Sunday, February 12, 2012

Advice to the Young Actor - Warning To Playwrights

More funny acting advice here.  From the mind of Constantine Ersatz, working from his top secret acting studio in Manhattan.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Paula Vogel and Her Student Both Miss The Real Answer

The New York Times covered Paula Vogel's playwriting boot camp that was recently held at Second Stage Theatre.  She holds these informal training seminars around the country, "usually at theaters that are producing her work."

While I don't always agree with her, Vogel can often be a very invigorating champion of the craft and profession, and has also served as a voice against the tendency for theaters to over-develop plays.

Near the end of the article is this exchange with a theater director:.
She encouraged her writers, in their scripts, to consider leaving half a page blank to underscore the importance of wordlessness to directors and actors.
Such a heavy authorial hand drew heated complaints, however, from Nicholas Gray, a young theater director who had been invited by an associate. Mr. Gray railed against lengthy stage directions, saying he crossed them out in scripts before he would begin rehearsals with his actors.
“It’s the playwright being tyrannical over all of the other artists who will ever work on the play,” Mr. Gray said, adding that even “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” would not escape his pen.
His conviction drew out Ms. Vogel’s steely side for a moment — “that idea causes me a great deal of pain,” she said of his editing — before she regained her professorial posture. She said that Eugene O’Neill wrote “Long Day’s Journey” as “a valentine to his wife” and that pauses in the stage action were a way to “slow down the sensation of time.”
“Theater is one of the few places where the rush of time slows down,” she said.
Of course, they are both a "no go" on this boot camp task. I guess I'll sound overly pedantic, but Eugene O'Neill expressly instructed that the play never be produced at all.  I'm glad I get to see it, believe me, but let's remember that we're trampling on the old man's wishes.

He was asked about it by his publisher near the end, and he emphatically reiterated his wishes in a letter:
 "No, I do not want Long Day's Journey Into Night," [It was in a safe at the publisher's headquarters.] he wrote "That, as you know, is to be published twenty-five years after my death—but never produced as a play."
While I really respect the argument Vogel and the student are having, Eugene O'Neill presents some interesting tangents when used as an example, especially when talking about Long Day's Journey.

Maybe, though, it was brought up and just not reported.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Look Back (To 1989) in Anger

Sam Gold's production of John Osborne's angry young cry of a play, Look Back in Anger, has just opened in New York City at the Laura Pels Theater.

We got a look at the play when the Orfeo Group put it on at the Factory Theatre here in Boston back in 2008.  

Here is a video of Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson in the finale of  a 1989 production:

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Marty, We Have To Go Back and Get Franzen To Go On Oprah!

So, Hollywood is increasingly involved in the news of the theater recently.

Yesterday, word came that mega-producer Scott Rudin was suddenly pulling the plug on his financing of the Broadway production of Bruce Norris' Pulitzer Prize-winning play Clybourne Park, (recently seen at Trinity Rep in Providence.)

The Los Angeles Times had a take on the story.  It was the Mark Taper Forum production that would transferring to New York.

The New York Post reported Wednesday, and a source close to the production confirmed, that Norris, who is also an actor, had backed out of a commitment to star in a pilot for a Rudin-produced HBO adaptation of Jonathan Franzen's bestselling novel, "The Corrections." That prompted a tit-for-tat by Rudin, who pulled his money out of "Clybourne Park," which was to have featured the same seven-member cast that has won glowing reviews at the Taper.

But never fear! Hollywood to the rescue!  Who needs a Pulitzer when you can have a time travel musical!  Deadline New York reports:

I’m told that Zemeckis is in early talks with his co-writer Bob Gale and the film’s composer Alan Silvestri to explore a stage transfer. A stage musical would be an intriguing way to reintroduce a franchise which, over three films, grossed nearly $1 billion worldwide. Zemeckis’ ImageMovers would be involved if this goes forward.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Captive Audiences? What Is the Breaking Point?

Knees ache, bottoms numb up and watches flicker. 

When a theatrical performance, even an enjoyable one, has gone on too long at one clip, the audience members feel it.   And let's not forget about their bladders.

Isaac Butler recently wrote an open post to "theatermakers" in which he implores them to insert intermissions into lengthy projects.   

There is currently a crop of good, solid, intermission-free plays gracing the boards in Boston.  Red at Speakeasy Stage, God of Carnage at the Huntington Theater Company, A Number at Whistler in the Dark and 'Art' at New Repertory Theater all come in around the 90 minute mark.

 Red pushes the envelope just a bit.  Speakeasy lists the two-hander about painter Mark Rothko as running 1 hour and 40 minutes, about what it was when I saw it.

My opinion is that I don't see much need for a playwright, director or artistic director to confine an audience member to his or her chair for over 90 minutes. I'm willing to listen to arguments, but in all my years of theatergoing, acting, directing and playwriting, I have rarely seen anything but diminishing returns on audience attention and focus after about an hour and fifteen minute stretch.   And a two-hour, uninterrupted stretch of watching live theater can get pretty uncomfortable, if not unbearable.

Of course, it is not as easy as just inserting an intermission.  The play's structure and beats have everything to do with it.  A break should make sense dramatically and emotionally.  

There is also the fear of an audience leaving a difficult work if they get they the chance.  Famously, Margaret Edson's play W;t, (now receiving a Broadway production starring Cynthia Nixon,) played intermissionless because the production team believed audiences would not want to continue to watch to the suffering and death of a woman with late stage ovarian cancer. 

Here is Edson in an interview with Jim Lehrer in 1999:

JIM LEHRER: And it's produced without an intermission, correct?
MARGARET EDSON: That's right, because we feel if there were an intermission, people would leave and we want them to stay till the end.
JIM LEHRER: Why did you think they would leave?
MARGARET EDSON: Well, in the middle it's very hard to take. It's -- it has a lot of talk about language and punctuation and complicated words, and then the medical parts are very graphic also, very realistically presented.

Note: I believe I remember reading someplace that the original production of W;t did indeed have an intermission, and people did leave, prompting the playwright and director to nix the interval.  However, I can't find any reference to that story now.