Friday, February 29, 2008

ElenaP: Behind the Scenes

Hello, Riverdogs! Hope all is well in your igloos! Here’s what’s been on my mind this week.

Some may describe it as kismet, others fate; a few characters in Apartment 3A might go so far as to call it a “miracle.” I prefer to call it CONTROLLING THE WORLD WITH MY MIND. No matter which word you use, a certain thing happens to the universe of an actor about the time her rehearsals commence.

When you’re about to enter the “world” of a particular play, weirdly congruous things start happening in the real world. Maybe a song that’s mentioned in the stage directions will be on the radio when you turn on your car, or maybe the classic movie channel will decide to air a weekend of flicks all set in the same time period as the script you’re diving into. In this particular case, shortly before rehearsals started, I was going about my Sunday-in-Winter ritual:

1) Dig out the Sunday Times from its landing spot in the snowy yard.

2) Remove paper from wet and/or frozen bag.

3) Arrange sections in order of interest to me-- Arts and Leisure, Magazine,
Books, Travel, Style, Week-in-Review.

4) Line the cat box with the rest.

There, above the fold of what is my front page, was the headline: IS PBS STILL NECESSARY?

I couldn’t believe it! Annie, my character, is a fundraiser for PBS. She considers herself one of the few remaining true believers in the power of public television, even though, at the top of the show, her faith in the network (and every other aspect of her life) is slipping. Freaky, huh?

This article goes on to report that every year of his presidency, the Bush administration has threatened to cut PBS’s government subsidy by half, thus forcing PBS to petition like crazy, and putting the livelihoods of their affiliates (and thus, their employees, like Annie) in jeopardy every twelve months. The article adds that, as if that fiscal pressure weren’t enough, PBS now has 400 cable channels to compete with, as seen in Apartment 3A, where Dal, the super (played by Riverside veteran Jason Grubbe), refuses to click over to Annie’s Public TV station due to his obsession with the Disney Channel.

Well, PBS might not be necessary anymore, but weird moments like this are, at least for me. The play takes place in a Midwestern town during Lent, and so I now have an immediate sense memory that Annie can use—trudging through the late-winter slush in my pajamas and snow boots, opening a newspaper in my empty apartment and feeling Annie’s lonely, private outrage upon realizing that something she believes in is once again in peril. I can feel her anger as she reads that even the more widely-viewed PBS programs get less of the Nielsen share than “Friday Night Smackdown.” Grrrr. Well, bad news for PBS, good news for my process!

But enough “An Actor Prepares” mumbo-jumbo. I’ll write more in a few days about how we’ve spent the first few rehearsals (five words: sex scene in a church). For today, the only preparing this actor is going to do is choosing an outfit for tonight’s Walking the Wire opening. I hope to see all of you there.


Monday, February 18, 2008

ElenaP: Behind the Scenes

Hello Riverdogs!

The Riverside crew has asked me to post a weekly blog as the rest of the Apartment 3A team and I investigate, rehearse, and prepare Jeff Daniels’ smart and sweet script for its March 27th opening.

I’m really excited to get started on this piece, which is chock full of emotional layers and iced with really, really funny jokes. I’m equally excited to work at Riverside, a theatre that I consider to be one of the crown jewels of Iowa City! So check back here every week for inside info, musing, ramblings, and a running tally of the myriad occasions in which I fall on my butt (I’ve never been known as a graceful actress, and there’s a scene in 3A with some serious acrobatics).

Back in the fall, Ron and Jody let me know that I was cast in the role of Annie. In the months between the audition and the first read-thru, I’ve bided my time doing two things:

1) Reading through the script--throughout which Annie talks incessantly, shrieking, HOW IN HEAVENS NAME AM I GONNA REMEMEBR ALL THESE LINES!, then calming myself down with a gin-and-tonic.

2) Explaining to friends and family that, yes, this play was written by that Jeff Daniels (or, as my stepfather insists on referring to him, “Dumber”).

Jeff Daniels the “theatre person” has always been a bit of a buzz word in my house. My boyfriend, David, is an actor-turned playwright, like Daniels, and a “Michigander,” like Daniels. All of Daniels’ plays have seen their debut at his Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea, Michigan. David’s parents have seen quite a few of these productions. They’ve decided that Daniels should become their son’s best bud, despite the fact that Daniels and he have decidedly different aesthetics.

They say things like, “Oh, David, you should call up Jeff Daniels and ask him to put on that play you wrote about the murderous 18th century vampires” or “we went to see a Jeff Daniels play that was just like that one you wrote about the West Virginia trailer park! Only this one was set in the city and everybody worked for Public Broadcasting.” These statements are even funnier if you imagine them spoken in very thick accents.

“Dumber” though he may be, Daniels’ plays have received increasing amounts of positive attention, and not just from David’s folks. 3A played off-Broadway last year, and Escanaba in da Moonlight was made into a feature film. And there’s just something so cool about a man who could easily spend his free time lounging in Beverly Hills, collecting residual checks from The Squid and the Whale, Terms of Endearment and, yes, Dumb and Dumber, but who instead chooses to make art in his little Midwestern hometown. Sounds like Daniels might fit right in among the Riverdogs, huh?

When Ron and Jody gave me this script, I read Annie’s first monologue out loud and was immediately struck by this very funny and very emotionally real woman that Daniels created. Before reading any further, I put the script down, turned to R and J and said, “please tell me everything turns out okay for this woman.” She was that evocative. In Annie, Daniels has created a character I found myself instantly caring about, which is no small feat. I hope that, in a few weeks, you all will have the exact same experience when you meet her.

I’ll write more once we start rehearsals next week. Until then, stay warm!