Welcome to the Milford Theatre Guilde’s Blog! Lead by Terri (or T for short).
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A PLANK AND A PASSION
Someone once told me all you need to do theatre is “a plank and a passion!” When it boils down to to the basics, well, I guess that really is true. Even the technical side is appeased because someone has to provide the plank! In just a few hours, the troupe from Milford Theatre Guilde’s production of BEAU JEST will be taking the stage for day one of our annual regional festival for OCTA and ACT of Greater Cincinnati. In just a few hours, it begins. 13 groups from this Southwest Corner of Ohio bring their passions to the planks of Parrish Auditorium. Moving these shows out of their home theatres onto the common playing boards of this festival takes a great deal of passion, pride and ingenuity. 13 Groups have the courage to bring excerpts onto a bare stage (with minimal technical support) and share their work with all of us. This festival weekend brings out the best in our community theatre family – both from the stage to the audience; we share in supporting the fierce passion for theatre as demonstrated by the efforts of these groups. Kudos and Bravo to all who are hitting the planks this weekend. And a very special Break-A-Leg to BEAU JEST Cast & Crew!!!
YOU CAN QUOTE ME
May the 4th be with you! Or rather, “May the force be with you”! Sound familiar? Name that movie! Movies have produced some memorable phrases. They pop in and out of conversations like old friends.
I’ll have what she’s having.
Say hello to my little friend.
Inconceivable. I do not think that word means what you think it means.
You had me at hello.
If you build it, he will come.
This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.
Would you be surprised to learn that there are easily as many familiar phrases that predate THE JAZZ SINGER – that also have their origins on a stage? You probably quote Shakespeare or his contemporaries without realizing it. Pay attention when working with classical theatre pieces. You might be surprised by how familiar something seems, even to the point of thinking that someone has altered the original. But you would be wrong. Shakespeare’s HAMLET, for example, is a treasure trove of quotable wisdom.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
Brevity is the soul of wit.
Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
Speak the speech . . .
There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your imagination.
Good night sweet prince
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “I’m king of the world!”
Success is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”. It is defined as “the attainment of popularity or profit”.
Successful shows are measured by the dollars they make. Logical. Necessary. However, theatre is not always that easily defined. It would be terrific if every show had a full house and every theatre group had full coffers but that is not the case. So what then is the point, you ask?
Successful shows are also evaluated from a different perspective. From educating and/or entertaining an audience to training a new group of actors and technicians, there is a primary goal separate from box office receipts. Every show sets out to accomplish “something”. Quite often they achieve a result above and beyond expectations. A show may have low attendance for a myriad of reasons, but if a company comes away with new talents, new skills, new respects, new confidences, stronger friendships – that is a success above and beyond a dollar sign.
How do you measure success?
Fools. Ben Kenobi in STAR WARS asks: Who is the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him? There is fool’s gold, fool’s paradise and a fool’s errand. A fool and his money are soon parted. There is no fool like an old fool. History is full of great fools and foolish references. The day to celebrate fools and prankster is here – April Fool’s Day! There are many theories (nothing definitive) about how this special day originated. My favorite so far has its beginnings in the 1500’s when French pranksters would slyly stick paper fish to the backs of unsuspecting targets. The victims of these pranks were called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish — which, to this day, remains the French term for April Fools! Shakespeare included Fools and Jesters in his works. KING LEAR’s Fool stands out as one of the strongest and keenly regarded characters in theatre. This fool is the wise and ever faithful counterbalance to the King’s descent into madness and despair. The point and counterpoint to their relationship has challenged actors to give dimension and substance to a traditional character archetype that, up until Shakespeare, was often centered in buffoonery alone. It would not be foolish to take a closer look at this particular fool. But in the meantime, stay on your guard, don’t take anything for granted and check your back often for any paper fish!
Everyone is bound to get a “bad review” at some time or another. It’s almost guaranteed. Not everyone is going to look at something in the same way, not everyone is going to like what you do or be moved in the same way by a performance. The scope of critical commentary has changed – critics are everywhere! No longer confined to the pages of the local newspaper or broadcast. You don’t have to perform on Broadway to feel its reach. Everyone has become a self-appointed critic – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the myriad other platforms provided by social media.
So what do you do when you get a bad review? How do you handle it?
It might be tempting to alter your performance on your own based on a review. Don’t. You already HAVE one director, you don’t need another one (or another dozen or another thousand) – this goes the same for techies. If your director is happy and your audiences are there, you have done well.
Always remember, a review is the opinion of one person looking at one moment in time. Take the good and especially the bad with a grain of salt. Good can be fleeting. Negative often lingers. Don’t let it. Keep it in perspective. If the criticism is constructive, it has the potential to help you grow forward and evolve in your craft. If it’s simply snarky for the sake of being hurtful, don’t buy into it and move along. There is a difference, trust yourself to recognize it.
Above and beyond all else, don’t let a negative review or comment define you. In the words of Shakespeare: … to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. (Hamlet)
THE PLAY’S THE THING
In a toy store recently, I wistfully started to say to my companion: “Look at all these cool things, I wish they’d had ….” and I caught myself. “Wait a minute, we’re adults! We can get anything we want here, we don’t have to be kids to play with it! We can just do it!”
It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut, even in the arts. I know that sounds like an oxymoron – theatre is, well, theatre. Nothing remains the same for long. However, in reality it can indeed be quite a treadmill. Running from one show to the next, from job to rehearsal, from one project to another project, it is easy for people to take nary a pause in between. Most community theatres are on tight time constraints and they strive to fit as much into any one time-frame as possible. Coat off, places please, good-night, see you tomorrow.
Within the rehearsal process, I think theatre games or exercises are valuable tools. Depending on your philosophy, they can be great team/ensemble building initiatives. They can be used to relieve stress or break through “blocks” when approaching a piece.
Before one show is over, many are looking to their next. It’s easy to forget the importance of play, of relaxing in the pauses. Connect with people, charge the creative juices, and discover something new. Hey – why not head out to the toy store and pick up this new coloring book that allows you to dance with a dragon, and take a picture of it. Who is going to tell you no?
THANK YOU, TEN!
Spring Ahead! Did you remember to change your clocks? Time flies, time drags – time “feels” different to many people. Whether it’s a five minute commute that feels like an hour or a one hour project that feels like five minutes – these variations on how people “feel” about time can make it difficult to get groups of people moving in the same time frame.
To that end, Stage Managers and their staff tackle this challenge for productions with gusto and enthusiasm – giving “calls” over headsets and throughout the backstage and dressing room areas: Hour, ½ hour, 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 2 minutes, Places! (or some other similar break out). Collectively, these calls line everyone up into the same time frame. They bind every staff member, technician, and performer together towards the opening of the curtain. By the time you get to that final “Places” call – everyone is moving in the same direction / everyone is in the same “time-zone”.
This is important. It is equally as important to acknowledge this process. Never leave a Stage Manager hanging. Respond with a “Thank You” when these calls happen. Let the Stage Management team know you have arrived and are there in that moment alongside your colleagues. “Thank you, Ten!”
WHAT COLOR IS IT?
This past week the big debate has been: is the dress blue/black or white/gold? It was hard to miss the big “what color is the dress” debate. For the record, the dress is definitely blue/black (per the manufacturer). But isn’t this a cool optical illusion as well as a great example of light and color perception? We see it onstage all the time. A costume or a painted wall looks one color under work lights but then you throw stage lights on and it’s changed! Designing for any production is not a stand-alone art. It’s a definite team sport. It is crucial for a production team to talk to each other – a lot. A costumer may design the most magnificent piece. A lighting designer may develop the most beautiful light sequence. A set designer may have picked out the most wonderful set colors and accessories ever to grace a stage. And for six weeks no one speaks with each other about their choices. When these elements are all combined during that final tech week, potentially you could find yourself with a kaleidoscope of “yuck”. Why? Because one hand didn’t know what the other was doing. Let’s color the example – perhaps the director mentioned to each he liked the color green. The costumer worked in a pallet of green, while the set folks were assembling variations of green and the lighting designer was feeling innovative using green and amber. At the least, if the actor didn’t blend into the set completely, the lighting certainly would have completed the effect. It’s not easy being green or blue or black or gold or white…
RAINY RED CARPET
I like the Oscars. I like the Tonys. I admit it – call me an awards show junkie, esp in the three months leading up to Oscar Sunday. The amazing amount of work and talent that went into the 2014 movie season (and the overabundance of glam on this year’s red carpet) is an obvious take away. Recognition and acknowledging work well done is always a good thing. Always take that opportunity when provided!! And in that recognition, we should remain mindful of the small details that often get taken for granted and are often undervalued – even at the Oscars.
For example, if you were watching the red carpet arrivals you know that midway through the arrival period it began raining quite a lot. Did you notice the valets garbed in plastic and the cadre of black umbrellas escorting guests from their cars to the tented carpeted area? Another moment occurred when the host’s bit in his “tidy whities” didn’t seem to impress the audience. Throughout the telecast there seemed to be technical issues (aka sound issues) and even a dress got stepped on here and there.
Kudos to the hands holding the umbrellas – a perfect example of that old saying “the show must go on”, much like mailmen – even the weather can’t stop a red carpet. As to the bit which seemed to fail – audiences will not always “get” what you’re trying to do or present but when onstage, never quit or give up on the audience. As for technical issues, well, these things happen and will always happen. Pick up your feet or your dress, adjust your levels – that’s the beauty of “live” right? True professionalism is shown through the grace with which you handle it no matter what stage you’re on.
St Valentine’s Day celebrates the patron saint of love & happy marriages. And while the current holiday is filled with hearts and flowers, the origins are not quite as blissful. Quite the opposite, Valentine died horribly in 269. According to one legend, on the eve of his execution, Valentine sent a simple good-bye note to a young lady signed “From Your Valentine” which is counted as the first valentine.
Lesser known are the saints associated with the performing arts. These “Don Quixotes” of their time were no less passionate or beleaguered than their better known counterparts. St Genesius is the Patron Saint to Actors and traditionally counted as the Patron Saint for Theatre. In addition to this, he is also patron to lawyers and secretaries (among other things). Legend has it that in 303, Genesius a comic actor was performing a play which was a satire of the Christian faith. In the middle his performance before the Emperor, he stopped and refused to go forward, instead he encouraged the audience to convert. This so enraged the emperor, that he ordered the actor killed. Genesius was tortured, beheaded and burned onstage. Little is known about Genesius the notary, except that he was martyred during the persecution of Diocletian. His status as a notary of that age would explain the connection to lawyers etc…
Other patron saints you may not know are watching over you onstage include:
St Vitus – Patron Saint of Dancers
St Cecilia – Patron Saint of Singers & Musicians
St Julian – Patron Saint of Clowns, Jugglers & Traveling Entertainers
St John Bosco – Parton Saint of Magicians & Acrobats
St Veronica – Patron Saint of Cinema
St Clare of Assisi – Patron Saint of TV
CREATIVITY VS TIME
This winter I caught that dreaded bug that made the rounds. I was sick and it took some time to shake it. During this time I discovered a reality contest show on the SyFy channel called FACE OFF and got sucked into a day of back to back episodes. On the surface, I guess you would describe this show as being about make-up. But really, take that to a whole other level – It’s about special effect artists “making up” complete characters, some pretty impressive characters I might add. Each week they have 3 days from concept to finished character and then they are judged. I was intrigued and I had more than one “duh” moment where I realized that you could use couch foam for more than upholstery or stonework and “hey” what a cool effect using that color.
Like these artists rushing to complete their projects, we all experience that crunch of time when doing a production. It is a challenge to balance creativity with necessity when the clock is ticking. Production schedules can be tight, even more so with a community theatre show where production timetables must dovetail with employer and family schedules. With these time constraints, shows race to their opening nights. Along the way, especially in that final week, choices are often made that sacrifice creativity for necessity.
We should always keep a creative eye and remain resourceful whether we have 3 days, 3 weeks or 3 months to mount a production.
SUPERSTITIONS & THEATRE LORE
Groundhog Day – Will he or won’t he predict the weather for the coming weeks? Who knows for sure… but it’s fun to believe he can, hopeful he signals the end of cold, gray days. It reminds me of other wives’ tales, beliefs, good-luck habits that survive the years. Actors and athletes have certain things they do to bring them luck. Theatre superstitions – You know what I’m talking about. There are LOTS of them. They’re not just for Halloween, they are commonplace and daily if you’re involved in theatre. Some have origins based on practical needs and some are deeply rooted in beliefs. For example – whistling in a theatre is considered bad luck. When sailors used to run the rigging in old theatres, they communicated through whistles and an errant whistle could have unwelcome consequences. Yet it remains unlucky to date, probably due to tradition. On the other hand, there are others such as the ghost light (its ties to the legend of Thespis and mischievous spirits) and “the Scottish Play” where everyone has an opinion on them, yet no one can pinpoint to one definitive answer as to how they may have originated or, more importantly, why disregarding them can seem to have the consequences they seem to have. Something to think about. Me – I believe picking up a penny is lucky, that wooly worms with wide black stripes can predict how bad a winter will be and the groundhog foretells the coming of Spring…. Don’t forget to leave the ghost light on when you leave!