Monday, March 24, 2008

ElenaP: Behind the Scenes

Home stretch!

We’re just one week away from opening the show, which means a few things:

1) I will spend most of today wandering around my apartment, muttering, “This time next week! This time next week!” This will upset the cat.

2) Somewhere in Iowa City, Tim Budd is lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out how to make one of his acting moments even smoother than it already is.

3) None of my friends will answer my calls, for fear that I’ll entreat them to “run lines” with me…AGAIN (thanks Ryan, Courtenay and David!)

4) It’s time for press interviews galore! My fellow castmember Jim Kropa will be on the “Culture Crawl Show” (FM88.3) this Friday at 10:20AM; Herr Direktor Ron will appear on the world famous Dottie Ray show (AM800) at 8:45 on Friday, and both Ron and I will tackle the Stephen Grace show (AM800) at 9:00AM on Monday. Tune in, whydoncha.

5) The next few days will be spent undergoing the harrowing process we all know and love called TECH. Starting on Easter Sunday, the cast, crew and designers will slowly weave the lights, set, props and costumes into the mix of the play we’ve been rehearsing. This means a lot of stopping and starting and, usually, quite a bit of laughing, too. In tech, acting rehearsals essentially come to a close. We actors really must hand the show over to its tech requirements for a few days, focusing not on our personal thespian journeys so much as hitting the right marks at the right time in the right outfits. After all, what good are actors if you can’t see or hear them? By Tuesday, however, we’ll be running the show at full steam: lights, sound, acting-- the whole nine. Just in time for opening weekend.

6) And speaking of opening weekend, let me invite you Riverdogs (and also any Rivercats, Riverferrets, Riverhawkeyes, and Riverpolarbears in the blog-o-sphere) to our opening weekend. If you’ve never seen a show on opening night, it’s usually a pretty special evening, charged up with a fresh, palpable buzz. I think the whole run is going to be pretty cool, but the first night is always extra special. Not to mention, you can tell all your friends you saw the show first! So make your reservations for March 27th to catch the opening night fever.

6) I should really be studying my script rather than blogging right now. Because this time next week…

Friday, March 14, 2008

ElenaP: Behind the Scenes

Ah, costume fittings. In my ten years of working in theatre, I’ve done approximately nine kabillion shows, and each experience of getting clothed for each production has been unique. I’ve had fittings in bar bathrooms and restaurant kitchens and in the living rooms of people’s houses (while the designers kids sat there, watching TV as I stood in my slip). One period show required me to stand completely still for what felt like three hours, in a corset and pumps, while a team of seamstresses literally sewed me into my dress. I locked my knees and passed out halfway through.

But never in said nine kabillion years did I have the costume experience that I just had for 3A.

Thanks to a real costume coup, 3A designer Lindsey Robinson won’t have to build or hunt through the stock to find Annie’s contemporary, business-woman-on-the-go costumes. All of her costumes are coming straight from one of Iowa City’s coolest boutiques—TEXTILES! On Wednesday, I got to walk into a store I love and shop for my character.

Lindsey simply pulled shirts, skirts and dresses right off the racks and, in the comfort of their cute dressing room, I tried on these (designer) dresses, and then twirled around in the three-way mirror so Lindsey could decide whether or not she liked them. It was so cool! Kind of like one of those movie montages where the awkward wallflower gets taken under the wing of some fashion-forward best friend and then gets a sassy new wardrobe that turns her into a super-diva. Cue the upbeat montage music!

What makes this partnership with Textiles an even bigger deal is the fact that Annie’s costume requirements are kind of complex. Not only must they give off the impression of a successful, somewhat style-conscious TV fundraiser, they must also be theatrically functional. The show spans a week in Annie’s life, but is written without “blackouts” or scene changes. If those were in the script, I could run offstage and put on a new outfit, but no dice. So, all the costume changes must happen onstage, and, due to the fluid nature of the script, they must happen very quickly. This means I’ll probably be “underdressed”—wearing entire outfits underneath each other, dropping layers as the show progresses. Thus, in addition to being chic, the costumes must lie flat and not make me look like the Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Woman. Tall order, huh? Makes me glad I’m not a costume designer.

Lindsey hasn’t totally decided what outfits are going to work yet, but the pieces she’s selected so far are pretty dang cool. They’ll also, in their progression, support the emotional journey of this character, as she moves from heartbreak to hysteria to an entirely new page in her personal and emotional life. Who knew a few yards of fabric could do so much work.

More to come (of course!)


p.s. I also had a great time chatting with Riverside’s board at their meeting this week, and, as I told them, Annie’s mix of songs (for which I solicited suggestions in last week’s blog) looks sadly thin so far, with only TWO songs. So, unless more people submit ideas for Annie’s character “mixtape,” I’m going to be sitting in the dressing room, listening to Ron’s suggestion (Peter Frampton!) on repeat before every show. This could affect my performance in frightening ways, people. So don’t be shy! Submit a song that makes you feel like Spring, that makes you feel thoughtful, or that makes you feel like a 30-something PBS fundraiser. Annie (and maybe even Peter Frampton) will really appreciate it!

Friday, March 07, 2008

ElenaP: Behind the Scenes

Last night, we finished blocking the play! We now have a rough sketch of each character's movements from curtain up to curtain down, a sketch that we'll now spend the next two weeks coloring, polishing, and filling in.

It's funny, but the first week on stage always feels like fumbling in the dark for a lightswitch. In many respects, the components we now have are the same things you'll soon be watching from those cushy red Riverside seats. You'll see the same people, uttering (essentially) the same lines, in (essentially) the same order. But its not a play yet, you know?

My fellow actors and I are still wandering, still searching-- finding the speed of the funnier lines, the tonality of the weightier ones, all the while aquainting ourselves with the rhythm of each reaction in our bodies. In short, blocking rehearsals are a lot of fun (we've laughed A LOT this past week as we've gotten to know both the play and each other) but the whole show still feels nebulous. We can feel the frame and structure of the wall surrounding us, but have yet to locate the smaller, integral switchplate that will illuminate the room in which we stand.

What's got my attention more than anything this week is another common byproduct of the first rehearsal week: seven days into the process, the character I'm playing is still a little under-lit, too. There are already moments where I think I can see Annie as plain as day: staring out the window on page 6, laughing at a story on page 40, threatening to punch someone on page 18. But there are moments in between where I'm not 100% sure how to play her. When Annie says "I don't know what I want to know anymore" is she feeling sarcastic or scared? When she admits that she doesn't know how to waltz, is she embarrassed? When she tells her lover that she never went to her Senior Prom, might she be lying just to get out of telling a racy story?

While some might find these uncertainties unsettling, I find them delicious! I love the detective work of theatre-- the slow, multi-pronged process of discovering a person who only exists on paper. There's lots of ways an actor can bring a character to life for herself. I read once that, Kate Winslet never feels in-character until she finds the right bra. Johnny Depp blasted a different kind of discordant music in each ear to feel more like Hunter S. Thomspon. And, of course, there's Spencer Tracy's more laissez faire approach: "just say your lines and don't bump into the furniture."

Me? I like to make mix CD's-- compilations of songs that my character (even if she exists in an era before recorded music) might enjoy listening to, or might respond to, or might find resonance in. I listen to these mixes before rehearsals or during warm-ups, or at random points in the process when I need to get in the mood.

And since this blog is all about inviting you Riverdogs into our rehearsal process, I thought YOU might want to give me a hand...

What songs might you associate with a girl like Annie? I'd describe her as a savvy 30-something PBS employee who is a little too passionate for her own good. She's an idealist, but also a little sarcastic, having just been dumped. When the play opens, she can feel both her faith--and her sanity-- slipping away. So what would you suggest? The Dixie Chicks? Mahler? Gloria Gaynor? The theme from Rocky? I'm totally open to your suggestions, folks. Character building can be collaborative! Post your songs suggestions in the comments link below, or email them to me at I'll post the playlist next week. And who knows-- if I'm feeling industrious, maybe I'll make a few mixtape copies to distribute among the most faithful "ElenaP Behind the Scenes" readers.

More soon,