[warning: long post!]
Back at the end of January, I said with regret that I was going to have to take a hiatus from the kind of blogging that takes time ... you know, the writing kind. I wasn't sure how long I'd have to lay off. Work was causing a perfect storm: two existing projects with approaching deadlines plus a big new project that required huge amounts of startup effort. And the utter foolishness of taking on a part in a play knowing full well that I might end up in a loony bin from trying to do it all. But now here we are, three weeks later, and things have settled down a bit. Whew! And I'm excited to share with you about my new theatrical venture!
I was under the mistaken impression that community theater dies down in the winter around here. Right about the time I got really, really busy with the perfect storm... and I don't mean "so busy I can't do personal emails from 8 to 5" but more like "so busy I can't have a life days, nights or weekends," a friend alerted me to these three different productions that were being auditioned.
The first was an all-female version of Twelfth Night, being staged by a well-respected local director/actor whose first love is Shakespeare. It would be a privilege to work with him, but I knew that it would take way too much time for rehearsals --- with Shakespeare, you really can't improvise the lines, they have to be letter perfect! --- so I went with my friend to the audition out of curiosity. And I'm glad I did, because she got a nice meaty part (Uncle Toby) and I can say I knew her when!
The second was very interesting, a series of 8 ten-minute plays on love, being staged the weekend before Valentine's Day. Teensy little plays like that presumably can be done with far less rehearsal time than a full-length play, assuming you were cast in only one, and I was seriously considered auditioning .. but, again, I was leary of taking anything else on, so I passed on that one, too.
And then came the third one that just did me in. A local writer/director/actor was producing an audience-participation murder mystery. A weekend-long murder mystery. The blurb on it said, "Join Paddy O'Toole, his estranged brother, Mike, his wife Bubbles, and personal secretary Siobhan Smith for a weekend of murder and mayhem. Can you assist Detective Sergeant Manning and Trooper Becca Willing in solving the crimes? Two-night package includes 2 dinners, 2 breakfasts, 2 nights lodging and amenities."
Those of you who haven't read about my very first theatrical experience last spring, a murder mystery dinner benefitting a friend's non-profit organization, might like to read about it here. If you don't want to spend all THAT much time hearing about my introduction to acting, suffice it to say I was bitten by the bug, big time. I surprised myself by really enjoying the part where the scripted portion of the murder mystery was paused while the audience hunted for clues and interviewed us characters. I loved speaking my haughty British accent and displaying a posh superior attitude. I loved misleading them about the true murderer ... me! And most of all I loved hamming it up during the scripted scenes. It was all a huge blast, albeit a lot of work.
Since then, I've been in the chorus in a musical, Singin in the Rain, and I've had a moderately-sized role in a Neil Simon play, Come Blow Your Horn. That wrapped up in September, and I've done nothing since, assuming I would have to wait for warmer weather for the theatrical season to heat back up again. But when this murder mystery weekend (fondly monikered MMW) audition came up, I just couldn't resist.
I have to admit that I absolutely love auditioning. I've never had a bad experience. People have been uniformly gracious and encouraging at each one of the auditions I've done. Sometimes you audition more or less solo; other times it's in a group, but in any case it's always been a lot of fun. In fact, I have to be really careful what I audition for, because even if I have decided beforehand that I'm just auditioning for the experience and don't intend to take a part if offered, I have such a blast auditioning that I can't resist the part when it's offered! That's how I ended up in the Neil Simon play. So now I've learned not to audition unless I think I would take a part --- which is not to imply that I regretted taking that part then because it was an amazingly interesting experience. Check the links in the sidebar if you want to see why.
So, back to the MMW. The audition was really just a read-through, all of us sitting around in a circle reading lines. The writer/director, Dean, has a pleasant, mild personality, very easy to audition for. What made it especially fun for me was that the other plays had already been cast with a dozen women for 12th night and some number of women for the ten-minute plays. That meant that at our audition there were tons of guys and only a couple of women. So I got to read the lines for each of the women's parts a few times in support of all the guys auditioning. For a ham like me, that's irresistible!
One of the roles is for a French woman, so I got to try out my very bad French accent. Even bad, though, it was a laugh a minute. There was one line where the guy asks Helene if she is passionate, and she says, "I am French!" which now that I read it in black in white I see it doesn't sound like such a funny line, but the way it came out was both funny and sexy at the same time. You had to be there.
But the most fun was Bubbles. Husband Paddy is killed early in the weekend, so she goes through a wide range of emotions, including tears and indignation and even humor. She's not dumb, but she's a bit shallow, and a terrible flirt, so she's just a gas to play. Picture Marilyn Monroe at her most innocent and sweet. And she's a BEEEG role, too! So at the end of the evening, when Dean asked us all which part(s) we would be interested in, I said I really liked Bubbles, but I would do Helene too.
The very next day I got an email saying he had someone with a really good French accent for Helene, and would I like to be Bubbles? YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!
So since then, we've been rehearsing and working on our improvs. You see, this play takes place at a nearby inn over an entire weekend. If it were all scripted, the script would be the size of an encyclopedia and nobody would be able to learn all their lines. So there are about 6 scripted scenes, where the actors are on microphones. And there are about a dozen "improvised" scenes, not on mikes, where we manage to get out more information that either provides clues or misleads the onlookers. And the rest of the time we mingle, in character!
For every character in every show, you need to have some notion of who your character is, what her background is, why she would react the way she does. There's lots of thinking that goes on to flesh out the character in your own mind, even though none of the details you're adding to your mental picture of her will be made explicit on stage. But when you do a weekend of mingling with your audience, you have to know everything there is to know about the characters so you can respond immediately and naturally to any question or comment! Did Bubbles grow up with a religion? (yes, Methodist) Does she practice now? (no) Was her high school big or small? (medium, 400 kids in her graduating class, she graduated in the top 20%, which might surprise you until you learn that her parents were very strict so she had no social life to speak of.) Did she go to college? (yes, Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois.) Do she and Paddy live near Paddy's office? (yes, just a few blocks away.) And so on and so on. To help me start to think about Bubbles' life, I've begun a blog for her. Check it out at the O'Toole Tattler.
The people who have paid to attend the weekend can be relatively certain they will hear all the scripted lines. They have to be on their toes to hear all the improvised lines. In fact, it's possible there will be significant information going out at different places at the same time, so often participants will split up, with one person in the party assigned to follow one group of actors while another person follows the others; then they come back together to compare notes. Did I mention that their goal is to figure out the murderer(s)? On Sunday morning just before the final act, the participants submit their guesses as to who is the murderer and their motive. If they're correct, they win a weekend at the Inn.
Well, it's getting late so I need to sign off for now. Check back from time to time, I'll try to post updates as things get interesting!