Schedule update

posterOK, I’ve finally gotten with my Times-Gazette co-worker Martin Jones to figure out who’s doing what dates of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

If you’re interested in seeing me in the show, I’ll be doing four of the currently-scheduled dates:

  • Saturday, Dec. 14, at Mel’s (7 p.m.)
  • Wednesday, Dec. 18, at Fair Haven Baptist Church (6:30 p.m.)
  • Thursday, Dec. 19, at Mel’s (7 p.m.)
  • Saturday, Dec. 21, at Community High School (7 p.m.)

Martin will be playing our shared parts at two other performances:

  • Tuesday, Dec. 17, at Fair Haven (6:30 p.m.)
  • Sunday, Dec. 22, at Community High School (2 p.m.)

A few additional performances may be added after the first of the year.

Remember, you don’t need tickets for any performance, and there’s no admission charge, but please come prepared to make a donation to the Friends of Mandy Jean fund.

Opening night

I’ve had an irritated throat, a lot of drainage and even an irritated tongue (as if I’d burned it on something) for the past day or two. I feel fine otherwise, so I’m sure it’s just allergies (or perhaps some weird reaction to my flu shot on Wednesday). I’m about to have some blueberry herbal tea with honey. The last thing I need is to have a scratchy throat tonight.

I took a vacation day today – not only because of the play tonight, but to manage some days I’d built up when I thought the Sierra Leone trip was going to be in December. I need to check and see if I’m close to the limit of vacation days we can carry over from one calendar year to the next.

We will take walkups on any night if space is available, but your best bet is to call 931-247-3481 and make a reservation. Shows are tonight and tomorrow, as well as next Friday and Saturday, at Mel’s (next to the Capri Theater on Depot Street). It’s going to be a very funny play.

Party hearty

Well, we had pickup rehearsal* tonight. One of our key cast members was absent – he was trying out for “Camelot” in Woodbury – so I got to read his parts. I particularly loved being the announcer, and Mr. Potter.

The restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but the staff was having their holiday party tonight at one end of the restaurant while we were rehearsing on the other end.

We discussed some revisions to the script and then began our rehearsal. We made it through the first act and had started on the second when we took a little break to celebrate the birthday of Keith Wortham, one of our castmates. We had a giant birthday cookie. We were just finishing up when the restaurant staff told us they had plenty of extra food – cheese balls, dips, crackers and the like – and would we like to help ourselves?

We joked about having eaten dessert first, but most of us didn’t turn down the free nosh.

While we were enjoying ourselves, the restaurant staff took the chance to take the dance floor (most of the tables in front of our stage had been moved out of the way; they’ll be put back in time for the next performance on Friday) and do a routine.

Anyway, by the time they’d wrapped up, we were worrying about moving our sound effects table into position. By 9:15 or so, it was pretty clear we weren’t going to get back to practice. But that’s OK. I think we’ll do just fine.

 

*Pickup rehearsal is a rehearsal in between weekend performances, to keep yourself sharp, work on any problems that revealed themselves during the first few performances, or what have you. Sometimes, pickup rehearsals aren’t taken very seriously, and cast members take the chance to do their parts in funny voices, walk onto stage in funny masks or costumes, or otherwise try to break up their castmates. We didn’t intend to make this that kind of pickup rehearsal, however; our intent really was to work on the play, since we’d had an abbreviated rehearsal schedule prior to our first performance.

Noises Off

The last time my out-of-state brother and sister-in-law came in for a visit, Mike loaned me their DVD of “Noises Off.” I’ve never seen either the play or the movie; I’ve had several community theater castmates talk about a production they did a few years back in Tullahoma.

Anyway, I hadn’t gotten around to watching the DVD until tonight. It’s wonderful. The 1992 movie got some poor reviews – Siskel and Ebert both gave it thumbs down – but I found it hilarious. And what a cast! Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Marilu Henner, Mark Linn-Baker, Julie Hagerty, Nicolette Sheridan and Denholm Elliott (Indy’s boss Marcus from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”).

The movie, like the play, is the behind-the-scenes tale of the first American stage production of a teasingly-bawdy British farce. (Sheridan spends much of the play-within-a-play, and thus much of the movie, in her underwear.) We see how the various jealousies, conflicts and alliances among the cast members wreak havoc on the production – and since the play-within-a-play/movie is a farce, dependent on exact timing and the placement of various props, havoc is easily wreaked.

For the first third of the movie, we see the action on-stage, at a disastrous dress rehearsal which is interrupted periodically by the exasperated and increasingly-sarcastic director (Caine).  We’re introduced to the play-within-a-play and understand some of the transitions that have to be made and how things would fall apart if they didn’t happen smoothly.

The middle third of the movie takes place during a production on the road in Miami, and in this case we see all the action from backstage – as various jealousies and misunderstandings have the cast feuding. Since talking isn’t allowed backstage, much of this is mimed, as we hear the muffled onstage dialogue in the distance. This middle third is brilliantly staged and blocked physical comedy, with cast members weaving and bobbing around. There’s some wonderful business with a liquor bottle which the cast is trying to keep away from Elliott’s character, a British actor past his prime and with a weakness for alcohol.

Then, the last third of the movie takes place during a later production, in Cleveland. We move back in front of the stage. Cast relationships have gone even further downhill, with hilariously-catastrophic results onstage.

Of course, one of the reasons that my brother likes the play, and that he knew I would like it, is that we’ve both done community theater. Maybe it wouldn’t be quite as funny if you don’t have that background. But give it a chance anyway.

It’s sad to watch the movie now and think that neither Reeve nor Ritter is with us. Also, it was Elliott’s last film; he died in 1992, the year it was released, which is why he wasn’t in the last Indiana Jones film.

Theater of the mind (brought to you by Lady Esther cosmetics)

As I explained yesterday, I’m going to appear in a play which tells the story of “It’s A Wonderful Life” as it would be presented on old-time radio. Actually, movies and radio scratched each others’ backs during the golden age. If you’ve ever read the trivia pages for old movies on the Internet Movie Database, you’ll note that many of them were turned into radio plays, using the top two or three stars from the original movie, surrounded (I presume) by the type of versatile radio utility players we’ll be channeling on stage.

IMDb says that there were, in fact, two such adaptations of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” both broadcast in 1947, not long after the movie was in theaters.

I was looking up old radio shows online – there are plenty, at sites like The Internet Archive, RadioLovers.com and the Old Time Radio Network. I haven’t found “It’s a Wonderful Life” yet, but I’m right now listening to another Jimmy Stewart classic: “The Philadelphia Story”, in a 1947 Screen Guild Theater adaptation with Stewart, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in their original roles. The story is quite condensed – into a 30-minute radio show! — which works just fine for the audio format, although it requires some clunky exposition, both as dialogue and from the announcer at the beginning of each act. This seems to have been produced in front of a live audience. It’s one of three different radio adaptations mentioned by IMDb; the other two were 60 minutes in length, one with Ruth Hussey and Virginia Weidler in addition to Stewart, Grant and Hepburn, the other with only Stewart from the original cast.

In those days, of course, once a movie left the theater it was gone – the very biggest hits might possibly be rereleased, but everything else disappeared into the vaults once it ended its original run. There were no TV broadcasts, no DVDs, no way to re-view something you’d enjoyed seeing on the big screen, or catch up with something you’d missed. So these radio adaptations were, in their day, a nice bit of instant nostalgia, as well as a way for stars to promote themselves and their upcoming projects. The Screen Guild Theater adaptation of “The Philadelphia Story” ended with mentions of where you could see each of its three stars in current screen projects: Stewart’s current project at the time was … wait for it … “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

I have, on cassette tapes, the adaptation of the original 1977 “Star Wars” movie which was done for the BBC with Mark Hammill and Anthony Daniels reprising their film roles. The BBC approached George Lucas for permission and he agreed, but only if his alma mater USC was involved in the production. This was done as a serial, and actually includes scenes which were cut from the movie, emphasizing young Luke Skywalker’s admiration for, and later reunion with, Biggs, a neighbor on Tattooine who joins the rebel alliance. I haven’t listened to it since I originally bought it (I also heard it on public radio when it first aired in the 1970s, perhaps the first public radio I ever listened to). I need to break it out and give it a listen.

Dramatis personae

I’m going to be in a play over the holidays. I can tell you what; I just can’t tell you where.

OK, to bring the story up to this point: I’ve enjoyed occasional participation in community theater, and last spring, I played the lead in “Cash On Delivery,” at the Fly Arts Center in Shelbyville. It was the first time I’d ever had a solo lead part, and a huge one at that, but I had a great time, with terrific castmates and a great director.

This fall, some of those same folks formed a new theater group, the South Of Broadway Players, not so much to compete with the existing group at the Fly as to offer a more flexible and democratic alternative. A few people are already participating in both groups, depending on what they’re interested in trying out for and their personal schedules. I did not try out for the group’s first play, “Here’s Killing You, Kid!”, because the timing wasn’t right. But I was excited about the new group. I attended one of the organizational meetings.

“Here’s Killing You, Kid!” was presented as a dinner theater at the Duck River Restaurant in Shelbyville, with one final performance at a restaurant in Normandy. The Duck River Restaurant was, I am told, delighted with the production, and it did good business. The SOBs (and, yes, we’ve embraced that acronym) hoped that the Duck River Restaurant could host several such performances throughout the year, and then the group might also do a more traditionally-staged production at some point, perhaps using a school theater over the summer or what have you.

The next SOB production will be “WSOB Presents: It’s A Wonderful Life.” This is one of two similar adaptations of the beloved holiday movie in the form of an old-time radio show. Instead of using sets and costumes, a small group of players performs the play on a stage set up to look like a radio studio. Each cast member does numerous characters, and there’s a sound effects man over to the side producing sound effects, with occasional help from other cast members. Little or no memorization is required, because everyone is reading from scripts, just as radio actors did. Part of the fun is seeing the same actors doing different voices, sometimes even having conversations with themselves.

We had auditions last weekend at the Duck River Restaurant. I enjoyed reading the parts and looked forward to the play. Production dates had been set and announced, with performances to take place right before Christmas and during the dead week between Christmas and New Year’s.

Then, a day or two later, the restaurant announced it would go out of business after one last music event this coming weekend. So now, the SOBs have the rights to the play, and a cast, but nowhere to perform it. Our director and producer are scrambling to find a suitable and available space.

Anyway, I got formal notice today that I’d been picked for the cast. I don’t know yet which characters I’ll be doing.

I’ll let you know as soon as performance details have been nailed down.

Here’s Killing You, Kid!

Several of the people with whom I worked on “Cash On Delivery” earlier this year – Wes Campbell, Dianne Clanton, Times-Gazette pressman Martin Jones and Sharon Kay Edwards, whom I motorboated every night as part of the story – are part of a dinner theater production, “Here’s Killing You, Kid!”, which will open Friday at the Duck River Restaurant in Shelbyville. It’s the first production of a new theater group, the South of Broadway Players, about which I’m very excited. I didn’t try out for this play, but I definitely plan to be a part of some of their future productions.

Anyway, I covered the dress rehearsal tonight so that I can write a first-person column about it for the newspaper. It’s a fun show – broad and silly, in a good way, and ideal for the dinner theater setting. It’s a murder mystery, centered around the mysterious “Majorcan Monkey” (think Maltese Falcon). And Sharon, an incredible vocalist, gets to sing. (She also has a concert coming up this month.)

Wes is directing and playing a part, just as he did for “Cash On Delivery.” He’s great to work with.

I love live theater, and I’m delighted that the South of Broadway Players are bringing a second option for community theater to town. The SOBs (and, yes, the group is playfully celebrating that moniker) hope to be a democratic, member-driven organization, giving a platform to people who have a specific project they’d like to direct. They’ve got a good relationship with the Duck River Restaurant but would also like to do traditionally-staged plays as well.

Anyway, if you’re in the area and looking for a nice evening out over the next few weekends, call Duck River Restaurant and make a reservation. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Closing night

A little more than three hours before our closing night performance of “Cash on Delivery.” Last night was incredible, even before you factor in the circumstances. Our two last-minute cast members did an incredible job — and since I mentioned cheats in my blog post yesterday, let me stress that neither of them used or needed any sort of onstage cheat. Everyone else rose to the occasion brought their “A” game as well. Plus, even though our crowd was down a little due to weather, they were extremely responsive and picked up on some jokes the previous two audiences had missed. Our sound man, Stanley Green, said it was the best performance we’d given so far.

I’m at work this afternoon, and our Saturday routine is sometimes one of hurry-up-and-wait. I’ve tried to find ways to be productive, but now I’m itching to get out of here, eat a quick meal and head for the Fly.

We’re having a cast party after the show; I wish I’d had time to make something, but I’m bringing chips and dip — sadly, not my homemade caramelized onion dip.

The show must go on

I wasn’t sure whether to blog about this, but several of my castmates have already taken to Facebook, so I guess it’s public knowledge now. Besides, I know how many people read this blog, and it’s probably not enough to matter.
One of our cast members has had some last-minute health problems. At our “pick-up” rehearsal last night, in between our two performance weekends, we learned that (barring an unforseen miracle) the woman who plays my wife in the show won’t be there this weekend. So we have bumped one of our existing cast members up into that slot, and have recruited the college-age daughter of another cast member to replace her. Both ladies are working feverishly on their lines, and anyone who can is going to try to get to the theatre early to run some scenes.
When I mentioned this type of situation to a friend several weeks ago, the friend responded, “what — you don’t have understudies?” Understudies are nice, but that’s more of a professional theatre thing. In small-town, volunteer community theater you don’t often have that luxury. After all, we’re volunteers. Who would want to sit through weeks of practice on the off chance they might be needed? You’d really have to double-cast — have one set of actors perform the first weekend, a different set the second weekend — in order to justify someone committing to that level of participation. And often in community theatre, you’re doing well just to cast one set of actors, much less two. Plus, with two sets of actors, everyone would get half as much chance to rehearse.
So when the unexpected happens, and it sometimes does, you do the best you can with what you’ve got. You may even have to help an actor “cheat” — say, by hiding lines on some sort of prop that the actor carries. It’s not the ideal situation, but it can be dealt with in a way that still gives the audience their money’s worth.
In my last play at the Fly, “Come Blow Your Horn,” we had a similar situation, and one actress ended up having to play two roles. She did a spectacular job on short notice, and some people didn’t realize until the end of the play that the two parts were played by the same woman!
Meanwhile, the weather forecast is bad. Some Nashville mission trip friends who were going to come and see the show tonight have decided not to do so.
Please don’t let any of this scare you away. This is a funny show, with a great cast. Our replacement actresses are working very hard and will do a great job.

How sweet it is

Tonight went well; I think we all acquitted ourselves nicely. The audience was a little slower to respond than Friday night’s, but they warmed up by the time the first act was over. I had several nice moments in the reception line after the play:

  • I had family in the audience tonight: my father and my sister. I discovered that my sister had brought along two of her friends – and you have to understand that the friends, like my sister, live two hours away in Perry County. My sister’s friends insisted on a photo and even asked me to autograph their programs!
  • An older woman using a cane (for real, not like me in the play pretending to have gout) and using a portable oxygen rig told me she enjoyed it – and that it was the first live play she’d ever seen. How cool is that?
  • A former co-worker of mine, Kay Rose, who is now a member of Shelbyville City Council, was there with her husband Harold. She told me that another council member, Jo Ann Holland, made a point of calling her this morning to tell her how funny last night’s performance was. Kay and Harold had to be in Nashville for something today but made a point of getting back in time to see the play.
  • One gentleman told me that the relationship between my character and David Butner’s reminded him of Jackie Gleason and Art Carney (no relation) in “The Honeymooners.” How sweet it is, as The Great One used to say.