Jim's Richard III Blog

What had started as a blog of Richard III rehearsal process at Cal Shakes has now evolved or devolved into a small novella. The author is petrified to change the name for fear it'll disappear, and wouldn't know what to call it anyway. Many stories are included and questions are even answered sometimes!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Segue

Well here I am, transitioning from BRT to Cal Shakes and seem on some level to be resisting the transition; I don't think its a resistance born out of negativity though, but rather it springs from that sense of impending departure, that sure and certain knowledge that very soon I will be leaving the cast of Lieutenant of Inishmore at BRT -- leaving behind a wonderful experience and group of people. I truly don't want to leave the show and it saddens me that I must.

I'm not usually a sentimental actor when it comes to a show ending--perhaps some of this is due to my early rep experience; when a show was over you went on to the next one, many times with the same group of actors, so these feelings about Inishmore are a rare event to this crusty old salt. I thank the whole bunch of goobs -- crew, cast and director -- for making me laugh more than I have in ages, put this memory in my pocket and move on.

So. Romeo and Juliet. Here I am. Again.
This is my 7th R & J, and I've played damn near everyone in the play by now.

My first was in College, New Mexico State University, in Las Cruces. I got cast as Mercutio. I'd done 2 Shakespeares at most and had really no idea what I was saying -- I did know a good deal of it was rude and I remember being very clear on those particular passages, to the dismay of our rather proper director. I think all the dead people got up and danced at the end.

My next production was in El Paso, Texas at the Chamizal Memorial Theatre, newly built to cement cultural ties between the US and Mexico. I'll attribute the demise of my teen homophobia entirely to this show as the entire male cast, with the exception of myself, was gay. They were totally nice to me when they could have been cruel and only once did I get my eyes widened by walking into the restroom and seeing more than one individual in the shower.

The show was performed on a football shaped stage, raked at an angle of about 30 degrees. This is just about the angle that, were you aboard a ship in a raging ocean, the deck would tilt to just before you slid off it into the sea.......very difficult to work on. We had to use rosin to get a good grip.

The director hated me. After my death at the hands of Romeo he had me lie on my back upstage. For the rest of the play. Yep. I became a set piece. Every one acted around me. I got so good at regulating my breathing I'd go into a sort of trance and would actually fall asleep. I tried to listen, I tried to stay awake, but every night would get a boot in the ribs when my fellow actors would kick me to wake me for the curtain call. I don't think I ever snored.

The next was in Sacramento, as Tybalt. Don't remember much about that one.........

In 1982 I was cast as Mercutio at Oregon Shakespeare Festival; I remember we had to audition for the role (sometimes the roles are offered flat out) and had to duke it out with some of the big boys at the Festival to get the part. Kyle MacLachlan played Romeo (this was before he went to Hollywood) and was quite good. We had a terrific rapier dagger fight that wasat least 3 minutes long and was exhausting to perform, but oh my I was in great shape!

The next three productions have been at Cal Shakes, once as The Prince, once as Montague, and in the current production, Juliet's father, Daddy Capulet; L. Peter Callender has played Capulet in the 2 previous productions--he was magnificent in the role, and I can't seem to get his voice out of my head................

Help me.

Friday, May 8, 2009

OF BLACK CATS AND OLD FRIENDS

The Universe seems to have been prodding me in certain directions this year and now, through the devious workings of Dame Fortune, I find myself once more working with Berkeley Rep. It's been a few years since I've done a show here and it's always a huge pleasure to return. To top it off I get to portray Donny in Lieutenant of Inishmore, BRT's latest offering--a mad, hysterical, bloody good Irish play, and a feast for any Actor.

To prepare for the role I've become thoroughly disreputable looking.

I've allowed all the hair on my body to grow unchecked; I've put away the razor, the scissors, my tweezers, the battery-powered rotary nose hair trimmer bought by my wife (who now bleats at me from time to time mocking my goatish appearance) and now resemble someone you'd find on a late-night Sunday BART train.

The rehearsal process of Lieutenant of Inishmore has been glorious fun for me; I'm not often cast in this character type and I don't often do roles that are purely or mostly comic in nature but I fell into it with an amazing ease and have laughed more in this short span than I have in years. Les Waters, our Director, would shake his head in delighted wonder and say "It's so stupid! And I laugh every time!"

And it's all the more fun for it's excellent special effects -- guns, blood, exploding cats, various bladders which ooze, squirt and burst, and devices which blast various formulas and viscosity's of blood either away from you or at you. We have Blood Mortars.....I've never done a show with a blood mortar.....

The term "Blood Mortar" was a little daunting to those of us who were to experience it's effects, but we were blessedly introduced to those effects early on in the process; our 3 Irish thugs all got life casts of their faces (which is an experience vaguely akin to being buried alive) before rehearsals started and Steve Tolin, our special effects man and super-hero, made frequent appearances explaining the way the bleeding bodies came apart, where blood packs would be and demonstrating the Gore Cannon on himself.

Steve would stand in front of a 15' wall that had plastic sheeting affixed to a height of about 9' with himself duct-taped into a clear plastic skirt which covered his lower half but left torso and head exposed, and press a red button. The first time the mortar didn't fire. The second time there was a moose-like honk from the mortar and Steve was, in a microsecond, blasted in the face with a spray of blood which went a good 11' up the wall. It's tricky onstage--one person fires a gun and the other tries to trigger the cannon at exactly the same instant--ideally, the firing guns cover the "PHAARnnnk!" from the device.

I must add a note of praise for our most excellent crew here--we could not do this show without their focus and expertise; they stand backstage before the scene 8-9 shift for a full minute with their eyes closed before rushing on in the blackout to strew blood, body parts and dismembering implements liberally across the stage as the actors are splashing themselves with stage blood in the dark--terrifying the first time I saw it, even with the lights up. But it's a testament to their skill that no one's been hurt and all elements are magically there every night. This same group then cleans up the 12 some gallons of blood, brains, body parts and sodden clothing every night after the show requiring an additional hour of cleanup and laundry. Many, many thanks to them.

In the course of rehearsals and performance we have become one of those blessed events--a finely tuned, supportive cast and crew made up of fun, funny and talented people who all care for each other and work their uttermost to make the show succeed, making it all the harder for me to leave......

Shortly after we opened Inishmore I started rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet at California Shakespeare Theatre but Inishmore has received such good press that its now extending--into my tech week for R & J, knocking me out of the extension week. My fellow actors are very professional about it--they'll go into rehearsals with the understudy who seems a fine man. Patrick. I hear he's terrific and to top it off, he's really Irish. The very least I can say is Thank you Les, Karen, and goodbye you bunch of Goobs; the most I could say would take far too long to write. I love yez and I'll miss yez. To Patrick I raise my glass and shout "Fill yer boots, Man!" I wish you joy in the role and people.

For the curious, Bella, our show cat who plays Wee Thomas, has an understudy as well and she happens to belong to me, or rather, I to her; my plump, round and black as a cannonball Princess sits with me as I compose this blog/goodbye/note of thanks, her head stuffed deeply into my armpit, purring happily. She knows that I have "Bella sessions" and that I play string with other cats than herself yet has endured my consorting with other female black cats (and the practising of my lines by means of cooing into her ear in an Irish accent) with a certain studied disdain; she, I think, is not sorry I'll be leaving the show. And though she makes only the rare appearance -- usually in our neighbour's potted plants -- she's let me know in that certain way that felines will, that were SHE ever to go on for the other black kitty...................she would be bloody breathtaking.




Monday, November 17, 2008

The Scrooge Chronicles

The last time I blogged anything was opening night of Uncle Vanya at Cal Shakes. I've done Rock N Roll at ACT since then, and am now a week into rehearsals for A Christmas Carol (also at ACT) reprising the role of Scrooge. Three months of not writing....Why? I don't know exactly.

Both Vanya and R N R were great experiences with wonderful casts--I didn't like the character I'd created in Vanya (like everyone in that fictional household I found ways of coping with him) but enjoyed the hell out of the truly despicable party functionary I found in Rock N Roll. Bad guys are fun! After we closed Rock N Roll at ACT the show went on to Boston for a run at the Huntington Theatre but left behind 3 cast members -- Nick Pelczar, Natalie Hegg (both students at the Conservatory) and myself, all 3 of us now rehearsing Christmas Carol. At the closing night celebration in Fred's Lounge at ACT I felt as if I were standing on a dock somewhere waving my hankie at a ship sailing off over a darkening ocean. Bon Voyage, y'all. They've opened now, and are doing well. I send them a rude card from time to time.

And now I have a whole new batch of young goobers to break in as Scrooge, little ones and students, and it brings with it a new set of joys and makes my Carol "family" just a little larger. Some of the young ones are back, some kids entirely new to the experience and I've twice found kids who were in the show previous years wistfully waiting outside the building. Quite touching. And again I've at least 30 new names to memorize and I'm dreadful at names, truly pathetic--I have to study.

But even though I have to get in shape for the role--go into training for it really, it definitely has payoffs; yesterday we had our first run-through and I went full out, no holding back, full performance energy and found myself totally pooped, and drenched at plays end. We took a break before our note session and I toweled off, got back into street clothes and plopped into a corner to rest.

As I sat there one of the little girls in the cast--a tomboy-ish one who ties her long hair back--came racing up to me, stuffed a tiny piece of paper into my hand, and said "You need to read this!" and ran off giggling. I unclasped my hand and found there a fortune from the interior of a fortune cookie; it read:

"Don't worry about the Stock Market. Invest in family."

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Shorthand

Opening Night day. Awoke at 8:01 with help from the cat. Must have coffee. Must buy cards. Must re-read Rock N Roll. Will start rehearsals on Monday. No days off for a month. Looks like a good day weather-wise. Not taking any bets Theatre-wise. No beard trauma last night.

Cross your fingers.

Merde!

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Bad Hair Day


OK. Something is weird in my Universe.

The past 3 nights I've gone to bed very tired and very late. This morning I awoke, moaned quietly, rolled over, looked at the clock and saw its little beady LED eyes blinking exactly the same time as it has the previous two mornings.

7:49 AM

I've also had some, shall we say alarmingly vivid, erotic dreams and while I am not opposed to erotic dreaming in any fashion, these seem rather Chekhovian in nature......actually life in general seems to bear a faint tint of Chekhov for me these days; a sort of double vision, everything seems quite serious and somehow farcical at the same time. I won't go into the details of my dream eroticism but suffice it to say, it's fairly ridiculous..............

We finished the tech process Tuesday evening, had our first two previews Wednesday and Thursday and will have our 3rd tonight. The first show was largely uneventful with laughs in unexpected places and last night we had a full house with a lovely audience..............BUT........my beard came off.

Yep, right at the beginning of my big scene in the 3rd act--the one that has the speech that still gives me that "deer in the headlights" kind of feeling. I'm the deer. The deer with the beard. A magnificent Patriarchal full beard built for me (I couldn't grow one like this without a good head start) and glued on with the old standby Spirit Gum, applied and aligned by yours truly.

Now I thought that sucker was on--I even gave a cursory inspection--seemed fine, but no sooner had I gotten 5 lines out of my mouth than I got a sudden and distinct sensation of non- adhesion. This was not a good thing--I had a major speech coming up and an argument with Vanya (the inestimable Dan Hyatt) and the last thing I wanted was the audience to be staring at my beard and taking bets on when my little furry would at last topple from my face instead of listening to what was being said.

So I changed my blocking, or rather wound up keeping my right bearded side facing the audience as much as possible, and when I absolutely had to face stage right would do so while scratching my temple and holding my beard pressed in place with my palm to mask it.

Clever, no? A little sleight of beard.

I was met on my brief exit by Howard Swain with spirit gum in had, tacked the damn thing down again, blotted the glue and walked back on.

Ta-Da!

Coming up: Will Jim wake at 7:49 again? Stay tuned.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Rakes Progress

It's been warm out at the Bruns during our last 4 days of Tech; our first evening was chilly, the next two sublime, and we finished out the week on Sunday with another brisk evening.

We've actually been able to do some work on scenes between the cracks of working on lighting and sound cues but didn't run the show till last night. Oddly my performance was better in the full sun with no costumes, sound or lights.......I hate it when that happens.

I find myself stumbling on internal adjustments; at the top of Chekhov's act 2 the Professor and his wife are revealed onstage asleep in their chairs--his gout has been troubling him, the pain keeping him from sleep and as a consequence he's kept the entire household awake tending to him.

But we have no curtain, hence no reveal; this means that I have to limp onstage through many bustling people who are shifting scenery and moving furniture, plop myself down, read a bit, fall asleep and then get startled awake and at present I've barely time to get to my chair and let my head drop before I suddenly jolt awake; the actress playing my wife has a full costume change (she's in the final scene in act 1) and barely makes it on in time.

This feels odd--we both go from a brief burst of energetic motion to a moment of stasis and I at least have not made my peace with the moment--it feels as if the audience is supposed to witness that silence and non activity for some time -- this is not criticism mind you, but more in the nature of dealing with the peculiarities of this particular set; I'm sure we'll find a happy medium.
The raked stage has added a few challenges but as proved fairly easy to deal with--the cast had a session with a physical therapist who gave us a full range of stretches and provided exercise balls and foam rollers to help counteract whatever adverse affects we might be feeling from the rake and we've put them to good use; I've had to do much work on my ankle (the one I sprained in Richard III last year) and am using my brace.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Tech Week List

-Shaving cream & razor
-Makeup & brushes
-Soap
-Contact lenses and solution
-Toothbrush and toothpaste
-Goopydoo hair gel
-Sunblock x50
-Sunglasses
-Ratty white shirt
-Dad's old cowboy hat
-Shorts
-Thermal socks
-Long underwear
-Shakespeare Santa Cruz sweatshirt
-Parka
-Ankle brace and exercise bands
-A decent book
-Reading glasses
-Bottle of Scotch (post show use only)
-Frozen taquitos
-Triscits and spinach dip