Monday, September 05, 2005

Do you remember me

Dearest readers, I am the blogger who last blogged some several hundred years ago, when we were still performing Nicholas Nickleby part 1, I believe. Just a quick check-in. Part 2 is hella fun for me, because I get to play a wizened old miser who wants to marry Nicholas' love interest. I love to be bad. Last night, Sunday, after our 4 P.M. show of NN2, we did a run-thru of NN1, so we wouldn't be totally clueless when it came time to perform it this coming Saturday, the first of our marathon days. Even though we were all exhausted, it was fascinating to revisit part 1 based on the knowledge we had of what had happened to all the characters in part 2. For instance, Mrs. Grudden, the stage manager of the Crummles theater company, has a very backstage role (so to speak) in part 1 - she has little to say, and keeps a low profile. In part 2, she breaks out with a song that gets the whole company up on their feet dancing and singing. Its really fun to be able to follow the arc of a character over such a long time.
My brain is failing due to lack of sufficient funds. I need to restock this neurological ATM so I can write again. Joan

do you remember me?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Life. Part 2

Dearest readers, I have been thinking of you often, but in the late-night and early-morning torpor which infuses my sentience (those being the only hours that I am not in rehearsal or performing), I have been unable to drag my leaden digits to the computer. It is Monday, a day of rest, before the onslaught of tech for Part 2. What an incredible experience this has been!
Last night, after our (for now) closing show of part 1, we had a champagne toast, and Sean Daniels said to the actors that we spend so much of our time living other people's lives (our characters), that tonight he hoped we could be truly in the moment of our own lives, and realize what we had accomplished, and he called us kings and queens. It was very moving. Especially since my clown name is Queenie, and that clown name came from my nick-name when I was but a wee child of two or three, which was also queenie, and might have something to do with my sense of entitledness. As I am fond of saying, "I love working as part of an ensemble, especially when I'm the best one."
In any case, here we are, about to embark on Part 2, having had half the rehearsal time that we had to put up Part 1. We do have the advantage of knowing the characters (for the most part) and each other. I actually have the good fortune to be playing a character that has not been introduced before, the wizened old miser Mr. Gride, whose attempt to marry the love of Nicholas' life is one of the plot engines of Part 2. I am having a ball! I love playing nasty old men. Most of the time we have to worry about bad breath and body odor when we go on stage, because we don't want to offend our fellow actors. I am trying to figure out how to enhance my halitosis, so Delia MacDougal won't have to work so hard at trying to avoid my embraces.
And it's really fun switching between Gride, who is so evil, and Miss LaCreevy, who is so good. I have to switch really fast, I have four back-to- back scenes, where I'm going between the two of them - I'm navigating the territory between heaven and hell at a rapid pace. For me, it's much better than purgatory, which seems boring.
I am awestruck at the bonds which have been created among our company. It is very unusual to be able to work with the same group of people over a period of almost four months. It happens if you are a company member of some year-round theater company, for instance at Ashland. I remember it well from working in the S.F. Mime Troupe for five straight years in the early 1970's.
But for most of us, we work with a group of people for 8 weeks and then don't see each other again for months, or years, and its never exactly the same group. We have become so close, it is such a dedicated group of actors and crew members. I realized that what we have in common is that we all like to work really hard. There's not a slacker in the bunch, because that person wouldn't survive the grueling schedule, the heat of the matinees, the 100 times per performance that we climb the stairs to get to the stage - even though we are all exhausted, we are thriving. The audiences love the show, they see us working together to tell the story, and it moves them.
I'm getting sick of sounding so positive and exhilarated. I'll sign off, and hopefully by the next time you hear from me, I'll come up with something really good to complain about. Much love, Joan

Thursday, July 21, 2005

back in the thick of it

Yes, dear readers, we're back rehearsaling (that's a word I just made up) Part I, at the same time that we are performancing Part 2. It's quite the crowded life, especially for those of us who don't live in the east bay, and have no chance of going home between rehearsal and show. It takes me forever to leave my house in the morning, because I have to make sure that I have packed sufficient food, clothes, reading material, scripts, ski poles and grappling hooks to last until late into the night. We will soon become used to the regimen; for the last couple days there have been quite a few people taking quick naps at any and all available stations in the rehearsal hall, but any moment now our energy and enthusiasm for this immense and thrilling project will switch back into gear, and we will be our usual gregarious hard-working slaves to art.
There was a full moon tonight at the Bruns, the coyotes were howling, the wind sprang up without notice, and then subsided, but the air has cooled, the blankets came out, the hills are majestic in the evening light. We are blessed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

on to part 2

Dearest readers, do not think for a moment that I have forgotten about you, simply because I have not posted in many days. It is the work, the work itself, which keeps me from you. Part 1 opened on Saturday, after seemingly endless afternoons of rehearsal in the blazing sun, and previews in the evening. It came a huge distance in the last week, and by the time of the Saturday evening show, I had confidence that I would be able to unlock the casters on the base of the moving door frame without catching my skirt on rollers as I pushed it into the proper place. I had also come to know and love Miss La Creevey, the painter of portraiture in miniature who befriends the Nicklebys. My daughter is a painter, I channel her in Miss LaCreevey.
Today we read through Part 2, for the first time, together. David Edgar, the author, was there; he has such a sweet presence, and is endlessly supportive of what we are doing. I have a new character; besides Miss LaCreevey and Mrs. Grudden, I play Arthur Gride, a sick, twisted miser on the same level as Ralph Nickelby. I'm so excited to be able to play someone very good and someone very bad. It was an amazing experience to read through the play with virtually the same cast that has been working together for a month. Such a different feeling from coming into a rehearsal room with people you don't know very well to read through a play for the first time. We knew all the characters so well, we knew each other so well. The play read itself. This is exciting work, I feel blessed. More soon. Much love, Joan

on to Part 1

Monday, July 11, 2005

tech week

It's Monday, dearest readers, our day off, in between a close to 60 hour tech week and our week of previews and opening (and when I say 60 hour week, that refers only to the actors - I know that the designers and tech crew put in
many more hours than that). It was wonderful to be back at the Bruns, after working for three weeks in the airless rehearsal space on Heinz Street. Just to be able to look at the rolling hills behind the amphitheater is heavenly; for me it is like the difference between swimming in an indoor chlorinated heated pool and the ocean. It opens my eyes and my heart and my senses to be outdoors and have a sense of the power and vastness of nature. We are not in control. It gets very hot, and then very cold, and then foggy, and then windy, and then humid, and then balmy. The sun goes down, the moon comes up. The coyotes howl. And we rehearse our little play.

This little play is so complicated in terms of scene changes, music, costume changes,and lighting, and so long (3 hours and 10 minutes), that we barely
made it through the whole show by the end of the long grueling week. We have not yet run it without stopping; we only had time to work in a slow, painstaking, stop and start fashion. Tomorrow we will run it.

There is a scene in the first act that takes place at Dotheboys Halls, the
horrid, abusive boarding school where Nicholas has his first job. In this scene, all the boys are assembled to greet the schoolmaster on his return from London. The boys (played by all of us) are deformed and debilitated and
intimidated from years of mistreatment. And the schoolmaster says "aren't you glad to see me?" and the boys have to respond with hip hip hoorays,
which come out so feebly and unenthusiastically, because they are all so
tired and hungry. The last scene of act two is a performance of a play within the play, a bastardized version of Romeo and Juliet replete with outlandish plot turns and agonizing over-acting. And then the whole show ends with a very patriotic and uplifting song which we all sing together. And we finished the song at 12:30 A.M., and we had made it through the entire play, and we were so excited that we had actually finished, and we tried to cheer, but we were so exhausted, that we all sounded like the boys from Dotheboys Hall. And when we finished our lame cheer, we sleepwalked offstage, took off our costumes and gratefully went home.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


I woke up this morning, after a sleepless night, not knowing why I felt so agitated and fearful. I never listen to the news until I get in the car, but after my partner left for work, I got a call from him - "Turn on the news, there's been a bombing in London." The television is on in the other room now, as I write, with images of people being lifted out of mangled buses into wheelchairs and stretchers, lines of horrified onlookers gaping at the ruins. I realized that I have been spending the last month of my life in London, out in the streets, the little flats and apartments, the inns and millinery establishments. While we have been rehearsing, I have been reading the novel of "Nicholas", and Dickens writes so brilliantly and descriptively about where the story takes place, that even though it is almost two hundred years ago, I feel that I have been there, that I have lived there. This attack is not far away, it is close to my heart.
We move to the Bruns today.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

bad acting II

Dearest readers, it has been over a week since we talked. Since I talked.
In that time, we have nearly finished blocking the entire play, Part I of Nicholas Nickleby. (If you want to have some idea of what it's like to be in the show, you should read this entire blog out loud with an English accent.)
There is a certain place in Act 2 where Nicholas meets up with a band of travelling actors,"The Crummles" and joins them as a writer and company member, and the play ends with this company performing a bastardized version of Romeo and Juliet. In the script, the stage directions read,"There is much opportunity here for making the point that the Crummles company are a troupe of not-very-good actors and actresses who have to rehearse plays very quickly, and therefore do not always get everything sorted out beforehand."
Forgive me for this diversion, dearest readers, but many times to me this sounds like a description of our own situation in putting up this play!!!
Except of course, for the fact that we are brilliant actors, and obviously by the time the play opens, we will have everthing sorted out My esteemned colleague Danny Sheie and I talk often about this post-modern dilemma - acting out a situtation that you are also in; having the consciousness that you are acting it out and being able to look at it while you are doing it and comment on it. (Please, please, please read the above sentence with an English accent, otherwise it will seem like very bad writing.) Anyway, what I really wanted to talk about is bad acting, because it is an interesting concept. People who are bad actors naturally, can act badly very easily. People who are good actors sometimes have a hard time. How do you purposely act badly? (and of course, dear reader, I am talking about the profession of acting here, not whether you are a good or bad person. Don't even go there.) What does it take to overdo or mispronounce or randomly gesticulate in a way that clues the audience in on the fact that you know you are doing it badly; actually not that you know it, but you are doing it on purpose?
I think it is time for me teach a class on bad acting, because it teaches one a great deal about what comprises good acting.
Dear readers, I think I should sign off before You need to call your therapists to figure out what I have been saying. Know that I love you, and that we'll talk again soon. I will talk. Soon.
Joan Mankin

bad acting