Thursday, April 15, 2010

The work is very much to the point.

It was a good day yesterday, professionally speaking.  Swung by the theatre early, around nine, to sit in for a bit on the Bachelor's Graveyard rehearsals.  I couldn't have been more pleased.  The five actors, Rob Arbogast, Chad Coe, J.R. Mangels, Ryan Keiffner and Jonathan Zenz were blocking some of the show with the director, Karesa McElheney.  Karesa had things firmly under control and the guys were in full heathen mode.  I sat in the audience and grinned.

I just love this red-headed, stepchild of a play.  Even at this very early stage I could feel a sense of anarchy on the stage.  I call this play my "dirty play."  It's loosely about five eighteen year olds enjoying their last hurrah before college in an out-of-the-way, abandoned graveyard in small-town USA.  There is lots of frank talk about sex and being young and dreams and hopes and despair.  There is a lot of laughter and, later in the play, some pretty good serious stuff.  I've worked with Chad and J.R. before in From the East to the West and I know how good they are.  Rob is a cracker-jack L.A. actor with a long resume.  He's playing the lead.  Jonathan and Ryan are young actors whose work I've admired from a distance.  Ryan recently set the house on fire with a wonderful performance in PROOF.  And it's hard to imagine a better role for Jon's really subtle work.

So I just really kind of sat there and smiled as they all attacked the stage helter-skelter yesterday.  I've been told they all really like the play and that's evidenced in the way they revel on the stage.  Originally, we had just planned a staged reading of the piece.  See how my "dirty play" would work in front of an audience.  In the play the characters are all swigging gallons of PBR throughout and talking about whatever bizarre thoughts enter their inebriated heads.  Apparently, the boys got together a week or so ago and actually DID swig gallons of PBR and talk about whatever bizarre thoughts entered their heads.  Out of that evening came a resolution to actually do the play full out rather than just a staged reading.

After rehearsal I told them they were about to be involved in the hippest, smartest theatre piece in L.A.   And I think that's true.  Plans are underway to run the show in tandem with Praying Small.  Bachelor's Graveyard would run on the dark nights, I guess.

The Artistic Director of NoHo Arts Center has stepped down for six months or so to deal with a few health issues.  In his place a triumvirate of artistic directors will run the joint.  They've given the green light to the piece.

After the rehearsal, feeling quite jaunty, I sauntered over to Starbucks and met my lifelong buddy, Joe Hulser, for some thick coffee.  Joe and I were at Missouri State together a million years ago.  He's a fine actor and director himself.  Joe's a funny guy.   One of his greatest joys is to get a group of good actors around him and carefully examine a classic piece of theatre line by line.  He's doing that now with the play Death of a Salesman.  He's got a deep, booming voice and a perpetual half-smile, half-scowl on his face all day long.  I was sitting in the sun outside the coffee shop, my back to him, when I heard in that unmistakable Hulser voice, "Willy Loman, Clif!  Willy Loman!  Gotta love him!  Miller took the brakes off for that one!"  This in place of "hi."

We then spent an hour or so talking about our favorite Willy Loman performances over the years; Lee J. Cobb, Dustin Hoffman, Brian Dennehy, George C. Scott.  I can't imagine a more stimulating conversation on a perfect southern California morning.

Finally I wandered back to the theatre for a barn-burner marketing meeting.  The theatre has brought in a world-class marketing guy, C. Raul Espinoza, and he had a group of us together in the second stage to talk marketing strategy.  An illuminating afternoon.  The possibilities, it would seem, are endless.  In the past one of the things that hampered the theatre has always been a complicated ordeal of getting a project green-lighted.  That is to say, getting a good piece of work actually in front of an audience.  Lots of reasons for this, some financial, some political, some bureaucratic.  No one's fault really.  Certainly no malice intended.  Just complicated.

For a number of reasons, very few theatre companies on the west coast use a subscription base.  They depend on single ticket sales.  This is exactly opposite of theatre companies on the east coast, where I've spent the bulk of my professional career.  So out here it's really important to find out exactly what kind of an audience attends our productions.  And then, of course, find out what that audience wants to see.  And finally, what kind of theatre we want to present in order to educate and guide them towards in order to find a happy medium.

The theatre, NoHo Arts Center Ensemble, is dedicated to new work, luckily for me.  It is part of their mission statement.  And part of our meeting yesterday with Raul was identifying and highlighting that again.  I mean, Joe Hulser notwithstanding, how many Willie Loman's can a body see?

This theatre is blessed with a lot of really smart people.  People passionate about the work itself and not so interested in the accolades.  I like that  a lot.  It has always been my personal philosophy.  To quote Lanford Wilson in Tally's Folly, "The work.  The work is very much to the point."

Came back to the house after that to a couple of puppies greeting me as though I'd been on safari.

One of the reasons my days are now filled with humor and purpose is because I have this damned diabetes under control now.  I actually feel as though I've been given a new lease on life.  I have energy and drive.  It completely sucks not to have that.  I think you'll notice, gentle readers, a recent dedication to the maudlin in my blogging.  Blame it on the untreated diabetes.

Angie and I spent the evening doing what most people would consider boring but to us is a fine way of spending time; we cooked a great pasta meal, tormented the puppies and watched The West Wing.  We have them all TiVo'd from Bravo.  We take special delight in watching them all again.  I can't imagine that with any other show, but The West Wing is nothing short of brilliant and there are eight seasons of episodic work in which to indulge.

And then blessed sleep.  Haven't had a lot of that lately because of this annoying "silent killer" with which I've been dealing.  We got both dogs in bed with us, talked and played with them for awhile and then drifted off to sleep.  Mundane?  Yes.  Middle-aged?  Yes.  Perfect?


Rehearsing a few of the gargantuan monologues from Praying Small today with my director, Victor Warren.  I want to get these under my belt before rehearsals begin in earnest with the rest of the cast.  It's all broken-fourth-wall work and all difficult stuff.  And today, glory be, I relish the challenge.

The sun is now rising on southern California.  The birds are singing the hallelujah chorus.  Angie and the puppies are still sleeping soundly.  The coffee is thick and hot.  And I am a happy and lucky man.

See you tomorrow.