Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Don's Treehouse in France

So what does Don do when he doesn't have to build a theatre? Well he heads over to France to visit his grandkids and build them the best treehouse ever!
This April, Producing Artistic Director, Don Toner, took a well-deserved vacation during the run of Roaring to visit his grandkids in France. My mother and brother went along too. While there, Mike and Dad worked their tails off building an incredible treehouse for the kiddos.

Here's the family posing on the staircase of the treehouse. That's right, it was built 14 feet up around a Sequoia.
It took them some time to select the right tree, then they had to clear a lot of bamboo and prep the tree.
Then they built the deck. This was slow going as they were using a lot of reclaimed lumber from the property and were working 14 feet in the air. Once the base was stable they built a pulley system to haul up supplies.
Didi the terrier was an excellent supervisor.

The finished tree house has a roof, siding, and shutters that open and close.
Here's the view of the tree from the lawn for a little perspective!

And here's the finished treehouse! Some of the lumber will be stained and the bamboo railing will be replaced with rope. 
I missed my family a ton during April, but it was definitely worth it. When dad got home he needed another vacation from all the hard work!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Roaring Rehearsal: A Special Treat!

Last Saturday, our playwright Cyndi Williams' nephew Christopher came and surprised everyone with a special treat.  Christopher is a long-time lover and supporter of Austin Playhouse and has been eager to volunteer for us in some way.  When he found out that the theatre has a Keurig machine, he very graciously offered to come serve us all coffee before rehearsal.  
Rehearsals are in full swing and director, writer, cast and crew have been working very hard so this was a very special and much appreciated delight!  Thank you Christopher!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Developing a Play: Roaring by Cyndi Williams

What do I really want to write about? I asked myself, about three years ago.  
Make a list, I decided, of things I can't stop thinking about.

A few things on the list seemed to fit together:
* A romance with older people
* Seeing the ghost of a living person
* Living in a society under the ground
* The way we make assumptions about people at different stages of life, especially the way young people sometimes tend to infantilize and patronize older people
* Coming of age in different decades
Doing research on the idea of ghosts of living people, I came across a possible scientific explanation: the double-slit light experiment.  Only half-way understanding the science, it lit a fire under me.  SCIENCE and the SPIRITUAL!  And I was off!

About 30 pages in, my brilliant idea began to feel awkward.  So I did what I have done many times: put the pages into the hands of trusted dramaturg and friend, Lara Toner.
As a young actress, Lara appeared in several of my plays, including CowpeopleA Name for a Ghost to Mutter, and Fish.  Then Lara decided to add awesome director to her resume.  She directed an excellent production of my play Dug Up for Austin Playhouse's Larry L. King stage a few years ago.  She would tell me if these awkward pages held any promise.
Female firefighters at Pearl Harbor
Her response was that I should finish the play so Austin Playhouse could produce it.

When the first draft of Act One was completed, we gathered actors for a reading of it, and everyone got excited.
I completed the first draft of the script.  We had a reading, and everyone was disappointed.
Armed with many notes, I killed my darlings, cutting three characters out of the script.  Continued to research the double-slit light experiment till I 4/5th's understood it.  Developed an odd theory about the color blue.  Revised, rewrote, and wondered if I was smart enough to write a play about science and spirit. 
We had another reading, and everyone was relieved.

More rewrites.  Another reading.  This time... there weren't so many notes.  Everyone was excited again.

Now the rewrites are less a re-imagining a story, and more fine-tuning what we have.  I'm looking at each character's journey through the story, one by one. 
This is the process that we've used to develop Roaring.
I think of this play as a Valentine to all the people who have brought us to where we are, and as a toast to hope for our future.  -Cyndi
Rita Levi-Montalcini, Nobel Prize Winner

Friday, October 4, 2013

Behind the Scenes: Properties Design for Man of La Mancha

Helmets and Horseheads

Gathering properties for a production often involves lots and lots of thrift store shopping. With Man of La Mancha it's hard to find horse heads, golden helmets, and broken lances in a thrift store, so almost everything that appears onstage had to be built. We built shields, rakes, lances, gauntlets, and much, much more.

I spent several evenings working on The Golden Helmet of Mambrino and the horse and donkey heads. The helmet is cardboard and papier mache with lots and lots of acrylic paint. The acrylic paint creates a flexible plastic shell. The hat got severely dented during a fight on stage and popped right back into place at intermission!
-Lara Toner

Balloon inflated to the size of Rick Roemer's head? Check. Cardboard circle with wedge removed to create a "shaving basin"? Check.
Can you see it?

Papier mache!

After 3 coats of newspaper the balloon is removed.
The helmet is base coated in gold acrylic paint, then sponged with several different metallic shades to create depth.

Almost done! The hat needed drying time between each coat of papier mache and paint.
Rick Roemer as Don Quixote de la Mancha.
The horse and donkey heads started out as felt hats, a wire frame from a large bell ornament, and baskets. They were covered with hand-sewn burlap and fabric. The ears are a floral mesh with hand-sewn moss.
The bases of the donkey and horse.

Base coating of fabric and ear frames.
First dress rehearsal. They still need moss, manes, eyes, and lots of burlap fringe to hide the human heads.
Finished donkey head hanging backstage.

Finished horse head.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Noises Off Loads In!

Out with Lady Windermere's Fan, in with Noises Off!
On Sunday we had the last performance of Lady Windermere's Fan! Monday morning we got busy on....
Noises Off! We've been wanting to do Michael Frayn's hilarious backstage farce for ages. We just had to get into a place with high enough ceilings to deal with the massive set! Speaking of ceilings....
Ours got a dark blue makeover so it will disappear during performances! Don and Mike and Patrick have been busy for the past two days loading in lumber.
So much lumber. And making platforms and walls and stairs and did I mention the whole thing turns around?! Our lovely spinning fan pieces were a piece of cake next to this set!
Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes action as it all comes together...
Here's a first day of rehearsal peek at the actors enjoying their last down time before the craziness begins!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Other Desert Cities: Behind the Scenes with Bernadette Nason

Other Desert Cities is making its Texas debut at Austin Playhouse after successful off-Broadway and Broadway runs. We've interviewed the cast to give our audience a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating the family of Other Desert Cities. We'll be posting new interview excerpts on a regular basis, so check back soon! 

Bernadette Nason plays Silda Grauman, a recovering alcoholic who co-wrote screenplays with her sister Polly (Babs George) in the 1960's. Bernadette has appeared in many Austin Playhouse productions including Boeing-Boeing, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Steel Magnolias.

What was your first impression of the play? How has that changed during rehearsal?
It was a cold, cold day in England when I first investigated the play; from what I could tell, it was smart and funny with great dramatic moments.  This was supported when I read it on my return; it was an easy, "un-put-down-able" read! 
Even after only one or two rehearsals, it became clear how rich a piece it is, both in language and ideas.  Every character is fully fleshed out yet with room for actors to build their own interpretation, develop their own sense of who they're portraying.  And yet, the more I read, work on and perform the play, the more I see every character's POV, not only Silda's.

Most of the actors have worked together before. How does knowing your fellow performers affect the rehearsal process?
I've worked with the whole cast before, individually.  It's been really helpful having an idea of my colleagues' process -- it makes it easier to give them space to "do their thing" while I work on my own.  There's an gentle, easy camaraderie which is really important to me in any rehearsal set-up.  If one can feel comfortable with one's fellows, it makes it less scary when one feels unsure or vulnerable.  And God knows, this is a play in which vulnerability figures strongly, both for actors and characters.
What research have you done for your part?
Apart from the obvious web searches on the play, playwright, other productions, reviews, etc. I read up about the Vietnam war (as a Brit, I don't know much)
; also about how recovering alcoholics cope with life, i.e. their daily struggles. 

What do you find the most challenging about this play (or your performance)?
Ha ha!  Trying to balance Silda's (a) wacky personality, (a) her loud, lower-register voice, (c) her California/Texan/Jewish dialect, and (d) what she actually has to say!  Also, balancing a sense of Silda's brittle vulnerability with her brash presentation.  Also balancing her general couldn't-care-less, seen-it-all attitude with a deep, sincere passion for both liberal politics/her family.
Are you doing anything in this play you haven't done before?
See above!
Are there parts of your character based on anything from your real life?
As a storyteller, I always have to be careful about whose story I'm actually telling.  If it's my story, I should in theory feel safe sharing my interpretation of it.  If it's someone else's, obviously I must get permission both to tell the story and to tell my version of it.  The problem is, one's own story often overlaps with someone else's and this can cause serious problems when it comes to permission.  In this play, I identify more with Brooke than I do with Silda but all the same, I can see where Silda gets her sense of righteousness -- she may not have all the facts and she may not remember a story correctly but she feels nonetheless that the story needs to be told.  In my real life, I often confront the subject of permission.  I have told stories with sensitive family issues, thinking that I've successfully excluded anything other than the most basic facts and my own feelings, then had family members question my right to share any of the facts at all.  "They can't imagine a world in which you have the right to speak of it...critically," as Silda would say. 
What has been the easiest part of this process?
Oh, working with people I really respect.  And less significantly, the easy drive from my home to Highland Mall.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Other Desert Cities: Behind the Scenes with Rick Roemer

Other Desert Cities is making its Texas debut at Austin Playhouse after successful off-Broadway and Broadway runs. We've interviewed the cast to give our audience a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating the family of Other Desert Cities. We'll be posting new interview excerpts on a regular basis, so check back soon!
First up is Rick Roemer who plays Lyman Wyeth, the patriarch of the family. Lyman was a successful Hollywood actor who became a star of the GOP. Rick has appeared with Austin Playhouse in roles as varied as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest and Littlechap in Stop the World, I Want to Get Off. But in Other Desert Cities he's doing something he's never done on stage before...
Most of the actors have worked together before. How does knowing your fellow performers affect the rehearsal process?
Actually...the only actor I've worked with is Bernadette. We've done 5 or 6 shows together. Jacob did one week of Jacques Brel. I've never worked with Babs or Lara...although I know everybody well. But still...there is a level of trust that is inherent. It's easier to get to where we need to get to....because we all trust each other. And will give to each other on stage. We allow each other to make mistakes...without judging. That is very important to actors...so we have the freedom to fully explore. Also...we already all like each other, which is important to create the ensemble.

What was your first impression of the play? Did it change during rehearsal?
I know this world. I know these people. My parents were prominent Republicans in the Coachella Valley and lived in Indian Wells Country Club for 28 years. Their friends used to make very disparaging remaks about gay people...and my parents used to hold their tongues. Not because they were embarrassed by me...but didn't want to get "into it." But before my father passed away, they both began standing up for me...and gay people..in their conservative Republican circles.
During rehearsals I realized that Polly (Lyman's wife) just doesn't listen to Lyman. He can say..."I don't want confrontation" (with their daughter)...and immediately Polly's next line is a confrontational line. Polly wears the "pants" in the family in many ways. Lyman tends to back down. That escaped me on first reading...because he seems so patriarchal.

How have your feelings about your character changed?
Lyman can be seen as stoic and diplomatic and reserved. And it is a part of him. But he also has a soft side, especially when it comes to his children. And more specifically his daughter.
I think most people would look at Lyman and assume he runs his family...and in part he does. But his wife is the out-spoken, opinionated one who, at parties, takes the lead to make sure that the impression of their family is the "correct" one. Image is everything. Polly tends to tell Lyman how to behave and what to say. Lyman tries...but Polly doesn't really listen to him.
What research have you done for your part?
Well...thinking (reliving) all of my visits to my parents in the desert...especially Christmas...and remembering their friends. I've been in this world many many times, so much of my research is my memory

What has been the easiest part of this process?
Whew...it hasn't been easy trying to learn this man in a very short period of time.  The easy part has been the fact that I'm working with friends..and I have the freedom to explore...and make wrong choices.  That is liberating.  This is the 5th or 6th project I've done with Don Toner as director...and that makes it easier,  He knows me and my and work...and I trust his eye and vision.

Are you doing anything in this play you haven't done before?
Yes...playing the father!! It's finally happened. I'm now playing the fathers. That's new to me...and it takes some getting used to!
We'll have more with Rick and the rest of the cast soon, so check back for more behind-the-scenes interviews with the artistic team of Other Desert Cities!