Monday, July 4, 2016

Run - Throughs

I have made many discoveries about our show as we have worked the story through moment-to-moment rehearsals and run-throughs. It is so exciting and inspiring to see everything start to come together, and it has been fascinating to work on the specifics of our acting during the rehearsal process.

One of the biggest challenges that has come with this show has been acting honestly during the musical numbers that can be “show-tuney” or stereotypical. A lot of the time it can seem like being an ensemble member means having a big smile and doing the right dance moves, but it is important to know why you are smiling and dancing. If you are not acting honestly in every moment, you will stand out and it will take away from the entire ensemble’s hard work and energy. We have been working on actively working to achieve a goal, or objective, whenever we are on stage. Warts and All has been an especially challenging number. We get lost in the choreography because there are so many dance moves to be focusing on. Though it can be interesting to watch the show-stopping dance moves, it can become dull very quickly because we are all doing the same thing in unison. We need to make sure we each have an individual motivation for dancing to make it more interesting. The objective of this piece also becomes foggy because we are part of Ugly and the Bullfrog’s dream. We are overly optimistic about ugly being in, and the entire song is somewhat surreal. We have been working to balance our focus every time we are singing. Mastering the choreography is an important goal, but it is also important to be acting and listening while you are dancing.

We have also been working on making discoveries. There are several moments in this show where a character receives information, and that piece of information influences their movements. For example, there is a part of the script where my character, Jay Bird, is doing a TV report on Ugly’s disappearance. I find out that Ida, Ugly’s mom, has gone missing, and I notice that this new piece of information could help me sell my story to the viewers of America’s Most Feathered. In real life, we always have to have a moment where we learn new information, a moment where we decide what to do with it, and a moment where we make the action. We need to clearly demonstrate each of these beats on stage, or it will not seem as realistic. One thing that I have learned throughout this rehearsal process is the difference between making discoveries and being precious with a moment. In life, there are often small moments of realization, and we do not take a long and slow beat of thought. There are many times when it is important to slow down and think when you are on stage, but there are also many situations where you should not stop the momentum. I used to think that the best actors were the people who took the most time to think and slowly discover, but this show has taught me that there are times when plays slow down naturally. With some characters, you can be honest without taking a lot of time on every discovery.

During our most recent run-throughs, it has been amazing to watch actors play off of each other. There have been very clear relationships on stage, and this week we have truly seen these come to life. For example, James and Morgan (as Drake and Ida) have been doing a remarkable job of playing off of each other. Ida is frustrated because Drake is not being a good father or spouse. Their relationship and personalities have been clearly established, and it has been fascinating to watch Morgan and James react to each other so honestly. They are always listening to each other, and it is making their scenes together very engaging for the audience.

Moving forward, I think that we should work on having clear focus points and always being meaningful. There are several moments in the show where it is unclear what a character’s action or line is directed towards because they do not have a clear focus point. Asher has been doing a fantastic job of having a clear focus during Different. You can tell when he is directing his thoughts towards his siblings and all of the other bullies in the duckyard. If everybody has this level of focus, it would make the show more clear and engaging. It is also important to be focusing your energy towards something in every part of the story. There are several opportunities where we are talking in big groups. It can seem like people will not hear your individual conversation or like all you need to do is talk about the correct concept. However, you need to be having real conversations. You need to have the same amount of focus as you would with assigned lines. When I am watching scenes that I am not a part of, the most distracting thing from the story is when people are not directing their energy to a specific person or thing. I will be working to be meaningful and clear with all of my actions, and I am sure that we will be able to make a lot of progress as we continue to work on our focus.

It has been a wonderful experience to work and run this show, and I am thrilled to share this story with the community next weekend.

Ben Siegel

(Jay Bird)

Surround Yourself With This


        The sets are put away, the costumes in storage, and the actors back home, resting.  It has finally been finished: 7 performances of Honk! Jr. and we are a bit happy, yet most are deeply sad.  I have used today and yesterday to reflect on Honk!.  I made tons of new friends, enhanced my acting skills, and even learned things that no one would guess from theater.  I learned about honesty and how it empowers us, circumstances, which help when understanding the character's viewpoint, and I learned about the power of stepping back as an actor and taking steps in the process of understanding what makes up acting.  This is what I plan to talk about: Acting in Steps.
When I first started acting, I believed you just needed to walk up to the stage, put on a face and then recite some lines, but this is a clever trap.  In fact, Kivan has made it so that we had to step back and break it into steps.  In other words: be aware of your surroundings before going ahead and reciting a line.  You might be pondering now, “Well that’s easy!”  But it’s not, especially when you have to do it for the first time on stage.  So Kivan created an exercise where we look straight at the wall and yet have to keep everyone in your peripheral vision.  Then, we started walking in a circle, but no one could lead it.  It had to be unison, which was quite difficult (especially since I didn’t truly understand it until the performance day.)
On the last performance day, we were getting ready for Poultry Tale, and I was beyond excited.  I had seen some friends and heard they would be coming to watch, so that’s what put me over the edge in my joy.  Finally, the big moment came as we walked to the stage to get into our poses.  The song was going great, and then we came to the part where we scare off the cat.  Normally, we get our “huh” almost exactly on the same time, but people were anticipating, including me, and suddenly the “huhs” started.  Now, probably no one in the audience noticed that we had accidentally said the “huhs” at the correct spot; but, I was a bit flustered.  This was not a big mistake, in my opinion, and nothing to be worked up about.
So why did I share this story?  Well, as actors, sometimes we stop listening and just go with the flow.  People miss their cues or go too early before it’s time.  What would happen if something went wrong in someone’s line, and you just went ahead with your line?  That’s why it is so important to be listening.  If no actor ever listened to what was happening on stage, it would be incredibly confusing.  And, don’t go believing that it is only listening that is a part of our surroundings.  If you just used one sense, you would probably be very confused.   We also need to listen with our eyes.  That is what Kivan was trying to prove by his exercise, which I earlier described.  If you aren’t watching, you might just flop in front of the audience. This proves that, on the mentioned night of Poultry Tale, we didn’t do enough of using both our eyes and our ears.  We need to be listening and looking because otherwise our show would have been nothing.

Jacob Peters
(Snowy)

Circumstances

Circumstances.  They surround us and are a part of us.  They impact your every word, action, or thought.  Every foolish word or excited scream is influenced by your Circumstances.  So, why do actors so often neglect to apply this to their acting?  Is it because they don’t know what Circumstances are?  Do they not care? Or are Circumstances just too hard to apply?  I don’t pretend to know why actors don’t apply Circumstances, but I personally value Circumstances greatly.  And, I believe that STC values Circumstances too.  At STC we work so hard to attain honesty, which is why we work so hard to apply Circumstances.  After all, Circumstances provide clarity, and clarity prompts honesty.

So what are Circumstances? Circumstances are the given settings your character has to deal with.  They could be physical, or they could be mental.  “Physical” means it could be location or time of day.  “Mental” means that it could be pain or happiness from past experiences or even current experiences.  All of these influence how your character would speak, think, or react.

How do you apply this to acting?

Take the Blizzard Scene, for example.  At the start of blocking the scene, everyone was just super sad when acting.  Sad doesn’t hold the audience’s attention for very long.  Sad isn’t intriguing; it’s a simple emotion which can become dishonest.  When we took the time to look at the given Circumstances, we discovered several things.  First, we are escaping the blizzard while the Cat and Ugly are going into it, which affects how we (including the Cat and Ugly) walk.  Second, we might want to help the Cat and Ugly but are hesitant, as they aren’t usually welcomed in our farmyard.  Third, our families are in danger of this blizzard, so we must protect them by shielding them and getting them to safety.  Finally, once we see that the Cat and Ugly are goners, we realize all attempts to save them are now futile and leave to save our families.

Once we know what the given Circumstances are, we are able to apply them to the scene.  We do this in two ways.  First, we think of them before going on stage, which is called, “booting up your Circumstances,” and then we try to think of how they affect each line individually.  We ask ourselves, “What is my character trying to convey? Or, what prompted them to say this?”  These things help us discover anew each performance, which helps us be honest.

Emily Peters
(Mother Swan)



A Great Cast

I arrived at STC thinking “This is going to be really cool!”. I didn’t know much about  Honk! Jr., except for the fact that it was based off the Ugly Duckling. I knew that I was a duckling named Billy and that my other siblings were named Beaky, Fluff, Downy, and Flappers. But that’s about it. I didn’t know how we were going to make birds fly or swim. I didn’t know how we were going to make Ugly “ugly” or the ducklings “hatch”. But it all worked out in the end and this show has gone really fast. We are ready to perform. But as we progressed and I was so impressed with how fast we were going, I kept thinking “How come this is going so fast?”
I knew, for one thing that at our first read-through, we acted it out, getting a rough idea of what the play could look like. Now, like I said, it was just a rough idea, and was definitely nowhere close to what we are doing today. But it did give everyone some good ideas, to help speed up the blocking process. So that did make doing the scenes go faster, and I thought this was my answer. But as the rehearsals went on, and we all realized that the script was “working against us”, or making it really hard to be honest and make strong connections, which makes it harder for us as actors to really perform it professionally; I realized that it had to be more than just the way we did the read-through.
As we got closer and closer to opening night, I still didn’t have any idea of what made Honk! Jr. so different from the rest. But then, one day when our energy was pretty low, as it was early morning, and we didn’t have a lot of people, I realized that what made this show so cool, was how well our ensemble worked together. We got things done, were mostly pretty focused and all of us fit in. All in all, the cast in Honk! Jr. is a really good one. As we get closer to opening night though, we’ve got to remember everything we’ve learned, and keep in mind that no matter what happens, this has been an amazing process where we have accomplished a lot. Our cast is amazing and I think that Honk! Jr. was a good choice to wrap up the 10th season of STC with. All my fellow cast members, thank you for making this show go so smoothly, and having a great cast, and all in all, making me have such a fun time putting on my first musical.

Julia Divine

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Moving into Tech Week

So far, in my opinion, our production of Honk Jr. is going very well.  From the start of rehearsals, I did not like the script one bit, but now that we have made changes and made it the most honest we can, I have different thoughts than I did at the beginning of the process.

During the last run through that we had, I was thinking that there was a lot of improvement from the last time I saw the whole show.  The honesty was better, people were leaning in, and the energy was higher than the last time.  The lines were mostly down, and I was getting more confident about the show in general.  I think that if there are a few things I could do better, it would  be still having a lot of energy during certain songs and leaning in.

Moving into tech week, I am feeling nervous but mostly excited.  I am only nervous because now we are in a new space and performances are coming up so soon.  I am very excited because it’s finally tech week, we can see the show in a bigger space, and we will be having  performances soon.  I think this week we will accomplish a lot and definitely be ready for the performances.  I will keep reminding myself that I need to be listening, leaning in, keep having  the stakes up high, having a lot of energy, being honest, and having lots of fun,

I am looking forward to the performances, and I am having lots of fun during this production of Honk Jr.


-Adi Siegel (Beaky)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

"The Rare Opportunity"

With our first weekend of performances over, I could not be any prouder of my fellow cast and crew members. Being one of the oldest in the cast, seeing the younger people learn more and more throughout the rehearsal process has been amazing. With such a wide variety of ages, different members of our ensemble have learned different things. I, a 15 year old, discovered completely different things than what an 11 year old discovered. This doesn't mean that our acting skill depends on age - because it truly does not; it's simply that, for certain ages, it's easier to see certain things. For example, when I was 11, acting with honesty really wasn't a well-known concept for me. Now, being four years older, acting with honesty is an extremely important factor of performing. As we continue with theater, this concept of "honesty" is drilled into our heads. Though "honest acting" sounds like an oxymoron, it begins to make perfect sense as you experience and learn more about it. Instead of putting on your "acting face" and *telling* people a story, you must become a part of, and wrap yourself up in, the story you want to *show* the audience. With "Honk!", being based off the well-known story "The Ugly Duckling", it's easy to just tell the story. Since everyone already knows the plot, where's the need to be honest? In a way, because everyone knows the story, it gives us a reason to be honest on stage. It gives us the rare opportunity to *show* an audience a new version of a classic tale.

"Honk!" has definitely had a different rehersal process than what the other musicals at STC has had. This Summer, we have truly been closer as an ensemble throughout the whole process. Rehearsals were almost always with the whole cast there and we very rarely got split into different groups. This definitely made for a closer ensemble. Unlike other productions, we were asked to have our lines completely memorized earlier on in the process. This gave us much more time to block and become more comfortable with our scenes, letting us be more confident in giving our audience honest, thought through performances.

With every performance, we improve and continue to explore our surroundings, making us stronger as an ensemble


Morgan Reetz
(Ida)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

"Like a mosaic"

There’s only one more week until tech, and all the sections of our show are stringing together very nicely. I am enjoying every part of this process, especially choreography. We’ve been focusing so much on honesty- being able to act and respond keeping in mind the circumstances and objectives of your character. I’ve never paid this much attention to that word until this production, and I feel it's making me a stronger performer.

In the show, I play the Bullfrog; a comedic, ukulele-playing fellow who gives Ugly a boost when he is feeling down about his unfortunate looks. The Bullfrog is the first person to whom the duckling may relate to, because he too knows what it’s like to walk through life looking unsightly. I’ve learned his humorous demeanor is really his way of distancing himself from reality: no one will come up to him and kiss him to reveal a handsome prince. When Ugly comes to know of this through the frog, I feel it’s one of the most open, honest moments of the scene, because the frog lets his guard down for once.

 The big number, “Warts and All”, sung by Ugly, The Bullfrog, and the ensemble holds the message: someone’s going to love you in spite of your flaws. It’s not only a way of assuring Ugly, but it’s also a much-needed boost for the Bullfrog- that one day someone will love him for who he is.

Putting this piece together has been a challenge, but it’s coming along great. Like our other songs, Cynthia Marten, the music director for this show first taught us the parts we had to sing. The rhythm of this piece and the long phrases we have to sing are probably the most difficult vocally. Once we got a handle on the singing, we learned choreography. Though I’m not a part of the ensemble’s dance for this song, I’ve watched them learn and practice the choreography numerous times in rehearsals. I was once asked to step in for someone absent. As I went through the dance I remember thinking: “The counts are fast-paced; if I’m not in sync with my partner it’ll pop out. Our ensemble has worked so hard in combining these two aspects, and they really bring the song to life.

In past musicals I have been in at STC, a popular adaptation of that story involuntarily had some impact on character development for me. Because the story of The Ugly Duckling has not been adapted in all aspects of the show, there is a lot more room for originality. For example, when I play The Bullfrog, I feel I don’t have to conform to anything. I can interpret the role freely, and I can see everyone's bringing their own, distinct touches to their roles. A great example of this is the geese squadron in “Wild Goose Chase”. Each actor is unique, and they come together like a mosaic. When I watch run throughs of the show, I always look forward to that part. It’s the specific things they do which make it so humorous, and honest.

This is going to be a really fun, honest, and original show!

Julie-Michelle Manohar