The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence Review!

For those of you in the Colorado Springs area (or those of you who might just be passing by…) here’s a review of  the play I’m currently involved with as co-producer.

Special thanks to Bill Wheeler, who hosts a great theater blog that you should check out in general!

Here’s snapshot of What It’s All About: 
A finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and winner of the 2014 John Gassner award, Madeleine George’s The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence brings Watson, our favorite sidekick, to the forefront as he struggles to become the protagonist of his own story. Moving through time, The Watson Intelligence explores Watson through several different incarnations. We meet the classical Dr. John Watson of Sherlock Holmes fame, the tireless engineering assistant Thomas A. Watson of Alexander Graham Bell, the contemporary Joshua Watson of the ‘Dweeb Team’, and WATSON, IBM’s super computer that became Jeopardy! champ. These four Watson iterations merge, rising to face the mystery, romance, intimacy, and technology of a new world – revealing that real heroes are often unsung.

If you’re interested in coming and checking it out, we’ve already finished our first weekend, but here’s the stuff you need for everything coming up! (Also, here’s the Springs Ensemble Theatre’s website.)

THE [CURIOUS CASE OF THE] WATSON INTELLIGENCE will be performed at Springs Ensemble Theatre, located at 1903 E. Cache La Poudre Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80909. The play runs Jan 21 – Feb 7, (Jan 21-23, Jan 28-31, & Feb 4-7). Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Sunday performances are at 4:00 p.m. Seating is limited, so reservations are recommended. Tickets are $15, with group rates available. $10 student rush tickets are available for every performance (valid ID is required, rush tickets are only available at the box office 5 minutes before the performance).

Directing Isn’t So Different From Being a Mom

Opening tonight: My directorial debut! (Well, my co-directorial debut — my co-director Sarah Shaver is AMAZEBALLS.)

Over the last couple weeks I have had the pleasure and the panic of trying to shape a series of short scenes and monologues about motherhood. Motherhood Out Loud is a beautiful collection of pieces written by some of the best playwrights around. I’ts striking to me because there’s a great mix of hilarity and tear-inducing emotions.

So there I am: in an open theatre space filled with talented actors, armed with this strong script.

Annnnnnd I’m scared to death I’ll fuck it up.

All of it.

Which makes me think that directing is not so different from motherhood.

As a parent, I really really really hope I’m not fucking my kids up. I hope they feel loved and safe. I hope they feel like I’m someone they can talk to. I hope no one ever hurts them. I hope they are happy. I hope they are healthy. I hope that when I give advice or discipline that it’s helping to develop their character and make them stronger human beings. Most of all, I just hope for them.

With directing, there are more specific concerns — concerns about if the story is being told well, concerns about lines, concerns about lights burning out.

But as a director, I really really really hope I’m not fucking people up. I hope the actors and the technicians feel able to create in a loving, safe place. I hope they feel they can approach me with problems or observations. I hope the audience loves them. I hope they are happy. I hope they are healthy. I hope that when I give notes or assign tasks that it’s helping to develop their work and make them stronger performers. And mostly, I just hope.

I also think that directing is like motherhood in the fact that, a lot of times, you just have to bluff.

Yes. I do know what I’m talking about. Really. Just trust me.

Then hope to God I’m not wrong.

In the end, you have to trust that your kids and your crew will take care of business. You just have to set them free and say “I did my best.”

If you’re in the Springs, come check out this lovely piece of theatre. I’ll be thrilled to hear what you think.

Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Directions

Dead Man’s Cell Phone Production Poster (Designed by: Linda Nichols)

Sarah Ruhl is the second most performed playwright in the United States — second only to the Bard his own self. This is the last weekend that it will be performed in Colorado Springs at the Springs Ensemble Theatre.

In other words: this is the last weekend I’ll be playing Jean.

I cannot tell you how much I love doing this play. If I could, I would perform it every day. A lot of that love is due to Sarah Ruhl’s writing style, which, as a writer, I sooooo appreciate.

One of the coolest things Ruhl does as a playwright is her stage directions. They’re almost like poetry themselves. And, while specific, they still let the director, designers, and performers go to town creatively.

This is where there’s a big ol’ difference between writing for the stage versus writing for movies versus writing novels.

Movies tend to break things out simply: Character A and Character B fight. (And there you have about twenty minutes of any Transformer  movie.)

Novels (short stories, etc.), of course, will spell all of that out: Character A hurls a chair at Character B. The chair cracks in half over Character B’s head, carving a gash across B’s forehead. And on and on — perhaps with Character A is drinking a gin and tonic.

This is how Sarah Ruhl chooses to present a fight scene in Dead Man’s Cell Phone:

A struggle for the gun. 
Perhaps an extended fight sequence
with some crawling and hair pulling. 

That magical word ‘perhaps’ leaves everything open but she’s also managed to convey exactly what this particular scene needs. Sure, you can do an extended fight scene and both Character A and Character B can be drop dead serious about what’s going on — that’s definitely one way to go. But the other is to follow that ‘perhaps’ and you get something far more in tune with what the rest of the text suggests: this is a kinda ridiculous situation — but there’s a gun so you better take it kinda seriously. Somewhere in between is the sweet spot…and the writing in the stage directions hits that note just perfectly.

Something else that happens in Ruhl’s writing — and is noticeable in the above passage — is that she breaks lines the same way poet’s do.

A struggle for the gun. This is very straightforward. And it’s its own paragraph/line/sentence. Note there’s a period.

Perhaps an extended fight sequence This fragment is left hanging. But it’s a singular thought too. This is like a line of poetry — a piece that is it’s own thing but is still connected to the next line…which is kind of a turn.

An ‘extended fight sequence’ call to mind something very serious. Then Ruhl changes the tone with the next line:

with some crawling and hair pulling. She finishes the thought with something unexpected — which is how the fight sequence should work.

We know from the rest of the play that at least one of these characters should just not be involved in a fight sequence. Because it’s ridiculous. Absurd. And the stage directions are written in a way that reflects this. It could be written like this:

A struggle for the gun. Perhaps an extended fight sequence with some crawling and pulling.

Reading it that way feels different. (At least to me.) To me, this way feels more throwaway.

I once heard an interview with Ruhl and she said that one of the most frustrating things about watching performances was that the director/actors/designers were so busy trying to put their own stamp on a piece that they didn’t worry about ‘birthing’ the story. She already wrote everything down. The story is there…and she left enough flexibility to give the director/actors/designers to come up with something really creative. So why not just tell the story?

Our director said that if we have any questions, to look to the script first. Everything is there. And it is. We’ve taken Ruhl’s notes and tried to make magic. I think we’ve done pretty good too. Here’s a review from Broadway World Denver. If you’re in Colorado Springs this weekend — you can snag tickets (hopefully) at 719-357-3080.

A Clockwork Orange: The Book, The Movie, The Play

Tonight is the opening night of Theatre ‘d Art’s production of A Clockwork Orangein which I am playing Alex’s mother and the orderly who straps him into the cinny contraption. Aside from the insane story, the insane in-your-face staging (we’re doing it promenade-style), and the insane insanity inherent in the piece itself…this has been a basic, not-insane lesson in storytelling for me.

At this point I have three experiences with the story of Alex DeLarge: book, movie, play.

Basic storyline (for those who may not know): Alex is a Beethoven-loving gang leader in a dystopian world dominated by troubled teenagers. One night his raping and pillaging goes too far and he kills a woman, is betrayed by his droogs, and is carted off to jail. He hears about this new psychological treatment created by this dude, Ludovico, which gets you out of jail faster and decides to participate in the treatment. The catch: he will get sick every time he is confronted with violence. He will be made “good,” but only because the doctors have mind-fucked him. As he tries to sort out his new life, the question becomes:

Is being good at the cost of personal choice bad?

To illustrate his point, Burgess created several scenes of crazed depravity at the opening of the story. And this depravity is what got me thinking about how certain elements in a story are told. The (what I’ll call) visceral-ness of A Clockwork Orange is revealed in a different way for each manifestation of the story. In each of the variations, there is an alteration in how some things are handled.

The reason these situations are handled differently for stage, screen, and page is because different mediums create different levels of visceral-ness. It seems painfully obvious. I’ve heard some people say movies can do some things better than books and vice versa…but I’d argue it’s not a matter of better or worse, just different. Throw in a third medium, like theatre, and there’s and additional round of elements that work differently. (Man, I feel like a need a thesaurus.)

However, adaptations can tell the same story with the same level of visceral-ness. You just have to adjust how the story is shown/told.   

For example:

Sex with the Girls
In the movie version of Clockwork, Alex hits on a couple girls at the music library and they go home and have lots of sex — portrayed in a time lapse. Now, movies have an automatic ‘fourth wall’ built in. There’s some distance created by the screen. So how to make Alex’s Lots-o-Sex scene impactful to the audience?

The visceral element of the scene is inherent in the amount of nudity (totes nude, folks) and the time lapse element itself which indicates hours are passing and they just keep having sex in a variety of positions, attitudes, states of dress, etc. Not to mention how long the time lapse goes on….This scene is one of many used to show how jacked-up young Alex is.

However, Burgess didn’t have a time lapse available to him with just words. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then a time lapse would probably be worth a gazillion and Clockwork would be more like a Proustian exploration of depravity and the reader would be so bored by the infinite descriptions he wouldn’t get to the hospital scenes until Volume 7. What does Burgess do to show how fucked up Alex is?

In the book, the girls are ten. Ten years old.

See what happened there? It took one sentence and a fragment and I bet you’re thinking: That’s fucked up. The reaction is from your gut. It’s visceral in its visceral-ness

The play doesn’t have that scene at all, and I bet I know why…so to illustrate, I’m going to talk about another scene:

The Rape Scene
I said before that movies have an inherent fourth wall, and generally plays do as well. However, while we understand Malcolm McDowell touched his co-stars and wore a penis mask on his face, we’re still protected by the screen.

In theatre, you’re watching a real live human touch another real live human right in front of you. The only protection is air.

Our production is even more intimate than that. In a promenade-style, you go to the action, it doesn’t come to you. When Alex rapes F.Alexander’s wife, he has her bent over a couch right in front of your face. In the end, the lights go off at the very crux of the moment — and the audience breathes a sigh of relief. The theatre doesn’t have to go as far to create a visceral reaction because it’s right there. If we cut the clothing off of our actress’s breasts and stripped her down like Kubrick’s movie, it would be far too much.

Going back to the Sex with the Girls scene — if a theatre did that, it would be too much. Plus, I think there are laws….

So, the next time you see a movie or a play based on a book and something’s different — just keep in mind that sometimes things get changed so the impact of the story is the most effective.

And here’s the trailer to Theatre ‘d Art’s production. Opens tonight! If you’re in Colorado Springs, we run this weekend, next weekend, and the weekend after.

The Original Pronunciation of Shakespeare

I’m trying to read Shakespeare’s works in the (generally) agreed upon order in which they were written. That means there’s a lot of histories up front. Right now, I’ve finished the Henry VI trilogy and am moving on to Richard III.

And, really, the only thing clear to me is Shakespeare’s historical presentations are quite questionable. There weren’t any archaeologists or disciplined historians back in the day. Most of the base material he used to produce these works are biased at the very least.

So, I find it ironic that English majors, historians, and armchair quarterbacks use such rigorous focus when studying the Bard.

For example, there have been several productions of Shakespeare’s plays in the past few years who have gone to a lot of trouble to recreate the original pronunciation of Shakespeare’s time period. Below, you’ll find a video featuring David Crystal, Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, presenting the methodology behind figuring out Shakespeare’s language.

But the real question is why do we even care about Shakespeare’s original pronunciation?

A couple different reasons off the top of my head:

1. Meaning. As Crystal points out in the video, the original pronunciation alters the meaning of the words themselves — you can see changes in jokes/puns. This is a real-life exploration of the evolution of language. And evolution of meaning affects:

2. History. It’s also pointed out in the video that Shakespeare’s language/dialect was the language/dialect of the first colonists of the United States. While the presenters of the video are focused exclusively on Shakespeare, it’s just a natural leap to assume the language (and possible meaning alterations) transfers to historical documents.

And that doesn’t even come close to the several ways of understanding the plays themselves, which these gentlemen do a much better job of explaining:

Tonight there was a lot of screaming

Luckily, no one was injured in the riot rehearsal process of Marat/Sade. (That’s the short title. The long title is The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. It’s by Pete Weiss.)

Not to give anything away — but I totally am — the inmates stage a freakin’ riot at the end of the play. In case you were curious, staging that kind of thing a very aerobic activity. Especially when you have to do it six times.

To help you imagine it:

Picture an aerobics floor.

Picture some aerobic dancers on the floor.

Picture them doing something synchronized in a circle in the middle of the floor.

Picture the aerobics instructor leading them in an orderly fashion.  The aerobicizers do something cool and orderly. They do stuff like jazz hands and kickboxing moves.

It’s not at all like that.

Oh, there’s plenty of kickboxing moves. And there’s spinning. There’s clapping. There’s even some jumping jacks to go along with the skipping. You could even say there’s some step aerobics, because a few people go up some stairs and a few people go down some stairs.

None of it, however, is synchronized. There’s a significant danger of running into other people. There’s a distinct possibility that at a given moment you will step on someone’s toes, or pull their hair, or bump into them in some fashion.

And that’s just the visual elements.

Did I mention there’s singing? Well, there is. And the singing turns into screaming.  A crap ton of screaming.

Yes. Tonight there was a lot of running. Tonight there was a lot of screaming.

(My throat’s a little sore.)
 

Springs Ensemble Theatre Presents Harold Pinter’s "One for the Road"; a.k.a. "Jenny did the lights"

For the past few weeks, I’ve been happily learning how to do lighting design over at SET, a Colorado Springs Theatre Company. SET’s finishing up its season with a badass one-act play involving corrupt governments and a disturbing use of Christmas carols.

We open on Thursday, and if you’re in town — or even if you want to make a long trip — you should come see it. The performances are stellar. The production quality amazing. And the lighting design isn’t bad either. 😉

Here’s the trailer:

(And stay tuned, because I’m thinking Pinter is a good writer to explore.)