognizably off balance at the same time. It was that odd mixture that made Mason's embodiment of the character so rich. He also seemed to have an understanding that what was driving Conner was a need that was being revealed to him in the moment. Watching this character accept things and move forward with a new focus was truly enlightening. Lindsay and I both saw who the character was or at least one way he could be portrayed.
Conner and Amber outside, Pete and Becky inside
Also, there was excellent staging that helped to tell the story. One of the final moments ,when the group of friends form a pile with one another - lending support, while the new comer, Brianna, sits alone of the couch, fully embodied the relationships beautifully.  The production served the text very well and made everything work. Lindsay, however, did identify places where she wants to cut and expand some of the text.  One of the great successes of the production is that it invited the audience into the characters' struggles and it revealed things about each that we are invested in and want to learn more about. I am grateful we are able to see the play a second time tomorrow. It will provide another opportunity to see structurally what elements want to be focused on in order to strengthen Lindsay's story. I look forward to seeing the play tomorrow and talking with Lindsay about what we learn.

My favorite part of tonight was meeting everyone involved.

The company
Thank you Ashland!

Talk with you soon.