“The Story of My Life”

Let me tell you a story…

Well, it’s not really a story – it’s just my impressions of a play at Centerstage North in Marietta. Now this will not be a review – at least not in the traditional sense. So let’s get the review-like portion out of the way. The play, “The Story of My Life” is a two-man musical that riffs on the life of a friendship between a writer and his inspiration. It’s cleverly written, and John Stanier and Kelly Carr convey the deep emotions beautifully. Julie Kraar Taliaferro directs with the delicacy necessary when handling great writing handled by gifted performers. And the accompanist, Barbara Capogna Macko, handled the demanding score flawlessly.

But what I really wanted to stress in this little tale is how this show reaffirmed for me what is so special about theater. It moved me in ways that had nothing to do with how I personalized the story. You know, the standard spiel is that you want the audience to be able to connect what they see with someone they know or with themselves. That didn’t happen with me – I know no Toms or Alvins. Yet I was moved nearly to tears several times. How could that be, when I made no personal connection with the characters?

I think it had to do with the theme of the play. Or at least one of the themes that I was able to discern. “The Story of My Life” tells us that these stories are never solely our own. That any story you can tell of your life is also the story of someone else, and that all our stories are connected, whether we want them to be or not. And that’s the connection that I made with the performance this evening.

So although I never said to myself “I know someone like that” or “I’ve been in that situation”, it still showed a universal truth about how we all live our lives sometimes as though our lives are discrete things. As though others are just actors on our stage who make their entrances and exits in service to our story. And it’s just not true – our stories all weave together.

This is what good theater does. It tells a good story, in a way that can have meaning for those who care to look for it. The intimacy of live theater allows those meanings to come across in a way that is different than reading the words in a book or seeing them acted out on a screen. Tonight’s production, as well as several others I’ve attended over the years, has made me proud to say that theater is part of “The Story of My Life”.

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What am I doing on “Black Thursday”?

Theater has always been a hobby for me. I’ve shied away from ever trying to make it more than that. I’ve never gone through Unified auditions here inAtlanta; I’ve never done an internship at the local professional theaters; being paid has always been an afterthought. “Oh, you want to give me some money? Well, OK.” Community theater offers me the chance to perform a role I’ll enjoy, which is compensation for the long hours I’ll spend in rehearsal. In order to be a professional, you’ve got to be willing to be “Man #3” a lot, and that’s not what I want to spend my time doing.

Black Thursday cast in rehearsal

So there are trade-offs. I get to do a lot of door-slamming in farces (which I happen to love), with occasional edgier roles. One thing that community theater generally does not offer is the opportunity to perform in new plays. But right now I find myself originating a role – being the first person to ever perform it – and it’s in a musical.

“Black Thursday” is a new musical drama/mystery written by sister-and-brother team Jennifer and Scott Simmons. He writes the music; she writes the book and lyrics. Doing this while holding down day jobs is crazy hard; I have great respect for the work that they’ve created. Which begs the question – “What am I doing here?” As a community theater actor, I never expected to be the first guy to sing these songs, to say these lines. It gives me delusions of grandeur – if there’s a soundtrack album, will I get to sing, or will they bring in Marni Nixon to cut the tracks?

But along with the delusions, I get the usual insecurities, turned up to 11. Because I’m not having to worry only about the director, and whether I’m up to her expectations. I’ve got the authors right there on stage with me. I see, in my imagination, the conversations they would be having:

“Wow, I never expected him to do it like THAT.”

“Well, what are we going to do? We open next week.”

(By the way, I know Jen and Scott are great people and would just tell me if things were bad, but the imagination can play funny tricks on us.)

All in all, it’s a terrific opportunity and I’m grateful to the playwrights and the director for this opportunity. The only question is, when the script is published, will I get a free copy so that I can see the line “Black Thursday was originally produced in Atlanta, Georgia with the following cast…”

Black Thursday opens April 20, 2012 at the Children’s Garden Theater on Canton Road in Marietta. It runs Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons through April 29th.

Song of the Day – “New Music” Wednesday – “Perfect Man”

Ariana Savalas

It’s a first here on Song of the Day – a song from a friend of mine.

Ariana Savalas, back in 2009, was in a production of “Funny Money” at the Rosewater Theatre that I crept into in a bit part. I had the bit part – not Ariana, who went off to various cities to begin a career as a singer.

A mere two years later she’s got a new video with Eric Dana of Grey’s Anatomy. I’d like to say that I had a part in her success – but that would be a lie. What I can do is celebrate her success and hard work by featuring her here on my little blog.

There Goes the Director

I was just realizing that I have a category for theater, and yet I haven’t posted on the show I am currently directing. It’s “There Goes the Bride”, a British farce, for Centerstage North. It opens this Friday at The Art Place on Sandy Plains Road in Marietta. It’s a funny script and a great cast, and I urge you to see it if at all possible.

One of the reasons I haven’t posted is that directing a show keeps you extremely busy. Here during tech week I am concerned with overseeing the sound, lights, set, costumes, props – making sure they’re all in place. I also have had to partially re-block the show, since the rehearsal space was only like the actual stage in that both were inside.

I suppose the stress is showing. During the rehearsal process, I’ve been asked by my sterling cast and my very helpful stage manager, “So, do you enjoy directing?” Well, there’s a question.

Obviously I do. It isn’t easy. of course, and it never turns out exactly as I’d planned, and my work is done before the show actually starts, and the audience doesn’t really notice the work you put into it (unless you’ve really done a bad job), and… what was I saying? Oh, yeah, I was talking about the enjoyment I get directing.

It’s a cliche, but the enjoyment I get is the same as that felt by a parent when they’ve done their best to bring up a child correctly. Some of the fun is seeing what the child/actor brings to the relationship. Each actor brings their own interpretation to their roles, inflections and gestures that make the director say, “Hey! I hadn’t thought of that! Let’s work that in this way.”

Directing is also like parenting (especially in community theater) in that the director has to manage all the different personalities and try to make sure that everyone’s enjoying themselves, having a good time – but not at the expense of others in the “family”. Everybody’s volunteering their time and their love for theater – and that’s something that a director is fully capable of smashing to bits, by making the process unpleasant.

And, of course, as with parenting, there comes the time when the director has to let the show go on. When I wrap up dress rehearsal tomorrow night, there will be nothing more I can give this cast – nothing except my heartfelt thanks and wishes for some great performances. I now get to sit back and watch my “children” enter the world and get the applause they deserve.

To my cast – get out there, have fun and make me proud!

Headshots

So I decided I needed some headshots. I’ve managed to get by for a while without headshots – used pictures I’ve taken of myself, shots from productions I’ve been in. Those have their limitations.

Shots I’ve taken myself just haven’t had that professional look. I know it’s possible; it’s just not that easy when you’re wondering if the remote is working, if the lights are set up correctly. There’s always a distracted look in your eyes, as you’re trying to be both photographer and subject.

Shots taken of yourself on stage run the risk of not being generic enough. Just to use some of my roles as an example, who would want to see pictures of me as a Dutch gangster if they’re casting the Narrator for “Into the Woods”, or pictures of Salieri in “Amadeus” when they’re casting for Gibby in “Til Beth Do Us Part”?

So I contacted my friend Capas Jones at Cloud 8 Photography, and set up a time for a sitting. It’s an interesting process, sitting for headshots. You might have an idea of what you want, and the photographer may have a different idea. But the finished product is a collaboration, even if it’s a silent collaboration. I never told Capas that the important thing for me from headshots is to portray myself as intelligent and fun to work with – I don’t want to come across, either as an actor or director, as someone who’s carrying a whole lot of baggage.  So, even though that wasn’t expressed verbally, I still think Capas caught that in a number of shots, especially the one I chose:

The Chosen Headshot

Then, Capas saw something and decided to change the lighting setup. He saw something that made him want to try a more dramatic look. And of course, that ended up giving me shots I liked as well, even though they weren’t what I wanted for my final headshot:

Don't Mess with Me

Just as a last note on headshots: as a director, I like having headshots when I’m casting.  However, I have yet to have a situation where the headshot influenced my decision in any way.  The audition is the thing.  I’m always looking for the person who can bring their A game for those few minutes that they are on the stage.  Perhaps someday I’ll post about what I look for at an audition (and how sometimes as an actor I don’t achieve it…).