Friday, October 28, 2005

No, Seriously, What is Going On?

The Chicago Tribune's review of Hamlet came out today. You can read it here. It just proves two things:

FIRST: I have no idea what's good and what isn't. Maybe I need to go finish college, or something.

SECOND: I might be a theatrical lucky charm. This is the third of the last four shows I've been in to be a critical success. Unfortunately for my ego I rarely get mentioned in the reviews, but perhaps my awesomeness is a more subtle and pervasive kind--the kind that seeps into the cracks and settles into the foundation. Kind of like mold spores, but, you know, cooler.

Also, I think I have my costume all planned out for Halloween. It's not that cool, but maybe (if I can figure out how) I'll post a picture or two.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


The gift I got Mandy for our anniversary was indeed a big hit. For those of you who asked, I got her an iPod. She got me two tickets to see one of my favorite bands, Dropkick Murphys. They're playing at the Riv next month. Sweet!

Plus, the Bears and the White Sox won on Sunday, so all the way around it was a good anniversary weekend.

So, there is a good chance that after next Monday I won't be posting much here for about a month. This is because my good friend Dan and I will be participating in the grueling endurance challenge known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. During the month of November participants in NaNoWriMo attempt to write fifty thousand words of a single story. The idea is not quality, but quantity. In theory, the quality part comes in after November, when you finish whatever you kick-started during the month, and then begin rewriting. I'll have to spend a few hours a day writing in order to meet this goal. (With occasional breaks for things like the Dropkick Murphys concert, or perhaps Thanksgiving. Oh, also, Bears games.) Dan and I are going to get together twice a week or so and write together (or rather, separately, but in the same room at the same time) as sort of a support group.

I am announcing my participation in NaNoWriMo on this blog on the advice of the contest's Bible, No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. In it he suggests that participants inform their friends and loved ones of their goal, so that whenever they see them they will be asked about their progress, and when can people read it, and blah blah blah, as an attempt to shame the participant into getting back to work, just so they won't have to tell people they quit.

I figure I could use all the help I can get.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

O Happy Day!

At last, something that is NOT a complaint.

Today is my (and my lovely wife's) first wedding anniversary! My mother-in-law is throwing us a little family shindig today out in the 'burbs. I'm told we're even getting food from Maggiano's where we had our reception.

I hope Mandy likes the present I got her.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I Know Nothing About Good Theater

This, from the Chicago Reader:

* * * * *

HAMLET Though this production inaugurates a space for "artists working outside the traditional methodology of the text-based theater," director Blake Montgomery's elegant, clean-lined Hamlet is radical only in that it returns the play to its roots, stripping away centuries of convention and received wisdom. There is one departure from the text, however: the final scene is played first. This produces a kaleidoscope effect--one little twist, and all the pieces fall into a new pattern. A first-rate cast of eight, led by the extraordinary Christopher Johnson as Hamlet, performs on a bare stage in modern dress with only a change of coat or glasses to indicate a new character; between their scenes, the performers watch the action from either end of a runway-style stage. Hamlet may let ego interfere with duty, but this production never does; it keeps perfect faith with the ghost of Shakespeare. And of Joe Papp: all performances are free. Through 11/19: Fri-Sat 8 PM. Building Stage, 1044 W. Kinzie, 312-491-1369. --Kelly Kleiman

* * * * *

Yeah, that's the review of the show I was just complaining about in the previous post. We are listed as one of this week's Critics' Choices. On top of that, last night I saw a production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, who until last night was one of my least favorite playwrights. Now I have to go back and re-read all the stuff I said I hated, because I didn't realize just how funny the guy really was. Everyone always plays his characters as these monstrous founts of melodrama, when really they are normal people with normal problems, who, like characters in plays by Chekov, use humor to cover up their unhappiness.

I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Play's the Thing

This play I'm in? Maybe I mentioned it before? It's called Hamlet, by this dude named William Shakespeare. Maybe you've heard of it. I play the Ghost of Hamlet's Father, which is not to be confused with The Courtship of Eddie's Father. My show has far fewer moments of unvarnished terror.

So, yeah, I'm in a production of Hamlet, which was one of my life's ambitions. Actually, my ambition was to play the role of Hamlet, but you don't see too many two-hundred-eighty-pound Danish princes treading the boards. I am cool with this, however, because the dude playing Hamlet is a friend of mine, and he is fucking awesome. As a bonus, this other guy I know, Kelly, is playing Claudius, and he is freakin' brilliant.

Too bad this production totally blows.

Did I say that out loud?

I can't really say it blows, per se. People who have seen it, whose opinions I trust, and whom I think will not bullshit me, have told me they enjoyed the show, or at least enough of it to make the whole experience of watching it worthwhile. I suppose that is something. No reviews have been published yet, so there is no official statement on our show's quality, but I'll be sure and let y'all know when that comes down.

The problem is that we are just not having fun. At the very beginning of this whole thing we, the cast, were led to believe that we would be embarking on a unique theater experience, with a different take on the rehearsal process. I expected to do a lot of work based in physical theater. Also, a buzz-phrase frequently used by our director is "actor-creator," which led me to believe that I and the rest of the cast would have some say in the direction of the show, or at least be able to discuss what themes we felt our production should address.

But no. First off, there was no table-work. For those of you who don't know, table-work means the cast gets together and combs through the script to make sure everybody agrees on pronunciations and definitions and that sort of thing. It is also the beginning of the character work, where the actors begin to feel each other out, and with the director's guidance begin to get an idea of their characters' relationships. We did none of that. Worse, we were forbidden to have any discussions of any kind relating to any of this. Whenever such a discussion would begin, the director would get all flustered and say, "Why are we discussing this? I don't find this interesting."

I will admit that certain aspects of table work can be tedious, but that doesn't mean they are any less essential to the process. But alas, that essential step was left out. Instead, we went straight into the blocking. And we never left.

It took us almost two weeks to completely block every scene in the show. Unfortunately, scheduling issues made it necessary for us to work on the scenes out of order, so that on Day One we might work Scenes 3, 7 and 12, and on Day Two we might tackle Scenes 2, 5 and 14, depending on which actors were available. Normally this is a frustrating but not unexpected problem at the beginning of a rehearsal process. However, since our director came in with absolutely no pre-conceived plan for blocking, the process took longer than it normally should have, and, since there was no table work (or indeed, even a read-through of the script) we had no greater context in which to put any individual scene.

Finally we had worked on every scene in the script, and when we had all of the actors in the room at the same time we started going through the play in order. And everything plopped like a turd.

See, because of the way the stage is set up in this particular theater, where an actor exits after one scene determines where he must enter for his next. Alas, that was not taken into account even a little bit during those first two weeks of blocking rehearsals. So we had to start from scratch. The re-blocking took another week. By then most of us pretty much had our dialogue memorized, so we could start doing some real character work if only our director would allow it. But of course, he would not.

Scenes lasted an average of about three to four days. During that time the peformance of the scene would grow stale and uninteresting because we actors had nothing to back up what we were saying. We had little concept of our characters beyond what had elicited a vocal response from other people in the room during the running of scenes. We had no notion of our characters' relationships to the other characters. Essentially, we were eight actors performing eight different one-man shows on the same stage. It soon became apparent that our director would have to take steps to move us back in a productive direction. Unfortunately, he really only seemed to know one solution:

We re-blocked it.

Last Sunday was opening night. Saturday? We re-blocked some stuff. During the last week or so of rehearsals our director did finally start giving us some actual character-based notes, but in some ways it was too little too late. It was like trying to write a short story, but instead of actually writing, you just made an outline, and every time you got a new idea you stuck a Post-It Note on there.

At any rate, the show has finally opened, and while I am not particularly thrilled with the end result, it still has some watchable moments. I can at least say I am proud of my own contributions, and those of my friends. So that's something.

Friday, October 14, 2005


I have no idea what the above word means. It came up at work, by accident. I think it is worthy of being inserted into the English language provided a suitable definition can be found.

I am open to suggestions.

Also, a couple of people have asked me about linking to this blog. Hell, link away! The more the merrier.

I could use a nap.

And also, more money.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

And You Thought Columbus Day was Important

Or did you? I never really got the point of it. I mean, the guy was lost, and managed to find a place that had already been "found" by some twenty million Native Americans on two continents, not to mention a shitload of Vikings, and (if certain rumors are to be believed) even the Egyptians managed to swing by our neck of the woods a few times before old C.C. blundered his way over here.

But today we find an anniversary truly worth celebrating. Today we mark the end of oppression and tyranny, and the beginning of justice. For today, October 12, 2005, is the 146th anniversary of the Dissolution of Congress by His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton I.

Everybody understands Mickey Mouse. Few understand Hermann Hesse. Only a handful understood Albert Einstein. And nobody understood Emperor Norton.

Words to live by, my friends.