Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Let It Snow Week 5

Check out the Let It Snow Interactive Map, featuring every town the show has ever featured, complete with performance date, show description, and a picture from the town itself!


For the Birds – Thursday 12/17/2009
When a reality film crew led by brothers Chuck & Chester (Christian & Bryce) and their French cinematographer Jaque (Michael) comes to Bodega, CA (pop 571), everyone wants to be a star. Laverne (Jodi) attempts to step into the limelight, but her rise to stardom is complicated by Chuck & Chester both falling in love with her, an angry ghost (Karen) who puts the "Hitchcock curse" on film crew, and a local femme fatale Tiffany (Merrill). Add in the ever-ready and eager firemen (Bryce, Michael & Christian) and the quiet town of Bodega is in for quite a ride.

Why not, Minot? – Friday 12/18/2009
Inga (Lisa) has always lived in the shadow of her attractive out-going sister Olga (Mandy) in Minot, ND (pop 36,567), but when her friend Bart (Clay) writes her a letter from college signed “Yours Truly”, Inga has hopes of love. Will she overcome her shyness to go out with him when he visits for the holidays? Will Bart overcome his meddling mother? Will they get a pheasant for Christmas dinner before the mountain lions get them? Why not?

A Steak through the Heart – Saturday Matinee 12/19/2009
Love-em-and-leave-em Jerry (Christian) makes a bet with his co-worker Pete (Dave) that he can date Pete’s ex-girlfriend Ilene (Jodi) for a full 8 ½ months. Somehow he makes it through the August fish fry and Thanksgiving with Ilene’s drunken family. He just needs to make it through Christmas to win Pete’s car! Then Ilene finds out about the bet, and Jerry learns she meant more to him than his little black book. Nothing that a steak dinner at the Port Hotel in Port Washington, WI (pop 10,467) and a marriage proposal can’t fix!

Photo Finish – Saturday Evening 12/19/2009
Nancy (Trish) runs one of the three bars on the one street in Dayton, NV (pop 5,907). She wishes just once the horse would win the annual race against the Harley. To even the odds, the town decides to hold the race during the holidays on an ice track. Even then, Phyllis (Mandy) is determined to keep her unbeaten streak aboard the Harley alive, while Nancy goes a little crazy rooting for the horse. In the end, they both learn it’s just a race, but what a race it was!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rehearsal #12: Fin

Last night we had a light rehearsal. It was the last rehearsal of the run, which is always something of a bittersweet affair.

We spent a fair portion of the beginning of rehearsal pouring through the care package we received from Leakesville, MS. (Thank you!) The family who had come to the show and suggested that town sent us a lovely card, some books, the local “Coffee News”, autographed pictures of two local beauty queens, and some tasty food items. Yay! Here's our special thanks:

Then Mandy and Susan talked about some things from the previous weekend’s shows that really worked for them. Mostly they’re really enjoying the subtler, less protagonist-dominated stories we’ve been telling. And apparently the shows Friday and Saturday did a good job of establishing a protagonist early without them taking over the show.

Then we all warmed up our voices and everyone took turns singing a solo song with a set-up from Susan specifically targeted at something we each should be working on. My set up was to sing a song as the local holiday pageant director and to get into detail about the amazing plans I have for this years pageant and what those plans meant to me. I had a good time with it. I could really see the crazy things I was coming up with. That, and I was occasionally even singing pretty notes. Karen remarked about that as well and said she knew a voice coach who might be able to help me develop my range. I might just do that.

I was really impressed with everyone’s songs. People took their direction well and ran with it. Hopefully that will shine through this weekend.


If you haven’t seen the show yet, you’ve go one last weekend to catch it!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let It Snow Week 4

Check out the Let It Snow Interactive Map, featuring every town the show has ever featured, complete with performance date, show description, and a picture from the town itself!


Long Day’s Journey into Christmas – Thursday 12/10/2009
When the local high school geometry teacher Crandall “Bernie” Hendrickson (Alan) loses his desire to teach, he becomes a comically alcoholic Scrooge. His wife Margaret (Merrill) clings to her family for support including her Uncle Alfred (Bryce) and niece Dawn (Jodi) who’s visiting from Wisconsin. Unexpectedly Dawn’s romance with the town cab driver Pete (Lisa) teaches Bernie he still has something to teach his students. There’s a lot of promise in Kalamazoo, MI (pop 76,145).

Your Home is Your Castle – Friday 12/11/2009
Carleton (Dave) returns home to Newcastle, NH (pop 1,010) after 10 years away in the big city of Portsmouth and wants everyone to know he's no longer a womanizer. He’s serious about his foot-model girlfriend, Cyndi (Susan). His sister Margaret (Trish), the town schoolteacher, is skeptical as are his friends and exes, but the local Reverend (Clay) helps her to see how people can change. It all ends with a wedding (a surprise to Carlton)...because "your home is your castle in Newcastle."

30 Minutes to Everything – Saturday Matinee 12/12/2009
Sam (Michael) is 34 and wants it all, but he’s torn between his love of ice football and his dad’s (Dave) insistence on building gingerbread models of famous civil war battles. Then he finds himself at the center of a catfight when his longtime (but non-committal) girlfriend and local junior CIA agent Marcie (Jodi) vie for his affections. Who will be victorious on this ice-strewn battlefield of love in Stafford, VA (pop 124,000)?

A Doll's Palace – Saturday Evening 12/12/2009
Charles (Christian) just wants to be a man, but running the Bothel, WA (pop 30,150) Doll Palace museum under the thumbs of his mother (Mandy) and aunt (Karen) has left him emasculated. Then his controlling girlfriend Becky (Trish) leaves him. Could a budding romance with the local tomboy grease monkey Skeeter (Jodi) make him a man?

Monday, December 14, 2009

What I Learned from Week 4

(Former Let It Snow director Tara McDonough at Kellyville, OK)

I was in one show last weekend, but I learned a lot from that one show.

One thing I learned is that running the opening is hard for this show. I have new found respect for Tara doing it alone all those years. This year the host isn’t even alone onstage and it’s still difficult. I’ve run it three times and messed it up in three different ways. I should get one more crack at it in the matinee this Saturday. Wish me luck.

I also learned that I’ve come a long way in my protagonist work. I’ve traditionally been the master of avoiding the protagonist role. Even when I actively sought it out, I would unconsciously shed it. This run, I’ve been one of the main protagonists three times. Thursday night I went out on stage with a character fool-proof for not being the protagonist. He was bigger than the other characters on stage. He was broader. He wasn’t “normal”, and he didn’t care about anything. And yet somehow it ended up me.


Let me set the scene: to start the show Merrill and Karen went out on stage as high school students. They began talking about college and Merrill very quickly became the protagonist, at least in my mind off stage. So, in order to raise the stakes for her as a high school student who wanted to go to college, I came in as the world’s worst Geometry teacher. I told them they’d never need Geometry. I told them I didn’t care, that I was a borderline alcoholic, and I put on a movie for them to watch. Then I left.

However… Merrill a week before had played a protagonist high-school-student who wanted to go to college. In her mind, she could not do that again, and eliminated any possibility that it was her. Unfortunately the audience didn’t know that, nor did the show. The show wanted her to be the protagonist, but she didn’t, so she threw it on me. Why? Because she felt that my character had more going on in his life.

Ruminating on this opinion for a while brought me to this theory: It’s not what you say that makes you the protagonist, it’s how you act. Yes, on the surface, my character had a lot going on, but because I didn’t care about any of it and wasn’t being affected by it, I was not the protagonist.

Except of course I was because the story quickly began revolving around me. This left me in the strange position of being a protagonist who didn’t really care. My want became caring, which worked out, but isn’t exactly the most dynamic.

The show also took rather a dark turn through the second part of the first half. Why? Because people were taking my joking “borderline alcoholism” too seriously and making it a big deal. Suddenly it wasn’t a joke but tragic. Had people taken it lightly, it would have played lightly. By taking it seriously, it played darkly. Fortunately Bryce found a way to end the half on an up note even after Merrill had just sung a sad, depressing song about my alcoholism.

But back to the opening scene. It’s sparked another theory: If you’re going to go out on stage with someone to open a show, and your intent is for neither character to be the protagonist, then you either need to character-match and have both characters feel the exact same way about things, or you need to start talking about a character who hasn’t entered yet and begin endowing them as the protagonist before they even get on stage.

But if you go on stage as distinct characters and start having a status interaction, one of you will become the protagonist of the moment, and in the first scene of the show that will target you as the protagonist of the story.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rehearsal #11: Protagonist

Rehearsal! Yes, we had rehearsal on Tuesday. What did we do? We did some protagonist work. Mandy and Susan had deliberately not done any heavy protagonist work during the rehearsal process to this point in hopes of telling some more varied richer stories. That has certainly happened, but we’ve also run into problems with “protagonist ball”, where no character is willing to take a hold of the protagonist role. Then when a character does grab a hold of it, everyone tries for it. It’s a little strange.

Even though we still don’t want the shows to be protagonist centric, every show still needs to have a protagonist and their journey to hang the rest of the show off of. They might only be in a few scenes here and there, but they’re the through line. So we still need them.

We worked on this by doing the first three scenes of a bunch of shows. We’d get a town and a little bit of info and then do three scenes as if we were about to do a whole show. We tried to make sure the second scene reflected on the first in some way and pertained to the main character of the first scene even if that character wasn’t on stage. This should help keep our stories from straying too far a field.

Unfortunately, a lot of people teach that the second or even the third scenes of a long-form should have nothing to do with the first scene or each other. I’m not sure why this is. I guess they’re really teaching people how to tell triptychs. I think it’s also a result of different definitions of what “long-form” improv is. Some people consider a half an hour of unrelated scenes to be a “long-form”. I’m not sure why. I guess in that definition “long” pertains to how long you go without breaking the 4th wall to address the audience out of character. To me that’s just short-form masquerading as long-form. If the scenes don’t connect together to tell a cohesive long story, it’s not “long-form”.

Of course, I also wouldn’t consider half an hour long, or 45 minutes to an hour for that matter. San Francisco is possibly the only place in the world where “long-form” means a two hour show with a single narrative, much the same as a play or movie.

Back to rehearsal, the show starts we did all went very well. We learned a lot about listening and zeroing in on offers. Generally speaking, after just a few scenes you have everything you need for the entire show. That’s why we often practice the first three scenes of a long-form, because they’re the most important in a lot of ways.

We also did some movement work, trying to use the stairs, windows, and the door with purpose. That was fun.

(No picture of rehearsal to embed. Clay took one, but I can't get twitpic to load. You can try to see it here.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Let It Snow 2009 Week 3

Check out the Let It Snow Interactive Map, featuring every town the show has ever featured, complete with performance date, show description, and a picture from the town itself!


M-E-R C-M-A-S Spells Merry Christmas – Thursday 12/03/2009
Teenager Darla (Trish) is on a mission to shake up Goble, OR (pop 2,744). After growing up in a town so cute that the town holiday signs are missing letters, the kindergarten teacher (Mandy) tap dances at the Goble Tavern, and the elementary school Santa is really the janitor (Michael), she's itching for some danger. She gets her wish when tap-dancing teacher Tabitha (Jodi) storms in from rival town Clatskanie. Tap-off in the Tavern! Darla soon learns it doesn't matter how you spell "Merry Christmas," as long as you believe it.

You’ve Gotta Be Smart – Friday 12/04/2009
Carly (Merrill) is tired of being poor and living with her extended family in EspaƱola, NM (pop 9,688). On the other side of the tracks, Derek (Christian) spends all his time in the family mansion working on his low-riders with his younger sister Elizabeth (Lisa). When the two meet at the town bowling alley/casino, Carly hopes she’s hit the jackpot, while Derek just hopes he can avoid a gutter ball.

East De Pere is Right Here – Saturday matinee 12/05/2009
Pete (Alan) and Shirley (Mandy) have been best friends in East De Pere, WI (pop 20,000) since they were yea high, but when a picture shows up in the town paper of the two of them ice skiing from the same tow handle, all the town assumes they’re an item. To prove they’re not, Pete dates another girl, and Shirley gets arrested storming West De Pere as part of the French Explorers Historical Reenactment Society. Soon they both learn their heart’s desire was right here all along in East De Pere.

Practical Marge – Saturday evening 12/06/2009
The whole town of Hornitos, CA (pop 64) knows Marge Ballard (Trish) as “Practical Marge”. She runs the town bar, raises her daughter Jenny (Susan), and shovels manure on the family ranch under the watchful eye of her demanding father (Bryce). One day she just snaps and builds her own hut out in the desert, and her father and Jenny learn they can’t live without her… except that Jenny’s been making a lot of money scaring out-of-towners on ghost town tours. It’s a Christmas Eve to remember for the Ballards.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rehearsal #10: Fine Tuning

We started rehearsal last night with the fun and silly Dukes of Hazzard warm up, which then evolved into the every-circle-warm-up-game-at-once warm up game. Always fun. Always enjoyable.

Then we talked a bit about protagonists. We haven’t done much protagonist work in the rehearsal process, mostly because Mandy wanted to experiment with not doing that. All told, that approach has resulted in some interesting ensemble shows that are really about everyone in the town. The problem is that we’re not doing a good job of recognizing from to scene to scene who is the protagonist of the scene.

To help with that, we did some PRAWN circles. PRAWN is the Un-Scripted Theater Company’s version of CROW.

P – Protagonist
R – Relationship
A – Aim
W – Where
N – Nuance

We also worked on talking to the audience. Before our shows, we like to go out and mingle with the audience. One purpose of this is to explain the show ahead of time so we don’t have to spend a lot of time on that at the top of the show. But that’s not the only reason to talk to the audience. In fact, that’s really the secondary reason to do it. The #1 reason (and the element we’ve been missing) is to create a feeling of community with the audience, to connect with them as people so that they’re already rooting for the performers to succeed. So we worked on talking to each other how we might talk to the audience.

Then we did some scenes where we worked on blocking. Not improv blocking, but stage blocking, or in other words moving with purpose. And we worked on facing out more even when we’re talking to people on stage. One thing we discovered in a scene that I did with Bryce, is that being onstage in front of the door you can be inside a room with the door leading out, or you can be outside with the door leading in. AND you can move through the door in such a way that the scene moves from inside to outside or vice-versa. Cool.

We did sing some. We focused on short 30 second songs. I had a hard time with this and am interested in seeing how this works in the show. It was difficult for me without the context of a show. Without back story, the 30 second songs all felt contrived.

Oh! And we did some movement exercises that resulted in some very interesting “dances”. The point was to practice moving with purpose or standing still with purpose. Clay recorded one on his iPhone and posted it to twitter. View it here.

There’s a show going on right now as I type this. I have the night off and am spending it writing and watching the Oregon/Oregon State Game. I don’t know who I’m rooting for. I guess I’m rooting for Let It Snow. Oh! And we got reviewed in the Marin Independent Journal.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rehearsal #9: Vague Recollections

We did have rehearsal last Tuesday. Unfortunately a pesky thing known as Thanksgiving Weekend got in the way of me writing about it. Now a week later, it’s hard to remember what we worked on.

I know we did some opening numbers. I know that because we used each other’s hometowns for suggestions and gave Merrill that special Let It Snow glow when we did hers.

I also remember doing some “environment” songs. These aren’t necessarily songs designed to create a physical location, but they exist more to color the town. They’re light, up-beat, throw-away songs that aren’t sung out of a deep emotional moment. That makes them hard, because we’re so trained to sing in emotional moments. Singing something fun just to sing is an adjustment, even though it happens in musicals all the time.

The only one I remember is the one I was in. It involved a customer finally showing up at a rabbit farm. There was lots of hoping involved.