Friday, July 27, 2012

Un-Abridged Opening Night: The Short and the Long of It

Photo by Clay from last night

Un-Abridged opened last night with the return of The Short and the Long of It. We hadn't performed that show in 7 years, but we had a wonderful cast that had mostly performed it before, back in the day. Aaron was the only except, but you wouldn't have known. Shortform is shortform after all. Glenn Etter even flew in all the way from Portland, OR to be in the show. Glenn, Christian, Dave, and I played together a lot once upon a time, so even though Glenn hadn't performed improv in... 6 years?... you wouldn't have known that either. It was like stepping into a time machine and going back to the very first run of we ever did performing for Glenn's family and Glenn's ex-family. (An entire audience at the first run of The Short and the Long of It back in 2003 was made up of Glenn's relations.)

We had a lot of fun just playing together. The scene I've heard the most about since was a retelling of Rapunzel set in IKEA. Oddly, however, that was not the scene chosen for the longform. Instead the audience picked a scene that Glenn had narrated and Aaron and Dave acted out called "Taxidermy is OK".

Now normally at this point in chronicling a performance, I might focus upon a takeaway from the show that I intend to apply to the rest of the run. That's harder to do in this run because we won't be doing The Short and the Long of It again. It's a very strange experience, doing just one performance of a show. It brings me back to the days over 10 years ago before Un-Scripted when I performed at BATS Improv. It reminds me why I love doing runs of shows.

Typically after a show, I spend some time "fixing it" in my head. I think "this would have been a stronger choice or that would have been a stronger choice". I try to learn as much as I can so the next time I'm more prepared. Maybe I think that way because I'm used to doing runs now, but I think I'm drawn to runs because I think that way. There's just something very satisfying about knowing you can go right back out there the next night and make stronger choices. Whereas in this case, I have no idea when, if ever, we'll do The Short and the Long of It again.

And most of my takeaways from last night are specific to this show. Rather than focus on Aaron and Dave's characters from "Taxidermy", we anchored the longform in the reality of the narrator. That made the second half very similar to the first in that it was a lot of short scenes rather than one long story. Now that we've learned that, we can make that choice.... Um... maybe someday. If we remember.

Still, it was a super fun show. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to play with Glenn again. You can see me tonight in Un-Scripted: unscripted, or Glenn Saturday night in You Bet Your Improvisor (it's a lot of fun).

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fear: Back to an Old Friend

Fear rehearsal Thursday night was like comfortably stepping back in time to 9 months ago. After several cast changes, the final line-up for the show is Bryce, Greg, Larissa, Mia, and myself. That means that everyone in the show just did it last year. That made the entire rehearsal like peeling away the layers of  memory, slowly revealing how we had done the show and what we needed to be aware of.

We warmed up a little with word-at-a-time and then sentence-at-a-time stories, which led us nicely into practicing the opening narration. Fear in its first three incarnations didn't involve narration, but I added it in after Mandy used it so wonderfully in A Tale of Two Genres. Whereas for that show it added a literary quality, for this one it allows us to build atmosphere in exciting ways. To set the convention of narration, and to immediately set the mood, we open the show with narration. Everyone in the cast contributes a brief sentence painting the setting, and then the last person sets up the first scene. At any point then, anyone can break the fourth wall to narrate. If a someone wants to narrate from off stage, they can come on and do it as long as they narrate their character into the scene in the process. Those "rules" exist just to maintain a certain seamlessness to hold the reality together. With this show more than any other, a consistent reality is essential. 

The first thing we remembered was that the opening narration needs to paint a light, happy picture of the world we're about to inhabit. If you start dark, there's no where to go. Starting happy allows for contrast. It's hard to do though, especially as the scenes begin. The first few scenes should also be fairly light, trouble-free, and about exploring and establishing the relationships. This gives you a nice platform to terrorize later, but we usually get so excited that we start throwing in ominous undertones right away. That's not all bad. Some good foreshadowing and fake-outs are useful. 

Then we did a round of killing and dying. Everyone took turns. Everyone killed once and died once. Then we also worked how to safely get bodies off-stage. (You can't just spring to your feet and walk off on your own power. It spoils the illusion or "breaks the reality".) This is the most intense aspect of the show for the audience and performers alike. It's grueling to watch over and over again, and draining to participate in. Still, it's necessary. 

We took a break after that and returned to light and happy openings. We did several and continued into 2 or 3 scenes of the story. We have to remember not to lose the narration as the story progresses. It's useful for setting the mood as well as for getting us in and out of the intermission without breaking the reality too much. Otherwise, I think we're in great shape for the show. It'll be just like old times...

Fear will be August 10 at 8pm.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Theater the Musical: Three!

When we first did Theater the Musical back in 2008 it immediately followed the production of Three, a three-person cast triptych wherein each story was done in the style of a playwright (although that part was not conveyed to the audience).  Basically, we wanted to work on playwright styles but didn't think that fact was intrinsic to the audiences experience of the show. I was not actually in that show, but Theater the Musical definitely benefited directly from that show's hard work.

Due to various scheduling happenstances, the cast of Theater the Musical for Un-Abridged is also three people! While we're not going to do it as a triptych, the parallel was too good to pass up in the title of this post. In fact, of the cast of Christian, Merrill, and myself, only Christian was in Three. Merrill wasn't even in Theater the Musical.

How will we do it? I'm not sure. The small cast-size will limit what playwrights we can choose, but not overly so. Most playwrights have a small-cast play in their repertoire somewhere. We'll make it work.

In order to prep for the show, we brainstormed a short list of playwrights we're likely to get as suggestions. During the original run, we selected a few options from suggestions and let the audience choose what we did. This time around we might just pick. Either way it's unlikely will get someone no one in the cast has ever heard of. But even that doesn't matter too much. Like in Let It Snow, we ask the audience what they know about the playwright. That way you can do a reasonable job flying blind. The first time around Christian and I played brothers in an epic Eugene O'Neil inspired show in spite of the fact that neither of us had read or seen his plays (in their entirety - I'll admit to having read and seen bits and pieces).

Then we practiced singing, but not just singing, we practiced singing as different actors. As Christian discovered from directing Shakespeare the Musical, if you're performing a small-cast musical, playing multiple characters who have songs, you can't just sing like a different character. You have to sing like a different actor playing that character. Some quick ways are to vary your lung capacity, range, size of range, tone, resonance, and/or volume.

Then we moved into playing scenes in different playwright styles that we thought we might get. I won't give you a list because I don't want to influence what you might suggest, but we had a good time.

I'm actually excited about doing this show with such a small cast. It should make it feel very theatrical and be very challenging.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Un-Scripted: unscripted

My performance schedule changed around a bit last week as a result of a wicked bout of stomach flu and a changed airline flight. I couldn't make it to A Tale of Two Genres rehearsal on Tuesday because I couldn't be that far from a bathroom for that long. Then Thursday, Aaron had to drop out of Un-Scripted: unscripted rehearsal because United changed his flight times on him. Having recovered sufficiently by then, I stepped in to take his place.

So if you're keeping score at home, I am no longer in A Tale of Two Genres on Thursday August 2, but I am now in Un-Scripted: unscripted on Friday July 27.

Dave, who directed the original Un-Scripted: unscripted back in 2008 wore the director's hat for the night. He sent out his original show concept notes for us to read beforehand, and ran us through some fun character warm-ups. For those of you unfamiliar with Un-Scripted: unscripted, it's a standard short-form show except that we never stop the show to get a suggestion or introduce a scene. All of that has to happen in character in the context of the show. So we do get suggestions, and some scenes are introduced, just in character. Other times and improvisor might just start playing a game and hope that the other improvisors catch on. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't. Either way, it's entertaining.

We rehearsed by running the show. We had a lot of fun. My personal favorite highlight was the recurring character Marvin the Disco Ghost (Greg) and Amber's lonely rap.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Let It Snow: Needs, Obstacles, Openings

Last Thursday night we had Let It Snow rehearsal! Susan took the helm and ran us through an action packed rehearsal filled with movement and singing.

We started by focusing on Need Songs and Obstacle Songs. In a Need Song, the protagonist sings about what their character needs, wants, is motivating them. It drives the character and the show and should happen pretty early on. Obstacle Songs are all about why that character can't get it. If the show has a strong antagonist, it would be sung by that character. We spent some time exploring having the town be the obstacle, most often in a very well-meaning but misdirected way. That seemed much more interesting and fitting for the show than having a Lex Luthor to the show's Superman.

At the Short and the Long of It rehearsal, I had blown out my voice playing Satan in the mini-long-form. That left me unable to sing in my lower range, which is where I've discovered I'm more comfortable. Add to that a general lack of confidence around singing Need Songs, and I was a bit anxious during rehearsal. I have a hard time with Need Songs because I tend to only see literal needs. Like, I need a new iPhone or something less than compelling like that. Still, I muddled my way through one singing odd notes higher up in my range and generally not liking the direction the song was taking. It ended up being about wanting the approval of my character's dead mother. It seemed to go over all right.

Then we worked on the opening number, which is always a source of much attention in this show. Why? Not only does it set the tone for the show, but we specifically try to reprise the chorus from the opening number at the end of the show. Let It Snow opening numbers may very well be the most structured thing we do at the Un-Scripted Theater Company. The most recent incarnation (and the one we'll use in the show) goes something like this:

Lights up, everyone forms soft tableaux (we're still moving) around the stage inhabiting the "world". Someone steps forward and sings a verse about the town all in the 3rd person (There's no "I" in "Opening"). When they finish someone steps to the front of the stage to set the chorus. As they do that, the rest of the cast forms a pyramid behind them and begins to dance following either the chorus leader or the people immediately behind them. After the chorus has been set and repeated, the chorus leader drops back, someone else steps to the front to start a new verse and the pyramid adjusts. Then the chorus leader goes back to the front to repeat the chorus. Then we might have another verse or a dance break. Then we go back to the chorus repeat it one last time while forming one last tableau. It's just as hard to keep track of as you think it is.

I'm sure anytime we have to actually work things at the pre-show rehearsal and warm-up will be spent on the opening number.

Let It Snow will be the closing night performance of Un-Abridged. It's always been our "signature" show and is the most "feel-good" show we do. And it snows! Assuming we figure out how to re-rig the snow machine. What's even more exciting, the show's originator Tara McDonough is rumored to be returning from Maine to be in the show!