Closing Night

Posted in Design, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on August 17th, 2009 by mtrainor

Here are some pics of the final show courtesy of the set designer, Juliana von Haubrich:

From the Musical Director

Posted in Music, Rehearsal, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on August 15th, 2009 by kellinewby

Here are a few words form Eric Auld, the musical director of Twelfth Night about writing and producing music for the show (with samples of the music):

Following a performance by spoken word poet Taylor Mali at the College of Saint Rose this past February, Melissa Quirk (our director for this summer’s production of Twelfth Night) and I headed out to a crowded bar in Albany to review the evening’s performance and, of course, to discuss some Shakespeare. After a few vodka cranberries, the conversation sounded something like this:

Eric: “You know what I was thinking?”

Melissa: “What?”

Eric: “You should have original music for the show. Yes.”

And suddenly I was Musical Director.

As primarily an accordion player, I was a bit confused at first, since accordionists rarely get egged on to produce/compose more music than is necessary. (You know the old joke: “What’s the number one request for an accordionist?” “Can you play Far, Far Away?”) I didn’t worry too much about the decision, though, since I knew the music could easily be expanded to include other instruments. So I agreed to take on the role. At the time, though, I wasn’t aware as to exactly how much work would be involved as Musical Director. I figured, “Four… five… no, no… six songs. Can’t be that much work, right?”

Well.

The first task was nailing down the theme of our production so I could work within a specific genre. From what I can recall, the three finalists mentioned at our first production meeting were: Circus, Rock Opera, and the late 1960s. After shaking my head vehemently at Rock Opera (WHAT?!), I could see either of the other two as a possibility. Luckily, because of both the nautical plotlines in the text and the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock approaching, both themes were merged into one: Late 60s Coney Island.

In order to find inspiration for such music, our “Musical Team” (including myself, Alexia Trainor as Feste, David A. Winn, Jr., Michael Trainor, Dan Soha and others) listened to music from the era, primarily Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, etc. etc. etc. We knew that summing up the music of the late 60s in one production would be an impossible task, so in order to simplify things, one initial division was made: the live songs would be performed acoustically and would have a folksy feel to them, whereas the recorded songs (for scene changes) would vary from “Feel-Good Flower Power” to “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida-esque” and would even include some circus themes. (Where else, after all, was I going to throw in the accordion?)

And thus the creative wheels began turning. Two types of music rehearsals took place: one with Feste and Feste’s “Posse” (the live musical accompanists) for the songs in the text, and another with Posse members and other musicians for the recorded instrumental pieces, which were to serve as variations of melodies used for the textual songs. This way, not only could the tunes become recognizable very quickly, but the experimentation with different genres could be explored even further. Take “Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain,” for example. The live, folksy tune could be slightly altered (with different instruments, tempo, rhythm, etc.) to give it a jazzier feel or altered even more to sound like as if it belongs at a sideshow on Coney Island.

Hey-Ho-Wind-and-the-Rain-Coney-Island-Melody.mp3 Hey-Ho-Wind-and-the-Rain-Electric-Version.mp3

Also, not only could this emphasize the musical feel of the scene changes, but, in certain cases (maybe more with “Come Away Death” than “Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain”), could even help associate the interpretation of the lyrics of a previously performed song with the interpretation of the scene change itself.

But back to the music rehearsal process. Though I wrote simple melodies for all of the six songs, rehearsals were nothing less than a collaborative effort. I wish the program didn’t read “Musical Composition by Eric K. Auld,” as this is a partial lie; I only brought in some starting points to take off from. As a group, we experimented with dynamics in these melodies to determine (in both the live and recorded versions) tempo, key, rhythm, harmony (for the vocal tracks), what instruments to use, volume, syncopation, repetition, resolution, etc. etc.—in order to attempt to nail down the sound and feel of these primary tunes and their variations. Oftentimes we would go back and forth between decisions involving something as miniscule as a sixteenth note and something as grand as the genre itself. One of my favorite suggestions that I heard was an unresolved ending for “Come Away Death” (suggested by David A. Winn, Jr.), which simply changed the final note of the melody from a tonic chord note to a dominant chord note. This change not only brings out the Doors-esque sound of the song even more, but, by leaving such a song as “Come Away Death” unresolved, it helps to emphasize the unrequited love and woeful dissatisfaction of the speaker. Just as the speaker asks for love and is denied it, just as he/she asks for death and is denied it, the listener asks for a peaceful resolution (what the ear is expecting), but it is never to come. (Ha, ha! Foiled again!)

Come-Away-Death1.mp3

After the weeks upon months of this (at which point we surprisingly weren’t entirely sick of the same six tunes), it was time to record it all, both for scene changes and a CD, since the idea of selling a CD to unsuspecting audience members was presented early in the process and nobody happened to oppose it. (Thus we are immortalized!) Todd Hamilton (Berkshire Idol Champion and T.D. for this show) was very gracious to donate his four hours at Skyboro Sound to us, and Jamie Choquette was even more gracious to reconstruct the recording studio for us (since Skyboro Sound is now officially closed) for those four hours, as well as record and mix the tracks himself. It was a fairly simple process, and Jamie got us in and out with what we had hoped for—the nine recorded tracks for scene changes—in that short amount of time. A big thanks goes out to Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Choquette. Also to Mike Trainor, for allowing us to record the live songs (for the CD) at Chez Ballou (a.k.a. “Mike Trainor’s mics”) and for mixing those tracks for us.

On a more somber note, the most difficult part of this process was losing Ellen Bindman-Hicks, a very talented young guitarist and vocalist. (See story a few posts down for details.) Though I only had the chance of rehearsing with her once, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to meet and listen to her for that brief period of time. She had an incredible amount of potential, and it’s always a shame and a true loss when such a life is unwillingly cut off at a young age. I just wish that we at Main Street Stage could have gotten to know her a little bit better.

So. After numerous rehearsals, decisions, changes, losses, transpositions, etc. etc., we have finally made it. It was a long summer… yes, a very long summer. The role of Musical Director encompassed more work than I originally had imagined—more work on top of playing the role of Duke Orsino as well. But that’s all one, our play is done—almost. One performances left. Come see and listen for yourself!

Hey-Ho-Wind-and-the-Rain1.mp3

RBIT on the road

Posted in Improv, Past Shows, RBIT, Summer 2009 on August 14th, 2009 by mtrainor

We just returned from a great road show at the Majestic Theater in West Springfield. What great bunch of people. What a beautiful theater. What a great show. Huge thanks to Liz for getting us that gig. We’d love to play there again.

(I’m finishing up part 2 of the Providence Improv Fest report – I know it has taken forever. Sorry for the delay – posting shortly, I hope.)

A few numbers on the show at the Majestic (you may wish to measure our eco-footprint in doing these road shows):

  • Number of cars to get us there: 2
  • MPG for one of the cars: close to 30, I think.
  • Number of performers: 6 (we missed Frank!)
  • Audience members: around 100
  • Number of people we knew in the audience: 2 (love you Aslynn and Liz!)
  • Length of show: 2 hours, 20 min intermission
  • Number of scenes played: over 20 (!)
  • Number of long form games: one new one (called “History of Ken Burns” – we recently invented it)
  • Number of Obama jokes: zip
  • Number of donuts Seth had for dinner: 7

Here are a few photos from our past two road trips: at the Majestic and before that the Triplex Cinemas in Great Barrington.

Intermission at the MajesticBarbie, Lex and Mike backstageYep - we played in a movie theaterRight this way!That's usPosterTop of the bill

RBIT at the Providence Improv Fest

Posted in Improv, Past Shows, RBIT, Summer 2009 on July 20th, 2009 by mtrainor

As we take our last breath and hold it in anticipation of Twelfth Night’s opening, here’s part one of a two-part post on The Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe’s recent voyage to Providence, RI for the Providence Improv Festival.

We arrived in Providence the day of our show, on Saturday afternoon. We were scheduled to perform at 7:00pm at their AS220 theater. The festival had been running for two fulls days already, beginning on Thursday.

We checked into our hotel; nearly all of the troupe stayed at the excellent Hotel Providence (Seth stayed with a friend from the area – he grew up near Providence. He actually wrote the book on the place). After check-in and exploring the area, we grabbed some food and ambled over to the theater which is just a few blocks from the hotel in the “arts” district. There were lots of beautiful old buildings converted into galleries or performance spaces, including the festival’s spaces: AS220 and the Perishable Theater. These are just around the corner from Trinity Rep.

We arrived at AS220 and were greeted by a really sweet festival staffer, and the cool tech guy (Mike), who got us set up tech-wise and showed us the stage and backstage area (in the basement). We also met the frazzled but charming Mauro – the artistic director of the festival. He made us feel at home (we’re accustomed to the “frazzled and charming” types here at RBIT).

The space probably held around 80 people or so. It was bare when we arrived: a medium sized black room with a raised stage opposite the windows at the store front. We did tech as they set up the chairs.

We were paired to perform with a group from North Attleboro, MA, called Speed Of Thought Players. We first met their master-of-ceremonies type guy backstage: Christian. He’s known as “the Mouth”. Really nutty, witty guy – I figured he did stand-up, too. Anyway, he started shaping a plan with us on who was going on when, where and how, which was eventually overruled by Festival staff (Christian kept pointing out how he didn’t have a right to organize anything – yet, he had so many ideas. I liked him a lot).

Here’s how the festival told us it was going to work: each group had a half hour of stage time. Each audience member had a score card, which they would use to rate each group on a scale of 1 through 5. We weren’t competing directly with the Speed Of Thought Players exactly, but we were competing to get into the finals (six groups would be picked to compete in the final of the 25 or so total groups). The winner of the fest would be crowned “Best Improv Troupe in New England”. I think many of the audience members had seen several acts already, as most of them looked to be wearing festival lanyards with pases in them.

I think effectively turning every audience member into a critic took its toll psychologically on several members of our troupe of tender-hearted Berkshirians. More on that in a bit.

This is not the usual Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe gig, and we decided to play partly because it wasn’t our normal thing. Not that we didn’t miss the good cheer of our regular audiences in the Berkshires, but we were intrigued to play in front of a group of total strangers and see how it went. Plus – we were keen to see how we measured up against other groups. Living in the relative vacuum of Berkshire county we sometimes feel a little isolated (as others surely must), and we were looking to be de-pressurized, so to speak.

Our only supporters in Providence were Liz and Charlie (they rode with us), and a couple of friends of Seth’s from the area: Sarah and Allison. Between the four of them, they provided more emotional support than Mother Teresa would have (I heard she hated improv).

Anyways, I, personally, had a couple of beers before the show. It really helped me mellow out and enjoy watching the group who, it was decided, were going to perform ahead of us. It also gave me a little distance to see the terror in my fellow RBITers eyes when we witnessed them kick ass on the stage.

I’ll say again – this wasn’t a normal RBIT gig. Our time on stage was greatly compressed (we usually play for an hour and a half). We happened to be missing a key member of our troupe: Barby. A last minute flu bug laid her up – she was at home. That was a pretty big blow, as she’s one of the most reliably funny and talented players.

But there’s more – due to a technical issue, we could not play our *key* first game we normally play in our shows: the Dance. In the Dance, we play snippets of music of various kinds over the PA and each member of the troupe leads the other in a dance of their choosing (with other troupe members mirroring the “dancer”). We take turns as the dancer – when the music strikes us. This is an important first game in my opinion, because the energy is usually very high (we get a work-out) and it serves as an introduction to each member of the troupe through their dance. You can tell a lot about a person from watching them dance around goofily.

So, we were a bit nervous. We had to play against a really sharp group with the audience behind them while we had a couple of major factors well outside of our comfort zone. And RBIT is used to comfort. Luxury, even (take note, bookers).

We kept watching SOTP – I kept drinking. The audience kept laughing – I got another beer. I glanced at Lex’s shaking hands – swig. Frank gesturing frantically for a troupe huddle to try to reconfigure something in our act – chug. In my mind at the end of SOTP’s set, I could see each audience member laughing to themselves at the genius they had just witnessed and checking off the big “five-star” rating. Then they’d glance up from their card with a “let’s see if these guys can measure up” smirk, arms crossed, waiting.

Would this be the gig where we would be booed in earnest – actually booed? My mind careened wildly through every possible scenario of what could happen next: I would throw up on the stage. Frank would pee himself. Lisa would lose it and attack an audience member to feast on their flesh. Paul would hump something to climax. Seth would smile at a baby. Lex would remove a piece of clothing because she was too warm (never happens).

SOTP were finished their set, and started to exit the stage. Big audience ovation. We were poised on the house left behind the audience – like a crazy, drunken cat about to pounce on a much larger animal. Would we manage to hold on? To slay the beast?

Stay tuned for part 2.

Raising Funds

Posted in history, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on July 17th, 2009 by kellinewby

In the three years I’ve been involved with Main Street Stage, I have participated in three fundraisers.

The first, a dinner and a show ticket for $50.00 that involved a lot of preparation and catering for one weekend’s worth of Irma Vep performances, was a lot of work.  We had a cook station set up in the basement.  We blew a the fuses a couple of times.  Lex, who was also starring in the show, was running around trying to get the food ready too. It was good food and the lobby looked great, but the ticket price was high and we didn’t sell out the two shows as we had hoped.  In the end, after all the work, we made about fifty bucks.

After that fiasco, we decided to strike out in a different direction–a dance party.  I went to a city council meeting and we were approved for a one night liquor license.  Lex and I bought a keg (and considered driving to Mexico, but then returned to the theatre).  We had a DJ from North Hampton donating his services.  We charged $15.00, figuring it was a fundraiser and people might pay a little more.  We postered everywhere, talked it up.  But the attendance was low.  We made enough to cover the cost of the keg and we had a great time dancing, but, again, not much in the funds raised department.

This summer, before we even saw how little was available through grants and sponsorships (we’ve made a total of $250.00 from that drive), we knew that we needed a fundraiser to get us through Twelfth Night.  We had the age old discussion–do we do something fancy and expensive or cheap?     This evolved into a Woodstock style music festival, which would be a great  show for the community in and of itself.  But it’s hard to find an outdoor venue in North Adams where you can charge admission; believe me, we tried.

As the weeks passed, as we thought about past attempts to raise funds, Lex decided the simpler the better, and we had to agree.  The fundraiser was going to be two weeks before we opened and mounting a second show in the middle of the big show sounded less and less doable as the summer progressed.  We lined up two local musicians who have been very supportive of the stage (and who we adore as people and as musicians).  We got RBIT to perform. We rented the American Legion–who provide a cash bar as part of the rent.  The intern went around and got local restaurants to donate food and the cast made the rest.  It helps that we had a lot of foodies in the company.

We postered, we sent out press releases and we put ads on WNAW (something we’ve found has really upped attendance).  Then we waited.  And we worried.  Would people even know about it?  Had we done enough?  We kept getting bad news–Zombie Prom was opening that night, and Wild Oates was having some BBQ and it was a third Thursday in Pittsfield.  Even postering was difficult.  Usually you can find some space on a board, but there were several we couldn’t find any room on.

An hour before the doors were set to open, I went to pick up the tickets from Papyri and found not a single one had sold.  We had five reservations.  The dread I’d been feeling for a few days only got worse.   Lex shrugged and said, “As long as ten people show and we cover the rent for the space, the cast will have a good time and a night off.”

And then, at 5:30–people!  Lots of people!  I kept counting and recounting the money in awe.

So why did this one work?  We put less energy into it than any of the others.  We had less riding on it, I guess, and we catered more to families (the door price was only $12.00).  We had a really great raffle that raised over a hundred dollars.  We’ll sit down and get to have the meeting we’ve been wanting to have about a fundraiser for years–the “what went right?” meeting.  I, for one, am looking forward to it.

Rehearsal photo essay

Posted in Rehearsal, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on June 29th, 2009 by kellinewby

Here are some photos from a recent rehearsal that focused on Olivia and Viola’s first encounter (Viola is in disguise as a boy and Olivia falls in love her her/him).

In this shot, you can see what the set looked like as of a week ago, that is to say it was bright green tape on the ground and the All My Sons murals were still up.

tn-rehersal-oliv-and-mal

"Call in my gentlewoman."

tn-rehearsal-oliv-and-m-veil

My gentlewoman throws my veil o'er my face. Here, my gentlewoman has selected a fake beard as my veil.

tn-rehearsal-vio-and-oliv

Viola woos Olivia for Orsino (clearly, Olivia is impressed by all of this).

tn-rehearsal-vio-and-mal-ring

Malvolio returns the ring that Viola left with Olivia. Only Viola left no ring with Olivia.

tn-rehearsal-vio-gets-notes

Time for notes!

Rehearsal Process, part 2: Dropping In

Posted in Rehearsal, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on June 19th, 2009 by kellinewby

Dropping in is weird.  And uncomfortable.  It is everything you might make fun of in an acting class.  But, it works.

Here is the process.  Let’s say there are two people in a scene,  Sebastian and Viola.  The two actors sit directly across from each other, feet flat on the floor, knees alternating (yes, that close).  The director and assistant instruct the actors to roll forward and create an actor pile.  The actors are then told to breathe deeply and evenly as they get massages.   They slowly return to sitting position and make eye contact.  There is no breaking the eye contact for the entirety of the exercise.

Behind each actor sits someone with a script.  This person feeds the actor lines and questions, instructing the actor to repeat only the word of phrase that comes from his or her lines.  It goes a little something like this:

Director: Spirit.  Are you a spirit?  Spirit.

Sebastian: Spirit.

Director: Father, son and Holy Spirit.  Spirit.

Sebastian: Spirit.

Director: Why do you say this?  Are you a ghost?  Spirit.

Sebastian: Spirit.

Director: Do you think she’s a spirit?  Spirit.

Sebastian: Spirit.

Director: Are you afraid of ghosts?  Spirit.

Sebastian: Spirit.

Director: Is Spirit the name of an airline?  Spirit.

Sebastian: Spirit.

Director: A spirit I am indeed.

Sebastian: A spirit I am indeed.

As you can see, it is a long, slow process, but it is meditative.  The purpose is get away from intellectualizing the script after the table talk sessions.  The director poses questions to both the character and the actor.

Last year, I was highly skeptical process going in, but by the end  I was a believer.  Most of the suggestions just float by and a lot of the power of the exercise is being that close to someone you don’t know for so long (you certainly feel like you know each other after an hour of uninterrupted eye contact).  Every once and awhile, a question will strike me powerfully.  During a dropping in session last year between the girl playing Juliet and myself (I was playing Lady Cap), I was asked, “When was the last time you laughed together?  When was the last time you were in her room?”  The answers that came from purely gut response motivated my acting decisions and the intimacy of the drop-in created a warm, family-like repore between Juliet and I.  It was very easy to grieve when I found her “dead.”

So right now, in between getting things up and moving and making physical choices, amdist the chaos of clowning, sometimes we turn down the lights, breathe deeply, look each other in the eye and let  the heart of the play speak to us.

Designing Twelfth Night

Posted in Design, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on June 12th, 2009 by kellinewby

Here is what Juliana has planned for us:

Model of the Twelfth Night set

Model of the Twelfth Night set

What you are seeing is a 3D mock-up of the set, which will feature murals on the side and back walls and several levels of docks.  The one on your right will run off the stage and into the aisle of the theatre. Click here to see more floor plans, etc.

Juliana drew a lot of inspiration from pictures of Coney Island, and she particularly liked the image of the Wonder Bar.

wonder-bar-head

You can see more of her research and inspirational pictures by clicking here. I’m a big fan of the rainbow colored Mermaid.

The show is full of clowning, drinking,  mistaken identities, people caught up in the moment falling in love with the wrong people–seemed perfect to set on a boardwalk.

We’ve decided to set Twelfth Night in the late 1960′s  because the themes line up well (gender bending, free love, clowning).  In addition, there is  a lot of music written into the show, and the summer of ’69 brought us Woodstock.  Also, as we discovered last year, it is really hard to costume an older period when you’re working on the kind of budget we are working with.

tn-set-box

Last year, Juliana approached us and asked us to collaborate with her on a Halloween project that I will cover in another post (or maybe two–it was quite and ordeal), and afterward she offered to come out of retirement and  design a set for the Main Street Stage.  We, of course, took her up on it.  Twelfth Night will be her second set with us.

As we begin to build, I hope to take pictures and post them here, so you can watch the progress.  We’ll have a before and after.  As for now, the set is a tiny scale model sitting on a table and a lot of bright green tape on the stage floor.

Trio Cafe Budapest

Posted in Summer 2009, The Redroom on June 11th, 2009 by kellinewby

trio-cafe-budapest

We are  looking forward to the band that will be playing on the 25th: Trio Cafe Budapest.   Just as the Redroom likes to blur the lines between genres, it is hard to put these guys into any category other than versatile musicians who play songs you’ll enjoy.  Their official statement goes something like this:

The Trio Café Budapest (Bill Wootters, piano; Ted Gilley, guitar; Jimmy Bergin, violin) has been playing together since 2002. Their varied repertoire includes traditional fiddle tunes, the blues, spirituals, popular and ethnic music. They have performed at weddings, contradances, parties, outdoor markets and festivals. Their first CD entitled Meridian, was released in 2008; selected tracks can be heard at http://www.myspace.com/triocafebudapest

Please check out thier MySpace page and listen to some of the tracks.  We’ll see you (and them) on the 25th!

PS: There seems to be something off about the link to MySpace, so it if tells you the friend has been deleted, search for Trio Cafe Budapest under “music” and you will find it.

Stealing Treasure

Posted in Rehearsal, Summer 2009, Youth Theatre on June 1st, 2009 by mtrainor

Here’s some insight into how Nutshell Playhouse (writer/director Don Jordan and actors Matt Colviello, Alexia Trainor, Wendy Walraven and Mike Trainor) create their theater shows for children:

Don says, “Okay -- try this, Marx Brothers style …”

Matt, Wendy and I are three pirates looming over a pile of golden treasure. Matt grabs a big handful of treasure and stuffs it into his bag. Simultaneously, I grab the handful out of Matt’s bag and stuff it into my bag. At the same time, Wendy grabs the treasure from my bag and stuffs it into her bag. This continues until all treasure is plundered. Satisfied looks all around.

We check our loot. Matt and I are confused. Wendy seems happy.

“Make sure your hand goes into the bag at the same time as the one you’re stealing from … so when they go for another handful, you’re putting the treasure into your bag …”

You’ve seen these riffs before, for sure. They show up in everything from Loony Tunes cartoons to Marx Brothers to the Three Stooges.

Don gets a big kick out of these gags, and choreographing them. This one becomes kind of dance-like and stylized. It’s a celebration of this old joke, and of the style.

It comes out naturally. A typical rehearsal involves reshaping the show in some way -- all in good fun. Don’s script hits all the plot points, and the actors and Don come up with riffs by ad-libs and goofing around (I wouldn’t call this part of the process “improv” -- that would make it sound somewhat structured, which it isn’t). Someone does something funny, we keep it and tune it. That’s it. Or someone is inspired by someone else’s ad-lib and it grows from there.

Acting in these shows, I like becoming acquainted with this kind of humor. The jokes play with your perception -- like the mirror gag in the vid below. They’re not just “jokes for children” either.

The beauty of using this style for children’s theater, I think, is 1) kids are seeing these great jokes for the first time and 2) parents get to rediscover this style of humor, and the love of it.

This is in addition to the original music, mime, puppets, clowning and great characters that appear in these shows, which I hope we’ll touch on later.