Archive for August, 2012


 

Lists are popular on-line, so I thought it might be a good time to present one of my own. It is a top ten list but, in truth, there are an infinite number of issues you must keep in mind as you find and settle on a play. However, since I do not have an infinite amount of time (and you do not have an infinite amount of interest), I have settled on these few. Perhaps these are in order of importance.

1. Your Interest

This is one aspect of play selection that I have never, ever seen addressed but, for me, is the most important. Selecting a play is like selecting a mate. You are going to be intensely involved with this play for months. And I do mean intensely. Not a day will go by when you do not deal with this play in one way or another. You will make phone calls about it. You will take the script on vacation with you. You will work with it on weekends. You will sacrifice family time for it. It will become all-encompassing to your life so you better pick a play that is compatible with your head and heart. If you do a classic, you need to pick one that grabs you. If you do an elementary school play, you need to pick one you want to look at every single day.  If you do a musical, enjoy the songs. You can get frustrated with it, you can lose your temper with it, you can hit a brick wall with it, but you must not get bored with it.

Do not take other people’s word for what is a great play and what is not. Many times, I’ve lost interest reading Tony Award winning plays. Many times, something quirky in a catalog turns out to be the perfect play. You have to read and go with your gut. If you don’t love what you’ve read, read something else. This is one of the most important aspects of finding a play. Find something that you love, and don’t worry if no one else loves it.

2. Your Audience

You might think that your actors would be the second most important thing, but, IMHO, your audience is next. Your playwright has a story to tell and he or she wants to tell it to the audience, not to you. If your audience can’t get what you give, you’ve wasted your time and effort. If you have an audience of “seasoned” season ticket holders, you know what to expect from them and they know what to expect from you. You are on a similar wavelength and you promise to provide new, interesting, challenging performances and they promise to keep up with the challenge.

But, say you are starting out new in an area which has not had theater before or has not had successful theater before (it happens). For example, say the new principal wants to revive the school drama club and you’ve been tapped. Yikes!! Where to begin?

I suggest you start out with something popular. Comedy, for sure – people like to laugh. Begin with a sure hit – Neil Simon perhaps? For younger audiences, fairy tales and nursery rhymes go well. If you begin with a story the audience is somewhat familiar with, they will be willing to see it and meet you half way. If you start with something that scares them off, you’re just making it harder for yourself. Save Shakespeare for your second offering. I love Shakespeare, but I don’t advocate it as a first offering for a new audience.

On the other hand, don’t play the audience dumb. You have to give them something that makes it worth their while to have spent the time and money to see. They want to experience something new, eye-opening, brain awakening. Demonstrate to them why live theater is better than television.

3. The Theater

Your venue is an important factor in selecting a play. If your auditorium is being renovated and you find yourself in the school lobby,  you may have to rethink doing a play that depends upon lots of quick lighting changes. If you will perform outside, you may have to rethink that small, intimate one-person play. Do you have lights? Do you have a lighting board? Do you have wings (wings are the spaces on either side of the stage where people and objects can be stored while waiting to be brought on stage during the run of a play)? Do you have a curtain? Where will the audience sit? On the floor? In folding chairs? Below you? Around you? Above you?   If you have a large cast, where will you put them when they are not on stage? And if you’ve never heard of a cafetorium . . .  well, just count your blessings.

4. The Actors

Finally, the actors. But, before we get to them, just remember for a moment your purpose in doing the play. Do you want to peak the audience’s interest in theater? Good acting will be important. Do you want to get people involved? A play that needs a large cast will be good. No matter what you want, the fact is that you have absolutely no control over who auditions for a play. The perfect person for the part may be out of town for performances so won’t try out. You get no dancers for a dance-heavy show. No singers for a musical. It happens and you have no control so realize that right off the bat.

I am not in favor of asking people to audition or pre-casting. It puts a bad taste in the mouths of those who did not get asked or pre-cast, even though they will be as gracious and kind about it as can be.  It also says something about you that is not the most flattering. That’s not to say that you can’t find out if someone is planning to audition and start creating your cast in your mind ahead of time.

A little about casting. Suppose during auditions one person is amazing! Head-and-shoulders far better than anyone else who has auditioned! Clearly the star! Be careful. You want to create an ensemble and if one person is TOO good, although it sounds counter-intuitive, it will put the show out of balance. Of course, the hope is that the better, more experienced actors in a cast will help the new or less experienced cast members rise to the top. Your job will be to make that happen.

5. Technical Demands

I’ve touched on this earlier when addressing the venue. Just be aware that if you chose a show that depends upon special effects – a rainstorm, fireworks, a fight scene, a toilet dripping from an upstairs apartment, someone disappearing on stage – you have to do a good job in pulling these off. Don’t exclude a show just because it calls for these effects, just keep those demands in mind. Some you will be able to do, some not. Stick to your abilities yet don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and your crew. Your audience will be delighted when you rise to the occasion.

 

Keep in mind that every single rule here has an exception. Sometimes you do Shakespeare at the outset. Sometimes you do the Music Man in the lobby. Sometimes the star is the best person who auditioned.  Sometimes you fall in love with a play and make it work in spite of all obstacles. These are just considerations, not set-in-stone rules.

 

To be continued.

 

 

 

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As a new producer/director or theater, or as just a friend of theater, one of the first questions you may have is “How do you find a play to do?”

It’s not as difficult as it sounds – in fact, there are more plays out there, waiting to be performed, than any person could possibly do in a lifetime. There are millions of people who have written plays – some great, some terrible – who would love to have you read, admire, and produce their creation.

The easiest way to find a play is to get a catalog of plays. There are many companies who do just that. These publishing companies acquire the rights to publish and handle the work of playwrights. They put these plays together in catalogues and hope that someone like you will be intrigued enough by the write-up in the catalog to want to purchase and read the play.

These companies are in business to get plays read and produced. That is how they make their money. Therefore, they are very helpful and accommodating to your needs. They have on-line resources that are designed to make it easy for you to find many, many plays that suit your needs and interests.

You can find classics, musicals, dramas, comedies, mysteries, plays for youth, plays for older actors. You can find Christmas plays, Halloween plays, Valentine’s Day plays, You can find plays for elementary school, junior high school, high school, college and community theater. You can find plays for one person, two people, thirty or more, and everything in between. You can find plays by authors that everyone has heard of. You can find plays by authors whom no one has heard of. You can find “full-length” plays, one-act plays, and ten-minute plays. You can find plays for women, men, gay, Asian, African-American, Jewish, Latino actors, and any combination thereof.

If there is a play that you have heard of or seen (stage play- movies and television are a whole different ballgame) and you want to read it, you can do it. Some may be easier to find than others, but it can be done. The cost of buying a “perusal” copy is usually low enough that most theater professionals have hundreds, if not thousands of copies of plays that they have purchased. Perusal copies allow a person to decide if they like the play enough that they want to produce it. The situation is a little different for musicals but the general idea is the same. Of course, many plays, particularly those considered “classics” are available in libraries and on-line. Many are also available in collections.

The editions of plays that script publishing companies sell are usually acting editions. Acting editions are not the large, pretty, glossy scripts that you find in a bookstore. They are usually small enough to fit, folded, in a jeans back pocket, where they will often be found during rehearsal. They are printed on relatively coarse paper and are meant to be written in (pencil only, please) and can take many erasures (I told you to use pencil) because the actor, hopefully, writes their notes in this script. The more well-known the playwright (Christopher Durang, for example) or the more successful the play (Tony Award winning, for example) the glossier the edition.

Some plays are only available in manuscript form – that is, printed out on sheets of regular paper. If you download scripts off the internet, of course that will be the form you will print out.

It is never, ever, a good idea to make a copy of a play. The simple reason is that writers depend on you buying their creations in order to make a living. If you just copy their stuff, they never see a penny and go broke. Enough said, don’t make copies.

So, if you are looking for a play, have no fear. You will not have any problem finding one. Your problem will be in choosing among the hundreds that will interest and intrigue you.

The Sonnets are a Go!!

The reading of the sonnets was a hit.

I was worried that my choice/support of this one-act of Shakespeare’s Sonnets was a mistake. I’ve always admired those producers and directors who can read a play and find something deep and satisfying in what I read as weird and not likeable. When I sit down to read a play I need a plot, a story that goes from point A to point B in a pretty clear, although imaginative and unpredictable, line. I get restless with a plotless play which only focuses on character, issues or theme without a good story.

In other words, I don’t think I have good judgement when deciding what play to direct.

So I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to hear the reaction of the readers who came out and volunteered to bring the voices in my head to life. I was especially pleased to hear how easily the sonnets flowed from the tongues of these normal people, many never having seen these poems before. There were some experienced actors and some who had never read a play before, some whose resume reads like an index of classic community theater offerings, and some who had never even been in the high school drama club.  Yet the sonnets came through to make each reader comfortable and able to give a reading which  seemed logical and refreshing.

I had explained at the beginning of the evening that we were reading these scenes to decide whether they needed to be ‘adultified” and, if so, how. For the most part, the scenes read very well just the way they were. Switching age groups and genders and changing a reference to “the prom” here and there seems to be all that will be needed. The readers gave insightful, honest feedback on what they thought of each scene as audience and as actor.

Nevertheless, there is a challenge. I don’t know who will audition. And it has nothing to do with acting ability – I’ve directed volunteers with different levels of ability. It has to do with age. If I get all high schoolers, it will be difficult to cast the scenes which call for middle-aged or older characters. And if I get all middle-agers, there go the scenes about the Prom!

I have to pare the evening to under an hour and will have to pick and choose which scenes to perform because I don’t think I will have time to do all 16 scenes (sonnets) in the play. But if the evening comes too much under an hour, I may have to do some scenes which I was not particularly fond of and didn’t do at the reading, in order to fill up the time. I also have to take into account costume changes, which will have to happen quickly because the scenes are short, some only two or three pages long.

One of the readers suggested that there be some kind of introduction to the play in order to get the audience on the right wavelength for what is to come. Although the play isn’t written with one, there may be a need. And, if I can do it organically enough, so that it becomes a natural bridge between the real world the audience is in and the world we are developing on stage, it might be creatively interesting and useful. Of course, a theater audience is, by their very nature, already halfway in the play’s reality or else they wouldn’t be there!

I still like my costume idea, but I don’t know if it is doable. The set design will, of course, be simple. And the idea of closing with a dance is so Shakespearean that I really want to do it. It may be a surprise for the audience and a fun way to top off the show.

Most of all, I am worried about casting. I expect to cast everyone who auditions  – there are enough parts. But who will get what part, who will read the Bard, when will costume changes occur, and especially, which scenes will actually be done – those are decisions which will have to happen quickly after auditions.

Add to this the fact that auditions will occur just before the December holidays since the show goes up in January and the scheduling alone give me the shakes – how to do so much with so many in so short a time!!

After casting, of course, I will begin my grand task of directing the scenes AND directing the readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Hopefully the production team will be on board before then.

I guess it is time to “Brush Up on Shakespeare.”