Hurricane Sandy? The Show Must Go On…

With only 47 days until opening, almost everyone made it to rehearsal yesterday (Oct 28, 2012). Director Tim Weigand was late because he was at Talbot County’s Office of Emergency Services watching the track of Hurricane Sandy and making disaster preparedness videos for the local cable channel. I think the people who came had already completed their storm prep before arriving at the Avalon. We all hope the storm will pass our area without too much damage and Tuesday night’s rehearsal will happen as scheduled. There is still lots of work to do.

One of the longest scenes in the play is when Will (the male lead and LA star) holds auditions for the community play. Everybody in the cast is on stage and the majority of them are kids. Trying to keep everybody focused is a real challenge. I am amazed that nobody is yelling, but from the back of the audience I want to collar some of the older kids and tell them to listen up and help corral the youngest. Being present on stage is crucial and is being drummed into everybody, but it’s a hard thing to do.

Cecile Davis worked with Talley Wilford and choreographer Cavin Moore on a variety of blocking options for this complex scene. Moving people about and then expecting them to stand quietly while she gives instruction about how to do it better is difficult. Some people have to be at the front of the group at a given time and that requires shuffling of the cast. The stage at the Avalon is not large and if people are too far front they are not visible to those in the balcony. Lots of things to consider.

Portia Hughes plays the part of Marley, the imaginary come-to-life stuffed animal (dog) belonging to Tim Darling. This is a great role with lots of physical humor. Portia came prepared for her hands-on-knees role with kneepads. Good thinking, Portia.

We are beginning to hear some discussion about lighting issues. There are times when certain stage areas of a scene need to be spotlighted, and then another and another in quick sequence. People have to be in place when that scene begins and stand quietly until the spotlight is on them. I am beginning to understand why there is a technical week at the end of the rehearsal process. I might be biting my nails at that point.

After most of the kids were released around four in the afternoon, the rest of the cast went up to Stolz to continue rehearsing. They are all to be off book in a week or so and only some are there at this point. Tim Weigand talked about the importance of pauses in dialogue and not rushing ahead. Timing for laughs is something the actors may not really get a handle on until the play is being rehearsed on stage and there are people reacting in the audience.

The actors are getting more comfortable in their roles and Tim, Cece and Tally are encouraging them to try different “takes” on their characters until they find the one that really works. This has to feel risky, but feeling safe enough to try is crucial. There are no mistakes at this stage of the game.

Gunston Day School Presentation

Last Friday Laura and I presented at In Celebration of Books at Gunston Day School in Centerville, Maryland. Gunston School has been around for over 100 years. It was founded in 1911 by Sam and Mary Middletown when they wanted a high quaility education for their daughter Emilie, disabled by polio. The school was originally all girls, but in 1991 Guston became a co-ed day school. No more boarders. The campus is on the Corsica River in a gorgeous setting with beautiful old trees. The original Middletown house is still there along with other buildings tucked into the landscape.

The school makes an effort to recruit international students from Europe and Asia. We were told that they do not board at the school, but are housed with faculty or members of the larger community. “Would you like to host a student?” we were asked.

The international students lend diversity to the student population, but the kids from China, one faculty member told us, have been so programmed toward math and science that they are, unfortunately, not readers. These students are sent by their families to become more fluent in English and then will go on for university degrees (in math and science fields) before returning back to their home countries.

Because of a two hour fog delay in the morning the schedule was rearranged and we presented after lunch – in my experience the worst time to try to hold anyone’s attention. We were pleasantly surprised by the kids who chose our workshop. They were focused and attentive and seemed to enjoy our presentation – with the exception of the one student who checked out for an after lunch nap.

The title of our workshop was “Writing as Lasagna” and it was inspired by a blog post. It was about making subsequent passes over your first draft to include layers which add interest to your writing. To create a story we gave the kids forced choices.We asked them to choose two characters from a list of six choices we provided. They then picked a setting, a plot line, a conflict, a resolution and an ending from our lists. Those story essentials gave them a basic story.

We were surprised at how many of them in each of our two workshops chose serial killer as one of their characters. Not sure if that has any import whatsoever. One of their instructions was not to over think their choices in trying to make the story go in a particular direction. Be flexible with what you get, we told them.

Then we demonstrated how you could begin to include the details that make a story richer, more interesting, and more engaging to the reader. We asked them to make a character pass – choose names for your characters, gender, ethnicity, age, etc. Then we asked them to make a pass for a sensory layer (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste). We talked about dialogue layers and how we usually do dialogue passes for each character. We also do a pacing layer, an ins and outs (paragraph, scene, chapter) layer, and a stopper layer.

There are other layers, but we wanted the students to understand how they can continue to make their writing better after the first draft. We had some of them read their stories. It was amazing to hear what they could do in 45 minutes. One could have been a fabulous illustrated children’s story about a hippo and an orphan who escaped from the zoo and the orphanage on the same day. Another (with a serial killer as one of the characters) would have made a great film noir script. It was an honor and a pleasure to work with such smart, creative kids.

All in all it was a successful day even though the last event had to be cancelled. This was a time when all the day’s presenters were to read from their work for five minutes. Laura and I had prepared the opening scene from our play, The Santa Dairies. Oh, well, being flexible in writing and in life is key.

Rehearsal 10-21-12

Yesterday (10-21-12) was the fourth rehearsal of The Santa Diaries. Laura and I sat in the back of the auditorium watching Cece Davis and Cavin Moore putting the kids through their paces. It is truly astounding to see what has been accomplished in such a short time. It’s not perfect yet, but you can see the outlines. We were so impressed.

Rehearsals of various scenes were taking place in three different spaces at the Avalon yesterday. At times, in the theater, Cece Davis was on stage with some kids and Cavin Moore was on the floor where the chairs usually are with another group. Up in the Stoltz Listening Room the main characters were working and on the third floor another actor was getting some one-on-one help.

 Cavin on the theater floor…

while Cece blocks a scene on stage.

 Meanwhile upstairs in Stoltz…

Tim Weigand is directing.

Tyler Sabatino, the boy who is playing Timmy, is adorable with a smile that lights up a room. Like many of these kids he seems born to the stage. He has no fear about being up there. Today he was running a scene that included the live counterpart of his stuffed dog, Marley. His mom, Mindy, was patiently waiting downstairs. When he returned, he got a snack and a hug from Mom, Mindy Smith-Sabatino.

 Tyler and his mom

Marie U’Ren was around taking measurements of the cast so she can figure out who will wear what Victorian costume in the final scene of the play. Some of the adults and kids will walk in the December 1st Easton Christmas parade. Laura and I plan to march at the front of the group holding a banner of the play poster which Laura has designed. We’ll preview the poster here in a few days.

When Laura and I left a little before six, Marie was sitting in the lobby nursing a hard cider from Bannings. She was patiently waiting to catch Casey Rauch (he plays Will) and get his measurements. We had a short discussion about the Marley dog costume which is currently being used in a local children’s theater production of Annie. In Annie it’s a cat costume but we’ll alter the ears and tail. Recycling is the name of the game in community theater. Tomorrow Marie told us she would be moving costumes from one place to another and might need help. I volunteered my husband and told him over a glass of wine last night. Please tell us somebody is working on sets! This production takes a small-town…

Controlled Chaos and Collaboration

Mala writes:  Watching the table read of The Santa Diaries was amazing even with Director Tim Weigand telling the actors to just read at this point. He said there will be lots of readings before they start acting – that at this point the goal is becoming familiar with the script and other actors lines. He told them they needed to be “off book” by November 1. I think that means they need to know their lines by then.

Laura and I have been working on the script since the beginning of June. I know there will be tweaks, additions and subtractions almost to opening night. Now we are learning about the myriad details involved in getting the script on stage.

Someone had to go through the script and put the scenes on a spreadsheet with all the characters (even walk-ons) down the left side and then indicate which scenes (across the top of the spreadsheet) each character is in. I couldn’t figure out how to print it out, let alone do this herculean job – which had to be done before a rehearsal schedule could be compiled.

Not every actor has to be at every rehearsal which will be taking place in three different places in the Avalon Theatre: on stage, in the Stoltz Listening Room and on the third floor. Some actors will be running between these locations. Tuesday nights and Sunday afternoons are going to be chaotic. Then there are the changes. Tomorrow night the stage won’t be available because Capital Steps will be performing. Main leads only in Stoltz.

This is what controlled chaos looked like yesterday afteroon. I was amazed that the kids actually were getting the dance routine down. Remember, this was the third rehearsal!

I am coming to realize that controlled chaos is how you produce a play. The writing part was easy compared to the details that now have to be handled. Sets, costumes, directing, choreography, and a whole bunch of things that have to happen that I’m not aware of. Let’s not forget the important role of front of house – marketing, ticket sales, vacuuming the theater between performances. Truly, putting on a play is a collaborative effort. I’m beginning to think Laura and I did the easy part.

Yes, Maryland, there is a Santa Claus…

Laura writes:

His name is David Foster! Last night was the first (mostly) complete cast read through of The Santa Diaries at The Avalon Theatre. David Foster is playing Sandy Hawes, a small town Santa Claus, descended from a long line of Santas.

Tim called David’s understated and completely mesmerizing read, “Gorgeous!” And gorgeous it was! When you closed your eyes, it conjured visions of Wilfred Brimley and Garrison Keeler – a velvety voice that captured the spirit of a warm, compassionate, yet savvy Santa. You could almost see the twinkle in his eye and hear that he knows exactly who’s naughty and who is nice. It is a brilliant piece of casting by the Avalon!

The adult lead actors rehearsed in the Stoltz Listening Room (2nd floor), while the younger actors worker under the direction of Choreographer Cavin Moore  in the main Avalon Theatre on the first floor. Avalon Director Tim Wiegland, Assistant Director Cece Davis and  Producer Liza Ledford, were up and down the Avalon stairs all night! I don’t envy them.


Santa Diaries Play – Parts Are Cast

Sunday (10-7-12) afternoon at the Avalon Theatre everyone who tried out for a part showed up to hear what part they got. Lots of kids and lots of excitement. Liza Ledford and Cece Davis did the honors and handed out rehearsal schedules and pages of script. The entire script was given to the leads although it wasn’t the tweaked script Laura and I sent to them Saturday afternoon. I think script tweaks will be an ongoing process.

I’m excited by the people cast for the two major parts. Jenny Madino will play Jessica Darling and Casey Rauch will play Will Hawes. Both look like just like I imagined these characters would look. They will be the first to ever perform these parts!

Some of the kids knew each other, some didn’t yet but they will by the time the show goes live. Tim Weigand asked all the actors to come on stage…

…and then asked for a group hug.These actors are going to be in close quarters on stage and back stage so he got the process started.

On Tuesday night there will be a table read with the main characters. This just gets better and better.

Laura Wears Her Pretty Woman Hooker Boots

Laura writes…

Last night was the fund-raising kick-off for the Rehoboth Independent Film Festival. My artwork was chosen to represent the Festival on its posters and programs, t-shirts, etc.

I’ve had a pair of spike heeled thigh high, ostrich skin (vinyl) boots for years. They sit in my closet taunting me to wear them. But everytime I put them on I feel like Julia Roberts playing the hooker in Pretty Woman. So I take them off and put them back in the closet.

Mala and I went to this gathering of eclectic arty film buffs. It seemed the perfect time for me to indulge my “I am an ARTIST!” persona.

Note: I did NOT pair my boots with a sky high miniskirt. NO one needs to see that.

Nobody even looked at my boots. These were the shoes worn by the Festival’s Board President.

Trailers for several of the movies were previewed at the party Awesome! It will be really hard to pick which ones I want to see.

This is me with the Festival Board: President, Eric Kafka; Executive Director, Sue Early; Festival Program Directory, Joe Bilancio.

I’ve been attending the Film Festival for the last ten years. It’ s four days each year I don’t miss. There are independent films from all over the world. When I leave, I always feel like I’ve had a mini global vacation. (The inspiration for the title of my artwork: “Come to the Fest and Sea the World.”) And like any other vacation, I always come back having gained a few pounds. There are sooooo many absolutely fabulous restaurants in Rehoboth and Lewis. And of course I have to do my best to try them all. Luckily my boots don’t care how fat I get!

If you haven’t been to the Rehoboth Independent Film Festival, go! And bring YOUR wildest boots. I guarantee, you’ll feel right at home!

Progress of the Play – October 4, 2012

Mala writes:

I was out of town for a week so Laura attended the rest of the casting sessions. Photos will be posted as soon as they can be transferred from her camera to my computer. In a community theater show like this pretty much everybody who shows up to audition gets a part. Some get lines. Some are walk ons. Some will be supporting actors and some have leading parts. Laura told me some adorable little bitty girls showed up. So we’ve figured out where we can put in some baby ballerinas in pink tights and tutus. But only for a brief appearance on the stage. Any longer and they’d steal the show.

Another meeting while I was away was prompted by the possibility that the title of the show would be changed. We sent in a bunch of suggestions, but felt strongly that The Santa Diaries built on the PR of the last year and a half for the book of the same name that we wrote as a fund raiser for Christmas in St. Michaels. Ultimately (at least at this moment) it seems the title remains The Santa Diaries.

We were asked for a log line to use in PR. Here’s what we came up with. Log line: When a successful and self-absorbed Hollywood actor is forced to return to his small hometown and direct the community holiday play, he rediscovers the joy of Christmas and learns to embrace his inner Santa.

Casting for the play will be announced on Sunday. We’ll be there. Laura was able to make suggestions last weekend, but final casting is in the hands of the capable Avalon staff. Takes us off the hook. People can gripe to them if they didn’t get the part they wanted.

Two days ago we were asked to write three new scenes to accommodate eleven additional people. Oh, and the new scenes are needed by Monday! We worked yesterday for five hours. Still more to do, but we will make the deadline (read on to find out how).

First read through is coming up next week. How long is this epic going to be? It will be interesting to see if we have to begin to cut scenes and chunks of dialog.

Saturday Laura and I go to Rehoboth Beach for a fund raiser cocktail party kicking off the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival. Laura’s artwork was chosen for this year’s Festival poster. She is one talented lady. I’ll post a picture once I get the file. Anyway, she got two complimentary tickets. Her husband is going to be out of town so she asked if I wanted to go. Said she would bring her laptop and we could work in the car. I’ll drive and she’ll keyboard. We are some multi-tasking ladies and will get those new scenes finished on time.