Tosca’s Kiss

Week 2 begins with no calls in the rehearsal room for me today. Work on the role doesn’t stop, of course; there’s homework to do – always homework when becoming absorbed in preparing a performance.

This afternoon I watched an extraordinarily moving documentary on Casa di Riposa – a home in Milan – endowed by the great Italian composer Guiseppe Verdi for old musicians and opera singers. This documentary was the inspiration for Ronald Harwood’s QUARTET.

I was touched to the point of tears.

This is a brief snippet.



On the job on the iPad: learning lines

My role in the Empire Theatre Projects’ Company production of Secret Bridesmaids’ Business is a first in one respect. It’s the first on which I’ve gone entirely digital for script markup and lines-learning. I’m using my iPad 1.0. My apps of choice in the process have been Good Reader ($) and Rehearsal 2.0 ($)

It’s going well so far, and my initial anxieties about the efficacy of a digital working script and with missing out on the paper and markers and pencils experience were entirely misplaced. I wrote about the thrilling task of prepping a script a few years back when I was in full analog mode! This post is in the Performance Casebook series of which this is also a part.

The first thing you have to do is get the script on to your iPad. It’s a snap with both apps. With Good Reader it’s the normal sync process with your iPad; with Rehearsal it’s via email (in the version I have). In other words, you send your script as an attachment to your dedicated Rehearsal e-mail address, and it appears in the app.

Once you have your script on the iPad, you get an almost hands-free experience from the get-go. I have mine in its Apple cover – my hand fits neatly between it and the back of the iPad. There are no pens or pencils to drop, and you have a hand and finger free to swipe, or type or annotate and to manage props and make contact with scene-partners. Portability and ease of use and the brightness of the screen on the iPad is a bonus in darker places like coffee shops and rehearsal rooms – yes, there are such things – so I am very happy with my experiment and progress thus far.

I began with Good Reader and switched this week to a lines-learning app Rehearsal because I wanted to use the recording functionality and the emphasis on the scenes I’m in and, of course, with getting off book. Rehearsal does this. Good Reader is a really excellent all-purpose app for accessing and working on docs, and I use it all the time. However, Rehearsal is a niche app that delivers what its name suggests – it’s about getting the text off the page aka lines-learning –  between rehearsal sessions. This is where Rehearsal shines. I’m especially enamoured of being able to record and re-record my and my scene partners’ lines on the fly. The iPad on-board microphone picks up the sounds of movement as well – useful for timing. In playback, the screen scrolls like a teleprompter. If you have an iPad 2.0 you can video record a scene too.

I wrote a review of the Rehearsal app a little over a year ago, so I suggest you check that out if you are interested. The app is also available for the iPhone and is now in Version 2.0. Like all apps, it is available from the iTunes Store. Now that I am actually using it on a daily basis, I am more than happy to endorse the big tick I awarded it last year.

Emerging … again

As months go, March was rather special. It marked the ending of a significant period in my life’s adventures. I ended my tenure as Chairman of the Board at Queensland Theatre Company. Despite one or two little pangs, it felt absolutely right to be going now after nearly 8 years in the job and two before that as a Director. I’ve loved every moment of my time on the Board working on behalf of a Company that is very special to me. It is where I began my professional acting career and where I met the man I would eventually marry.

It’s no secret to my friends and colleagues that I’ve always wanted to return to the stage as an actor. Over the years many have asked me when or if I was going to make the leap and whether I missed it. I’d answer ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘Not right now,’ and ‘Yes, of course,’ but a full-time career as a theatre academic for over 21 years made working professionally near to impossible. It also just didn’t seem the right thing to do whilst I was still QTC Chairman – awkward.

When I retired from full time work at USQ in mid-2008 I just wanted to draw breath for a bit. I had enjoyed the experience of Cabaret for the Empire Theatre in Toowoomba that year, and, from then on, I would suggest to anyone who cared to listen that I’d be looking for acting work once my other theatre responsibilities were cleared. I’ve been lucky enough since retirement from full-time work to get back into the voice-over business, which I love – though I do miss the radio drama that used to be part of every actor’s life 40 years ago in Brisbane. As far as stage work is concerned someone must have been listening.

I got a call out of the blue last month asking if I would read for a role in a new play to be produced in Brisbane in August. It’s Water Wars by Elaine Acworth and is being presented by La Boite Theatre Company and Umber Productions in their Indie season. There is also an initial small regional tour in southern Queensland. I did the audition and was offered a role. I’m going to be working for the first time with two former students – a fine actor, Kellie Jones and director Shaun Charles. I’ll also be working with Elaine Acworth for the first time – looking forward to this!  A new play has its challenges but, for an actor, it’s nothing if not exciting to create a role for the first time.

And a week or so after that I auditioned for a part in Secret Bridesmaids’ Business being produced in Toowoomba for the Empire Theatre. To my delight the role of Colleen, mother of the bride has come my way. SBB is a tried and true and very popular Australian comedy, and I have a feeling it’s going to be great fun but also challenging – comedy is hard!

I have to say I feel a little overwhelmed and hugely thrilled by all of this.

First up is Secret Bridesmaids’ Business directed by Lewis Jones. Rehearsals begin in early May. Meantime, I’m loading the scripts onto my iPad and doing the read, read, read prep before it all begins. I’m going to keep a rehearsal log here as I did with Cabaret.

So, here I go again, and hello third age. I’m joining the ranks of ‘senior artists.’ Excited? MUCH!

Working on text – the early phase of rehearsal

Upfront – this is an out of the archive post reworked a year or so on. If you’re a regular here you may have already read my rehearsal and performance blog posts for the Empire Theatre’s 2008 production of Cabaret directed by Lewis Jones.  I played the role of Fraulein Schneider. You can find these posts elsewhere on the site. Just type ‘Cabaret’ in the search pane, and stand back. I’m revisiting some of my posts on actors’ process, which I hope you may find useful. As always, I would love your commentary.

Sunday’s rehearsals swung into a first shuffle-through of the play scene by scene. This was table talk about character, backstory, and relationships followed by a work through of a couple of scenes in which my character first appears.

First appearances are critical for character revelation. For a start, an audience starts to make up its mind about how it relates to a character. First appearances are also where a play’s obligatory exposition is revealed. A good play will give out the information on who, what, were, why and so on via character interaction and dialogue that hopefully doesn’t beat you over the head, as well as through other subtle clues in the script. These are things the actor needs to pick up and feed the character.

I find this part of the process, this combing through the text, to be a bit like a forensic analysis of a crime scene. However, there is something you also need to bear in mind, and that is to balance what the character knows with what the actor knows … or as it’s often expressed, don’t play what’s on the ‘next page.’ I got a bit carried away myself today wondering how significant the first mention of Jewishness in the play would be to my character. Of course the audience is going to prick its collective ears at this point … ‘Uh oh, we’ve got an issue here that is going to come back later!!’ but the characters themselves are at this stage, blissfully ignorant of the fate in store.

This is what I like about these early turning over the text rehearsals … playing with possibilities and making choices, and seeing where they lead. It’s good to have a director like Lewis who allowed me to stumble my way around the set, getting its geography and furniture layout into my head, getting the feel of ownership that the character would have; it’s my house after all – it was once a large home and where I was born and where I grew up. Alas, nowadays it’s been converted into a boarding house. Yes, this was one of the creative choices I’ve made, along with what has brought Schneider to where she is right now … New Year’s Eve 1929.

I’m really going to enjoy the next phase of rehearsals, and it’s going to include something I’m not all that familiar with … making the transition in and out of a musical number. I’m sure it’s going to be all about finding the right energy level and bridging from speech to song, though handily all of my songs tend to do this with quite a bit of ‘spoken in rhythm’ appearing on the score. Although we are not singing within scenes yet, this finding the right heightened energy was something the director worked on quite a bit during the final run-throughs of the scenes this afternoon.

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More on that ‘moment’ we’re supposed to be in …

I’ve written before about one of those phrases tossed round by acting folk: being in the moment. I recall the brilliant Dawn French using it in that sweet comedy series The Vicar of Dibley. ‘Geraldine’ was directing the parish’s nativity play. She’d dropped her vicarly garb, and was dressed in requisite directorial kit. All was not going well, so she asked the cast to ‘take a moment to take a moment’ to get into character. Not sure how many general public would have got the nuances of the jargon …

But, being in the moment extends to more than just the actor as character in performance, something that ‘Geraldine’ understood, and which much acting training tends sometimes to over-emphasise. I’m reminded as I noted in that earlier post of how the moment is also filled by the actor’s constant scoping of what’s happening on stage … in the auditorium, drifting in and out of a character’s consciousness … those lovely, fleeting but deeply felt moments of ‘being a character.’ If you could run a video of the actor’s awareness it would most probably screen as a sequence of random, abstracted images with a camera’s point of view of the action; the soundtrack would consist of dialogue and probably the silent sub-text and interior monologues … those of the character and those of the actor as s/he preps a moment of action.

And of course that moment extends during the final dress rehearsals and performance season to the actor’s daily life … off stage. Fleeting, random snatches of moments, lines, notes to self , images flit through the consciousness. These can be distracting but they need to be accepted and seen in the context of the whole creative process.

And speaking of moments and creative process … I’m splitting my attention this week as I work for a few hours each day on another production with my students. It’s a first, major public production for them, and part of my job is to assist them to make the transition from acting studio to rehearsal room, and then the stage … to learn how to put their developing skills to work on the job. It’s a project I relish, and yes it is distracting me from that other mind-chatter that is demanding my attention … work on role in a production that opens this week … tomorrow in fact!

Photo shoot, make-up and corsets!

Creative Commons License photo credit: fluzwup

A night off from rehearsals but valuable nonetheless; the cast were called for the program photo shoot. It was a chance for us to see one another for the first time in costume, and to realise how powerful a role the element of body adornment plays in visual story-telling. Body-masking is the term I use to describe how external adjustments like costume, hairstyle, makeup, shoes and other physical adjustments … a change in one’s own alignment, tempo-rhythms etc., assist in transformative characterisation. Some of the men in the cast had had 30s haircuts and most were in suits … instant effect. It was also an opportunity for me to have a first run at the makeup I’ll create for Fraulein Schneider.

As I got into the costume and wig tonight, it occurred to me that given the shape of the dress (an original) I was going to need (ahem!) undergarments that complemented the silhouette. Hmm, a corset with suspenders to hold up stockings?!? They still sell these things apparently; most of the Kit Kat Klub dancers (mostly female) were wearing them. As I (gratefully) pulled on my jeans at the end of the session, I pondered on the role clothing had played in women’s suppression and liberation.

The shoot took place on stage, on set. As we walked on to our holy ground, it was reassuring to feel the sense of the scale and position of walls, doors, furniture i.e., what has been represented up to now by coloured gaffer tape on the rehearsal room floor. As we head towards technical production runs this weekend, the challenge will be to integrate the acting work with this new material world, itself a powerful signifier of the story. The creation never stops!