The 24 Hour New Plays Festival, Part II
One thing I noticed about The 24 Hour New Plays Festival, is that the title of the event varies from flyer to program to announcements about it! In some places, It's The 24 Hour Playwrighting Festival. In others, it's just The 24 Hour Play Festival. Minor detail, I know, but it's one of those things I noticed that made me think I was getting myself involved in a train wreck. I was very wrong.
When I couldn't open the playwright's e-mailed script attachment, I went into a bit of a scramble. I had no idea what to bring to wear! After a few panicked voice mails to the director and playwright Friday morning, I went ahead and packed my suit. It's what I would have packed if I were doing a Second City TourCo show. I figured between that and the clothes I had on my back and whatever they needed to scare up for me in the costume department, I'd be fine. If there's one thing I learned at Second City, is that it's easier to be dressed up and pass yourself off as a slob or bum than it is to convincingly play someone snooty and high class when you look like you dressed to clean the bathroom. Sam, the playwright, called me just before I left and let me know I'd be playing a lawyer in the Justice Department. Sweet! I was good to go.
At 9am, we all checked in and met up with our groups. Sam brought copies. I immediately sat down and started to read it. This is what was going to make or break my day. I didn't know this guy. Didn't get a strong feeling about him the night before about his abilities. To my pleasant relief, the script was very funny and this guy nailed my comfort zone. My character was the boss. An asshole who fires a guy for not sucking up to him enough and promotes a synchophant graduate from The Pat Robertson Law School. I was in heaven.
We were assigned a room. The first thing we did was to read the script. Then we talked about staging. One thing Scott noticed is that Sam didn't give the play a setting. There's a reference to the Justice Department, but where are we exactly? I knew exactly what he meant. It's a pet peeve of mine with writers and improvisers, alike. Give your scene a where and use it. Sam said he didn't see it taking place anywhere specific. Just on stage. (Yikes! and Uh-Oh!) Scott is a very positive guy. He really embraces affirming ideas and trying them out. Where I may have been a jerk about it and demanded a where, he said, "Let's give it a try." We did, and it worked. We each had are own area of the stage.
Now, we just kept blocking and running the script and polishing and discovering. I did end up placing my guy in a bathroom, which led to some great character stuff with dental floss and washing my hands. Pat played Maven, a good attorney trying to save himself from being fired. I berate him for never taking me up on my offers to go to Sunday brunch, never confiding in me about his personal life, and, crime of all crimes, turning down tickets to Wicked. In a desperate attempt to turn the situation around, he tells me that he has fantasized about having sex with me, even though he's straight. My character, Tylney, asks him to say more about it. "How would it go? Would it be nasty, brutish...or tender?"
After some stammering, Maven says "...tender?"
"Nope! Wrong answer. (Tylney washes his hands) I'm not gay, but if I ever had sex with a man, I'd want it to be brutish... Tom Selleck brutish."
The line was funny enough and Scott and Sam let me add the Tom Selleck part.
Because we started off with a strong script, there wasn't a lot to do other than work on lines and keep polishing. Pat didn't bring a suit, so he needed to get some stuff from costuming. Jess brought a few things, but they enhanced her look with a vest and different jacket. The only prop was the trophy of a man holding up a star, which became The Legal Prize Trophy that I give out every month for loyalty and that Jess's character Caitlin has won.
Scott has done this festival before and mentioned that this was the smoothest start he's ever had with it. He's been in situations where they had to tear the script apart or the playwright and director kept adding things. I thought that if I ever did this as a writer, I would be tempted to plug in something I was already working on. It's clear Sam didn't do that. There were too many elements from our conversation the night before. It was also my character's birthday.
The only danger with our piece, is that by 3pm, I was already exhausted. At three, we went down to the theater and did our tech. We had been rehearsing it as if it would be performed on a proscenium. We discovered that we'd have audience three-quarters round. While there was a brief freak out in my head about it, it was really good news. When we got back to the rehearsal room, we did some re-blocking that opened up the scenes more. My character now had room to prowl.
At 6pm, all the groups met in the theater and we ran the tops and bottoms (the start and end) of each piece. This allowed us to work out transitions. We were the only scene that had zero set. Everyone else had sofas and chairs and coffee tables. One scene even had to piece together a woman on an operating table with her legs up in the air. I'm glad we kept it simple. Seeing everyone scramble with their props and sets and elaborate costumes made me cocky. I knew we had the best piece and would blow everyone away.
This is where my mind was blown. The evening is structured in such a way that all the actors filled up one section of the audience and we got to see the whole show. Each piece rocked. One or two were overblown sketches that could have ended up on MadTV, but the others were really thoughtful in their characterizations and stories. We had a reverse birth, an alien with a wooden hand, a modern day Adam and Eve with Cain and Abel, a little incest, and a green goblin prince on a date. Not a clunker in the bunch. Some of the best acting that I've seen in any production at Columbia. Not a one of them needed the qualifier of "Not bad for being whipped together in 24 hours." It was a good evening of entertainment separate from the festival aspect, which is the best thing I can say about it. The house was standing room only and the energy in the room - from the nervous energy of the actors to the palpable excitement in the audience, made for a rowdy and fun-filled evening.
Our piece went well, in spite of a few stumbles on lines by everyone. My Tom Selleck throwaway line got applause.
At the end of the evening, I helped break down the set and the seats - because, dammit, I help out, like a decent actor should. I thanked Stephanie Shaw for including me. I'm glad I got to be an actor instead of a playwright this time. None of the other teachers there had ever seen me perform, so it was a kick to have Sheldon Patinkin congratulate me on a job well done.
- Thank you to everyone who wished me a happy birthday. It was a tricky day for me. My brothers have decided that the best thing they can do to care for my mother is to place her in a nursing home. The heart issues and Alzheimer's have become too much for them to be able handle on their own. If there's any good news in this, it's that she is aware enough to know what's happening and is okay with it. She's in a nursing home that she used to work at for several years, so the surroundings are somewhat familiar and there are probably still people there who remember her and will care for her.
- Today, George Clooney turned 46. Yesterday, I turned 46. I missed being George Clooney by one day!
- This cracked me up. I watched many a rerun of Leave it to Beaver growing up. It was, still is, a very good show. I little naive in it's representation of the late 50's, early 60's, but, for what it was, it was very well written and created some classic characters. Follow the link below for a good laugh and an example of the humor they had on the set.
A letter from Leave it to Beaver