Rehearsal Week #6

I hope everyone had a nice long weekend! I’m sure our actors spent all of their extra time learning lines since we will be completely off-book this coming Saturday! Yes, that’s right – everything should be memorized.  This is really important – the more comfortable our actors are with their lines the easier the rest of our rehearsals, especially our tech rehearsals, will be.

This past week we reviewed almost all of Act 1 blocking and the blocking for Act 2 scenes 1-5. Then we blocked 2,6 (that’s Act 2, Scene 6 for those of you who don’t think in theater terms yet). That means that the only things we didn’t cover were the Prologue, the Entr’acte, and the last scene. All the songs were sung (even those in the Prologue and final scene), and Lisa worked to fix old choreography and teach some new choreography. We are chugging along at a really good pace and I can’t wait to see the finished product!

This coming week, aside from being the Act 2 off-book date, is our food drive and cast breakfast. The cast breakfast was originally created as a reward for the mentor group that brought in the most food. Then it became a reward for the mentor group that guessed the number of items that everyone brought for the food drive. So, there is definitely a connection between these two NDW traditions. But there is another really strong connection as well.

At the cast breakfast, our actors get to bond and eat a meal together as a community. We do the food drive, as members of the Natick community, to help support the community that supports us. Being part of the Natick community means volunteering at Natick Days, Tilly’s, and Spooktacular. When we give back, we show that we care. And holding a food drive is such a great way to show that we care. There are families in Natick who, unfortunately, need some help putting food on the table and it is an honor to be part of a group that helps the Natick Service Council do that twice a year.

So, as we share a meal this Saturday, remember that we share it because of the food drive. Remember that we share it because we are a community. And remember that we share it in the same way that every family deserves to share a meal together in our community and beyond.

Now, not to ruin such a nice ending to this blog, but since I put such an emphasis on food I wanted to say that of course there are non-food items that can be donated as well. Please check this week’s newsletter for more info!

See you Saturday,

Debbi

Rehearsal Week #4

Well, we are officially off-book for Act One! Woot woot! With less than a month until showtime this is a really good thing.  Another good thing? All of the music has been learned and we’ve run Act 1 twice all the way through now.

With 2 rehearsals, we all had a very busy weekend. And it was a very productive weekend at that. I am most proud of how much blocking was covered on Saturday. Not only did we run all of Act 1 with music and any learned choreography, but we also blocked 5 out of 7 scenes in Act 2. That’s right, we only have 2 scenes that haven’t been touched yet. Our kids did sing through the big celebration number at the end though, so that almost makes up for those 2 scenes.

Sunday night, as the Act 1 off-book date, we ran Act 1 with music and choreography again. This time without scripts. This is a hard thing to do. Scripts become safety nets (especially if you write in all your blocking notes – as you should be doing) and giving them up can be nerve racking. And memorization is tricky!

So, without further ado, here are my tricks for memorization:

1) Repeat, repeat, repeat. It doesn’t matter how or where you do this, but it is imperative that you repeat your lines over and over again to commit them to memory. In the past, I’ve done this in the car, in the shower, and silently in my head while doing other tasks. I’ve also practiced my lines silently by typing them out and then correcting what I got wrong later. This method is a little better for longer lines and speeches, but if you’re bored during study hall and have access to a computer/iPad, it’s not a bad idea.

2) Step number one only helps you with your lines, and unfortunately, that is not enough. How do you know when to come in with your memorized lines? So now you need to practice with someone else, or use the Shakespeare method. I’ll get to the latter in a moment. Practicing with someone else is really helpful. I find it helpful to practice with someone not in the play with me so that they can be on book and correct me when I get even one word wrong. Tell this person up front how much help you want when you get stuck. Also let them know if you they should tell you immediately when you make a mistake, or if they should wait until the end of a section or scene before telling you. Of course, it’s also helpful to run lines with your fellow actors, but if you’re all trying to memorize your lines, no one can be on book for you, so this is something that should be done to help keep your lines, not something that should be done to help you memorize them.

3) Okay, the Shakespeare method, which is my unofficial name for making cue scripts for yourself. This consists of having your lines written (or typed) with one or 2 lines that precede each of yours. For example, if your lines are, “Hey, you! Watch out” and, “Yeah, I guess that makes sense” your cue script would look like this:

Scene 3

Rufus: Why did the chicken cross the street? Let’s find out! (starts to cross street)

Me: Hey, you! Watch out.

_______________________________________________________________________(underscore line - in case it doesn't show up in your email)

Barbara: Don’t you think it would be easier to just carry what you can hold and come back for the rest later?

Me: Yeah, I guess that makes sense

All the lines that you don’t say (except for your cue) are represented by the line and you only need to include the scenes with your lines. This, of course, will not help with your blocking, but it’s a good way to practice and memorize your lines if you don’t have anyone to help you. There are several apps these days that can help you with memorization with cues so that you don’t have to do this, but it’s worked for centuries, so why not give it a try?

4) So far we’ve only talked about your lines, but knowing your blocking with your lines is really helpful. For that I suggest knowing your lines and adding in the blocking as you practice them. The blocking can be in your head if you aren’t able to move around (like if you’re in the car), or it can be in a smaller space, like your bedroom. Think of your blocking as you’re practicing and learning your lines and then occasionally double check your script to make sure you’re right. Hopefully, muscle memory will take over and not only will your movements/blocking become second nature, but having the blocking down might even help you remember your lines in turn.

5) Lyrics and choreography – I’ve already talked about these, so I’m combining them into one recap. Practice is key for both. Listening to the music on the website is also key for both. When you’re listening to a song you like on the radio (or Spotify) you sing it over and over and soon, you can not only sing along with it, but probably sing a good portion, if not all of it, on your own. So why not do the same with the “Doo Wop” music? Listen to it a lot, sing along to it, and then once you have a good handle on it, try singing it without the vocals. The first time you do this you may need your script to help you along, but if you continue doing this, very soon, you won’t need your script at all! For choreography, just like blocking this can be done in your head, but if you’re still working on committing songs to memory, why not move while singing? I mean, you’re already listening to the music and you’re going to have to sing and dance at the same time on stage so you might as well start now.

Okay, those are some tips and tricks. Maybe you have one of your own that works. Feel free to share it so that everyone can benefit from it. After all, theater is a team sport.

See you Saturday,

Debbi


Rehearsal #3

Hello! As you may have noticed, I was not at rehearsal this week, and as such, am not able to discuss with you what happened.

I will say that I hope you are practicing everything you learned at home, at school, in the car, in the shower, while walking, while dancing, while daydreaming… well, you get the idea. I can’t stress just how important practicing is – you need to feel confident on stage and the best way to do that is to know what you’re doing!

Alright, so since I have no recaps for you this week I thought instead that I would show you a bunch of 1950s things. Enjoy!

Here is Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957. Of course, they could only show his top half because his dancing was a little controversial back then.

Now Elvis kicked off his medley with “Hound Dog,” but his version of the song is still severely neutered in my opinion. Here is the original by Big Mama Thornton and my favorite version of the song. I think it’s better when sung by a woman, too.

Our show is named after a type of music called Doo Wop. Here is one example of a Doo Wop song: “In the Still of the Night” by The Satins. And another, more fast-paced one: “Sh-Boom” by The Chords.

Now for some television. The Hoods reference “My Three Sons,” which actually debuted in 1960, but we’ll forgive the playwright for making this little goof in service of a joke. Here is a promo for the show from back in the day.

“My Three Sons” shared a cast member with the classic (and amazing) “I Love Lucy.” It would be impossible to pick just one moment or episode, so courtesy of YouTube, here is a Top 5 list. And as a bonus, here is Ricky telling Little Ricky the story of “Little Red Riding Hood”

And, finally, here is a clip of the classic TV game show, “What’s My Line” in which panelists have to guess what a person’s job or secret is. Every show the panelists would put on a blind fold and a famous person would come out, usually disguising his or her voice, and the panelists would have to guess who that person was. This episode’s celebrity guest was Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady. You can watch the whole episode (with 1950s commercials!) or go straight to the main event at 14:45.

I hope you enjoyed the above and I will see you this coming weekend for another double rehearsal!

-Debbi


Rehearsal #2 (and Extra Rehearsal)

Hello friends!

This week at NDW we did a lot – in part because we had two rehearsals! I was, unfortunately, not able to attend the extra rehearsal this week, but I heard all about the work our actors would be doing ahead of time.

Lisa started choreography for the show and it looks like our opening number is done – yay! Now it’s up to our actors to keep practicing on their own.

Will also taught a ton of music this week (dare I say all of it?). The great thing about learning the music is that it is much easier to learn the choreography once you know the songs. So hopefully our actors are singing up a storm, even when they’re not at rehearsal, so they will be able to better learn their dances.

We also did some character work this week and got to almost everyone. Actors talked about their characters and their relationships with other characters, as well.

And, in preparation for blocking, we talked about stage directions on Saturday, too. Do you know the difference between stage right and stage left? How about upstage and downstage? I’m sure you know where center stage is though! Right and left is always from the actor’s point of view. So, if you are acting, you are on the stage, facing the audience. That determines which is right and which is left. The confusing thing about this is the directions in the house. Aisle left is the opposite side from stage left because when the actor is in the house s/he is facing the stage. Confused yet? Once you get used to this it becomes really easy – as long as you can tell your right from your left that is.

For upstage and downstage I always think about the fact that a long, long time ago stages were tilted. The front was tilted down and the back part up, so that the audience could see the whole stage better. As such, when you would walk up the stage you would be walking to the back and walking down the stage would bring you to the front. Hence, upstage and downstage.

To end this blog, I’m going to share with you something that Mr. and Mrs. Hood would greatly appreciate – Howdy DoodyThis clip also features Clarabelle the Clown, who is referenced in our play.

See you soon,

Debbi

Read-thru/Rehearsal #1

Hello everyone!

This past week at rehearsal we had a lot going on: songs were learned, costumes were tried on, and improv games were played!

We started off, of course, with handing out scripts and then having a read-thru. Read-thrus are so important. It helps to know the whole story, and not just the scenes that you are in, and even for those, it’s good to read them ahead of time.

I was just reading an interview with Sterling K. Brown, an actor who seems to be everywhere lately, but is most known for his roles in This is Us and Black Panther. He was saying that as someone who comes from the world of theater he really appreciates that the This is Us writers have shared his character’s ending with him. As an actor he likes to have the whole story so that he can use it to help craft his performance, even as he has to pretend to not know information as he plays his character in present day.

For many actors, especially those who’ve had any formal training, knowing a character’s full arc helps them see the whole performance. You can break a script down into beats (or sections) – sometimes each beat is a scene, sometimes it’s a few scenes, sometimes it’s less than one scene. Then you break the beats down as you look for certain things. The most common of these things is objective – what does the character want in this moment? In this scene? Overall? When you know what a character wants, the acting becomes a little easier. Sterling K. Brown is definitely an actor who does this.

So, what does your character want? If you’re playing Mr. or Mrs. Hood, you might say, “My character wants to watch TV” However, it goes deeper than that. That want, or objective, is a very in the moment type of thing. If that’s all the characters want, why would they hire the Evil Queen? This is when having several objectives throughout the script comes in handy.

Now, what does this have to do with the read-thru? Easy, by reading the play out loud together, we are now all familiar with the play and have a full picture of the plot and each individual character. As a result, any of our actors that want to put the work in, can now begin to develop their characters’ arc, their objectives, and of course, their backstories.  All things that help to strengthen any performance.

When the read-thru ended we had the cast go to the back room with Will to learn the opening number – which means it’s ready to be choreographed! Yay! Will also taught Fairy Tale Blues and worked with the Princes on their song number. All in all, a good day for music.

In the middle of all that, some actors were sent to the first room, for their first costume fitting – an exciting thing for any actor. After all, the clothes make the man – or so they say. A lot of actors talk about how once they put on their costume the character suddenly appeared for them and made it easier for them to do their job. I’m always a big proponent of rehearsing in your character’s shoes or in any big and important costume pieces (like a hat) that will help actors get the physicality of their characters before tech week. Sometimes at NDW this can be hard to do, but if you ever work in theater in the real world (aka in the professional world) you’ll see that this is not just common, but required. So, although you can’t have a show without blocking/singing/dancing rehearsals, you also need to have costumes to help actors prepare for their roles, which only serves to make all the work in rehearsals come to fruition.

And finally, the actors that weren’t with Will or Pam were with me, assisted by Bella (our production assistant) and Janine (an alum). We played Bippity Bippity Bop for a little while as an ice breaker and then we got serious, forcing our actors to work as a team by doing some mellow word associations and then the human knot. Our old musical director, Jane, whom some of you may remember from the year between Chris and Will (also the musical director when I was a kid in the program), always used to say that acting was a team sport – and she was right! It’s so important to work together when doing a play. I won’t go into the reasons here, but we had a really nice discussion about it in the gym in between playing the latter two games.

With all of this going on we build a great foundation for the start of rehearsals and I can’t wait to start blocking with everyone. I hope all our actors re-read their scripts this week in preparation (you can even start working on your objectives if you want). We have double rehearsal this weekend, so imagine all the things we’ll get done!

See you Saturday,

Debbi

Auditions (Doo Wop blog #2)

I hope you’re all excited to be working on Doo Wop Wed Widing Hood this fall! It’s such a fun show with lots of great music and I can’t wait for everyone to read through the script and start working on it Saturday.

By now, I’m sure you’ve all seen the cast list. Please remember to reserve judgement until you get a script in your hands. Keep in mind that the number of lines is just a small part of what your role will end up being.

Casting this show took a little bit longer than it has the past couple of years – we had a lot of tough decisions to make. And now I will attempt to explain that process.

As I say every year, casting is like putting a puzzle together. Each actor, each role, is a different piece and if you cast it one way versus another, the pieces might not fit together so well to create the whole. As we cast we really are looking at the big picture at the same time that we’re looking carefully at each individual piece.

Think about your group of friends and your favorite television show or movie. I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first time that you’ve tried to “cast” your friend group in these roles. Let’s start very simply by looking at the popular TV show “Friends.” Would you consider yourself to be a Monica, Rachel, Ross, Joey, Phoebe or Chandler? You might have a favorite character, but which one would you be able to play most convincingly? And keep in mind, as you cast your friends in these roles, you can’t have 2 Rosses and no Joeys.

For me, I would love to be Rachel, but I know that I would be a much better Monica or Phoebe. Both of these roles would have their challenges for me, but I could play either. That being said, when push comes to shove, I’d probably make a better Monica – unless of course there isn’t another person in my friend group who could pull off Phoebe’s amazing and cool weirdness – then that part would be mine.

And that’s the trick. We might have 5 actors who could all play the same role – let’s call it role A. Each would bring something a little different to the table, but if we pick one actor over the other and he is also the only one who could convincingly play a different role, let’s call it role B (even if he’d be better for role A) that makes a huge difference.

As you cast, you can’t leave any holes. If you have someone who could play role A, even if that actor makes sense as role B, you have to really think twice before casting, whether that means that you use that actor to fill the casting hole (in a good way) or you decide to cast said actor as role A and leave the hole (role B) for someone to fill that might be less convincing. It really is a conundrum.

Okay, imagine this: Mickey Mouse is auditioning for our play with all of his friends. How do you cast?

Here’s one scenario:

Loud Frank – Mickey

Strong Justin – Donald

Wise Jason – Goofy

Little Red – Minnie

Medium Purple – Daisy

Big Green – Tinkerbell

Wolf - Pluto

Here’s another:

Loud Frank – Donald

Strong Justin – Pluto

Wise Jason – Mickey

Little Red – Tinkerbell

Medium Purple – Minnie

Big Green – Daisy

Wolf - Goofy

How do you know which scenario is best? Mickey Mouse is the obvious choice for Frank because he’s Mickey, but his voice is high pitched and won’t get as much volume as Donald Duck would. I think Mickey would actually be better playing the wise prince. Ditto for Minnie – do you give her the role of Little Red because she would do it or do you give it to Tinkerbell who’s worked really hard for it and has the right amount of teenager-ness to pull it off? And then again, there are many more combinations of actors and characters that you might have to try out to get just the right fit. One way will work just fine, but the whole picture – the final product – may not be as clear as it could be.

So now imagine yourself again. Who can you play? Is it the same as your dream role or is it your dream role’s best friend or foe? What do you bring to the table? What does the role require and who are the other actors in the mix? If you have 5 Phoebe’s in your friend group that’s great, but an episode of “Friends” with 5 different Phoebe’s and no other characters just won’t work.

And that is what the casting process is all about. I am curious though – how would you cast yourself in “Friends” (or another show/movie)? Let me know on Saturday!

See you on the flip side,

Debbi

Audition Prep

Hello everyone and welcome back to Natick Drama Workshop!  This blog is an edited version of a past post.  If you read it before I strongly suggest reading it again before Saturday!

In a little under a week we will be back at NDW for the fall show and I thought that perhaps it would be helpful to write up some audition tips to help both our new and returning actors get ready for our fall musical.

Tip #1: Have the right attitude.  Smile and be polite.  
What does that have to do with acting?  Nothing really, but whenever you audition, interview, or are trying to make a first impression you should always make people think that you want to be where you are and that you're happy and excited.  If you get nervous it helps to remember this, so that you can get over some of your nerves by acting like you're happy.  And when you smile, your mood can change!


Cindy, Lisa, Will, and I notice when you look unhappy or when you're not polite.  So put your best face forward, behave and say please and thank you!

*In the past there were a few 8th graders who did not do this and it did affect how we cast.  I'm not telling you this to call anyone out, but rather to encourage everyone to remember that how you present yourself during auditions matters.  In the fall the attitude presented by these people filtered down to the rest of their auditions.  That is why this is #1 on my list!

Tip #2: Smile while dancing and keep on moving.  
This one sounds like the last one, but is more specific.  When you do the dance audition you might not remember all the moves, or you might mess up, or maybe you just aren't the best dancer.  That' okay.  What we want to see is someone who can move and act their way through the dance combinations.  Obviously it helps to be able to dance, but it's not completely necessary to have a good dance audition.  Pretend that you are at your dance recital and smile like your grandparents are watching and then relax.  Do your best and don't freak out or lose the smile if you mess up.  Sometimes we see someone who doesn't do all the dance moves, but keeps smiling and bopping along and we know that there's something we can do with that person that will feature him/her.  Plus, it means you have a good attitude and that is a must for all theater endeavors!

*Additionally, think about it this way - during the performance what do you do if you suddenly forget part of a dance?  You don't just stand there looking miserable.  You keep on smiling and do something subtle until you can pick up the dance again.  Think of your audition like a performance and improv your way through it if necessary.  Of course, by the first performance I know this would never be an issue because you've been practicing your dances for months...

Tip #3: Act your song and sing it loud and proud.  
While I'm being specific, let's talk about the music audition, which tends to be the scariest.  When I was in NDW it was the scariest part for me, too.  Believe it or not, I was a quiet kid and didn't always project during my singing auditions, but I wish I did.  Here's the thing - your singing audition is also an acting audition so we need to hear you, even if you're off key.  We also need to see you do more than just stand there with your arms at your side or crossed in front of you.  We know you're nervous and that's okay, but please do your best to show us that you care.  What is the song about?  Can you put in a dance move or a gesture that will show us that you're invested?  Can you assume a character or an attitude to help get the point of the song across?  At the very least - smile!  And don't forget to project.

*I would like to add a non-theater story here.  Despite having done musical theater since elementary school, I was really nervous the first time I did karaoke by myself.  I picked "Goodbye Earl" by the Dixie Chicks as my first song and was literally shaking from the time the song started to the end.  How did I get through it?  Well, I acted the song out as I went.  I turned it into a story and I smiled.  Now, I'm much better at doing karaoke because I got my jitters out by acting and hamming it up.  Why don't you see if you can act through your nerves as well?

Tip #4: Make choices and commit to them 100%

When you act you have to make choices.  We go over this at auditions, but sometimes I'm not sure everyone understands.  And more importantly, this isn't just for the acting audition.  It is also for singing and dancing, but I will speak here about making choices in terms of the acting audition.  You need to decide what to do.  How will you say a line?  Is there a word that you want to emphasize more than another?  How will you use your face?  What gestures or body language should be used to convey your choice?  Do you need to use a certain tone or inflection with your voice?  As an actor this is all up to you.  During the rehearsal process the directors help with these choices, but during an audition it is for the actor to make decisions in a way that will help to showcase his or her individual talents.
The worst thing you can do is nothing.  In doing nothing you are making the choice to show us that you don't care.  Now maybe you are shy or don't know how to make certain choices - fine.  That is totally understandable, but if you don't try something your audition falls flat and it becomes very hard to cast you in the correct role.  It is better to try something, commit to it 100% and have it fail, than to make the choice to do nothing.

*Remember how I mentioned that some 8th graders don't always do so great with #1?  Well those same actors tend to not do so well with this one either.  They chose to not have great attitudes and that was the entirety of their auditions.  The two are always connected.


Tip #5: How you stand matters.
I've already talked about presenting yourself and making a good first impression, but I haven't mentioned stance specifically.  Unless you are making a character choice (see above) you should be standing up straight.  No slouching, no leaning, no going back and forth from foot to foot.  This isn't easy because we are all hardwired to fidget, especially in situations that make us nervous.  This is something you can practice on your own.  In your room stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and plant your feet (actually imagine that they are planted or superglued to the ground).  Put your hands by your side and have a conversation with your imaginary friend (or better, invite a friend over and you can have someone to talk to and call you out on your fidgeting).  Once you've mastered this you can try standing like different characters and practice what it feels like to slouch on purpose!


Tip #6: Enunciate!
When you are speaking, whether as part of your acting audition or when you're introducing yourself to us, make sure you can be understood!  Speak clearly and slowly.  Make sure we hear your consonants!  

On that note I leave you.  I look forward to seeing you all at auditions.  Good luck!

-Debbi

NDW Rehearsal #9

Things are starting to come together. Which is good because we have one more Saturday rehearsal left. Can you believe it? This week we ran all of Act 1 (although not in complete order), worked on Act 2 some more (we have only 1 ½ scenes left to touch/block), reviewed songs and choreography, and finally revealed that Fresh and Fruity was the winning mentor group in the guess-how-much-food-we-donated contest.

We also had a chat about why actors should not talk during rehearsal. The 8th graders were present for part of this, but not for all of it as they were getting their pictures taken in costume. The gist of the conversation was that by talking during rehearsal you are distracting your fellow actors and setting a bad precedent for when we have an audience that will be able to hear you backstage. We also discussed the fact that we have very few good role models, and that as a result, bad behavior gets passed down from class to class, group to group. All of these things were volunteered by our actors, with me leading the discussion and reframing some things that were said. Of course, in the end, none of this made a difference and our actors continued to talk during rehearsal.

I’m really hoping that this does not happen during tech week, but I know it will, which is highly unfortunate. As a couple of people brought up during the discussion, talking during rehearsal also eats up rehearsal time. Every time we have to stop to ask folks to be quiet is another minute lost. In fact, without all of the rehearsal talking, the discussion wouldn’t have happened and that time could have been used for a theater game to help prepare our actors for the inevitable improvisation that comes with live shows. So maybe, just maybe, our actors will be quiet and we’ll get a ton done during tech week… maybe.

I’ve already talked about tech week, so this week I think I want to talk about the 8th graders. Not our particular group of 8th graders, but 8th graders, as our graduating class, in general. This Saturday marks the last Cole rehearsal for Natick Drama Workshop for our 8th graders. Sure, they can come back as alumni next year, but for some that will be hard with set building, speech tournaments, and other high school related weekend commitments. And it won’t be the same for them. Some might not even be able to get themselves out of bed on Saturday mornings come fall! So, this is a really big milestone. In fact, from here on out, everything about NDW will be a big 8th grade milestone. Last first day of tech week. Last cast dinner. Last time Cindy/Debbi/Will/Lisa has to yell for quiet. Last tech rehearsal. Last opening night. Last everything – all leading up to the final performance and the festivities that follow.

I’m not trying to make anyone cry, but I am trying to explain how important this upcoming week is, not just for our 8th graders, but for all of our actors and parent volunteers. There are a lot of lasts coming up for a lot of people and a lot of faces that won’t be back in the fall. But fear not, because wherever you go, you will have Natick Drama Workshop.

I should know – I’m a proud NDW alumna. I can’t quite explain the full influence of this program on me. It was certainly different in the 1990s than it is now.

I can tell you, for example, that I learned theater terms from NDW (like blocking). I learned how to audition, what tech week is, and to always angle out so as to not upstage myself or another actor. But those are tangible things (I mean you can’t actually touch any of those examples, but they’re all practical skills that can be applied elsewhere). I can also tell you that NDW helped me grow more confident, but even that isn’t what I’m getting at here, as truthfully, most of that growth happened, for me, in high school and college.

What NDW leaves you with are fond memories and a community that will last a lifetime. Not all of my NDW memories are happy – I’m sure I’ve mentioned to several people over the years how I was teased by certain people throughout this program. But most of my memories are happy. Some memories aren’t full, they’re just glimpses. Every Saturday morning I woke up, knowing that Natick Drama Workshop continued, and even as I moved on, that was a nice thing to think about.

I was in the program with people who had younger siblings, or were a younger sibling themselves, and NDW was a place for families, or generations, as I call it. I’m an only child, but the girl I babysat for, and many of her friends, joined NDW after me – she was my legacy.

After NDW I went to high school and had classes with people who were in the program with me. Some did theater or speech team with me, but many did not. I can only think of one NDW person that I was actually friends with in high school. Yet, those NDW people, especially those that were in my 8th grade class, are people that I will forever be linked to. At high school reunions when asked what I’m doing, I always mention Natick Drama Workshop, and those same people are a little bit in awe that I’ve managed to hold on to this wonderful program. We keep in touch via Facebook and I know that they’ll always be people I can reach out to because of this shared experience.

Beyond that, I meet people who were in this program that I don’t know and we share an instant bond. I once hunted down someone who worked on a boat that brought people to the island where I work during the summer because I knew that he had been an NDW kid. When we finally met we talked about the program (and about Cindy). I know that wherever I go, if I find myself with an NDW person, I’ll be okay because I’ll have them. That’s the ultimate community.

So, as we go into this last week, don’t be sad – think about all the memories you’ve made, friends you’ll have forever, and skills that you’ve learned. And remember that the safe space that we created for you (hopefully) at Natick Drama Workshop never goes away – we’ll always be your community and we’ll pop up at strange and wonderful times to reminisce and keep you company.

Alright, time for more 60s songs and clips.  I’ve tried really hard to post things in my blogs that are referenced in the show and there are two big things that I kept forgetting about. One is The Beach Boys (more on them below) and the other is In Like Flint. This is one of two spy parody movies (think James Bond, but sillier).  I remember flipping through the cable channels at my house once, back in the day, and stumbling upon this movie. I don’t remember much about it, and think that this should be my wake up call to rewatch from the beginning, but in the meantime, here is the trailer, from 1967. It’s a little long, but you’ll get the idea from the first 1 minute and 10 seconds.

The Beach Boys are also referenced. There are many from my generation who remember this singing group from their appearance on Full House when Stephanie referred to them as “Big Boys!” – you know, cause they’re adults and not actually boys. In the 90s they had a little bit of a comeback with “Kokomo” and Uncle Jesse himself played drums for them on occasion. I was lucky enough to see them live when I was in 8th or 9th grade when they performed at Brandeis University. I had of course known their music from when I was a little girl, and although not my favorite group from the 60s, certainly in my top 5.

Growing up, I used to listen to Oldies 103.3 on the radio when I was getting ready for school and camp. One morning, I was listening and a song was dedicated to someone named Debbie on her birthday. I thought, “What a coincidence – It’s my birthday, too!” Yep, later that morning my parents asked if I had heard it and I suddenly realized that I was that Debbi! The song my parents dedicated to me on my 14th birthday was “Little Surfer Girl”. My favorite songs by The Beach Boys, though are “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Fun, Fun, Fun”. However, I would be remiss for not sharing “Good Vibrations” with you. Off the Pet Sounds album, this was one of many songs that was influenced by The Beatles. Pet Sounds, in return, influenced The Beatles’ Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Interestingly enough, during the height of Beatlemania and the British Invasion, The Beach Boys tended to be the only American Band to beat out some of those British bands on the Billboard charts. So, if you’re ever looking for the perfect 60s group to play on the 4th of July, The Beach Boys will always get my vote.

I would love to give you a whole list of other 60s bands to check out, but that would take forever. So instead I will leave you with one of the only 60s songs that I hadn’t heard before a cover of it was on the charts. Tommy James and the Shondell’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” was covered by Tiffany, the queen of the mall herself (and not to be confused with Debbie Gibson), in the late 1980s. (BTW, I saw her live, too!) I loved her version of the song and when I heard the original version, I loved that too. Tommy James and the Shondells (not to be confused with plain old Tommy James, who did make some good music after going solo, as well) are a great group and one that I think gets easily overlooked. During the 80s, at least one other song of theirs was covered. Do you know which one? I’ll give a high five to the first person who can tell me what song it was and who covered it.

Okay, that’s all I have. I hope you enjoy all the music above!

See you Saturday,

Debbi

Rehearsal #8

Be honest. Who else was looking outside at the snow on March 2nd hoping for more snow as a justification of no NDW? I say this knowing full well that the right decision was made to cancel NDW based on the timing of the snow and what had been forecasted. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t thinking the whole time that I could totally drive to Cole without any problems. But what can you do?

We made the best of a New England winter situation. This past Saturday we blocked the first three scenes of Act 2, and started on the fourth. There are 5 total, so that’s pretty good! We even ran the first few scenes of Act 1, worked on choreography, reviewed songs, and snuck in a tiny bit of character work. It was a successful day.

Also a success? Our food drive. I’m sure the total will be announced at the telethon, but since we didn’t announce it at rehearsal (and therefore no one knows which mentor group won the guessing contest), I won’t reveal that number here. It is so important to support our community. Aside from it being the right thing to do, it’s important to remember that we are, essentially, a community theater group. When we have a show weekend there are plenty of people from our community that we don’t know who come to see our shows and support us, right along with all the community members that we do know. Being part of a community is reciprocal – we support each other, that’s what it’s all about. So, doing this food drive once per show is crucial for our involvement in this reciprocal community that we all call home.

As I write this I am looking at a calendar. We have rehearsals on the 16th and 23rd and then it’s tech week. The third Saturday will be our 2nd and 3rd shows. That’s insane! I’m not ready, not yet. It is crazy, though, how time sneaks up on you. Although we’re in pretty good shape, we still have a lot to accomplish during those last 2 rehearsals.

In an ideal world, tech week would be all about adjusting to the space and getting used to using the set, props, and costumes. That requires all actors to be completely off book in terms of, not just lines and lyrics, but also blocking and choreography. It assumes that all the nuances and layers have already had time to be added and worked on, so that now those things would just need to be tweaked. It assumes that our actors only need guidance in so far as it applies to adding the technical aspects of the show.  That’s not how NDW works though. And we should be grateful for that, because there is still so much to do.

We can finish blocking Act 2 and run the entire show before tech week starts, but it’s in those NDW tech weeks that we usually have the chance to add those layers, those nuances. If tech week were mostly just tech rehearsals, our actors would get very bored, very quickly. I’m sure I’ve mentioned in past blogs that I’ve had tech rehearsals in which the actors would be sitting around doing nothing until 1 am, and that’s when we’d start acting on stage (granted it was in college, but still – rehearsal started at 7 pm). At NDW we are quite adept at having tech rehearsals take care of everything. We fix things with our actors - whether it be blocking, music, or choreography – all while getting kids in costumes, having them use props for the first time, and having them work around stage crew. And of course, during our tech week it’s not just the actors that work hard. There are so many things going on backstage to put the finishing touches on costumes, props, and of course the set, too. All the elements needed for a good show.

Alright, I have no clever segue into this week’s pop culture segment of this blog, so here you go. At one point in the script, Max King bemoans Simon & Garfunkel. Here is their song, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” This is such a great song, if you don’t know it you should.

Something else referenced in the Flower Power script is the television show Gunsmoke. This show ran for 20 seasons. Twenty! I’ve actually been meaning to sit down and watch it, but somehow never have, although I’ve seen clips here and there. Here for your enjoyment is the theme song. Gunsmoke is also an influence for NDW past show The Wild, Wild, Wildest West, along with several other westerns, of course. Westerns were still popular in the 1960s – my favorite was Bonanza (okay, this is actually the only Western-themed tv show I’ve watched, you caught me). My favorite characters are of course Little Joe and Hoss!

While we’re talking about 60s tv show themes, I have to include my three favorites (other than The Monkees and Batman, which I’ve already shared clips from). Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale of Gilligan’s Island (fun fact: this is actually not the original theme song, the original did not list all of the characters), and for people who like a little light feminism, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeanie were two shows that gave women all the power without intimidating men (which was important back then). I was very lucky to have these shows in reruns while I was growing up (thanks Nick at Nite!). Fun fact about Bewitched: there are two different actors who played Darren, both similar looking and both named Dick. Dick York became too ill to continue on the show, so Dick Sargent was hired to take his place. I suppose you’d like a fun fact about I Dream of Jeanie now, too, huh? The two leads were reunited for an episode of the 80s tv show Dallas. Larry Hagman has become more recognizable for his role on the latter, and Barbara Eden, Jeanie herself, was in an episode (or maybe two?) of this primetime soap.

And one last video before I go. I heard this song this past weekend and forgot how much I always enjoy listening to Gerry and the Pacemakers. When people think about the British Invasion they tend to think of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but forget about all the other wonderful acts that came from Britain. Gerry and the Pacemakers were one of those chart-topping bands. Here is a live performance of “How Do You Do It” from a show in Sweden.

Enjoy and see you Saturday,

Debbi

Rehearsal #7

As usual, there was a lot going on at NDW this week! Some actors worked with Lisa, some with Will, and some with Cindy or myself. At one point, our production Assistant, Bella, was even running lines with a group of actors. We are busy, busy, busy.

Putting on a show is no easy feat. I think we have a lot of fun doing it, which makes it seem easy, but there’s so much that goes into every single aspect of the show. And, the closer we get to the show, the harder it can get, even as other things seem easier.

For example, now that lyrics have been learned the songs should be easier. However, now we’re adding choreography and blocking to those songs. That extra layer will make the show look better (I mean, you wouldn’t want to watch people just standing onstage and singing, with no movement, would you?), but it requires more effort. Even within the songs themselves, Will is teaching more harmony parts, changing what some kids already learned in the name of making the show even better. Along these lines are also all those onion-like layers I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. The more you know, the more you can add to the show, thereby creating more work.

When I took acting classes in college, I often felt like those took more work than my standard academic classes – and theater was only my minor! There’s a mental exhaustion that comes with theater and it’s wonderful, but it’s what the audience doesn’t see.  Our job is to make acting look easy – but it isn’t, not always.  As a staff member, although we’re not the ones memorizing the lines and lyrics and putting in all the hard work on stage, we’re the ones that do all the prep work and are constantly working to tweak things to make them better.  That takes the same kind of energy sometimes.

I’m sure the parents and alumni working on costumes, sets, and props will tell you the same thing.  Getting ready for a show is fun, but it’s a lot of work. And just when you think you’re done, there’s more to do.

Theater truly is a labor of love – that’s what makes it special and keeps people coming back for more.

I had the opportunity to do character work with some of our 8th graders this week. I love getting the chance to work with just 8th graders because we can get into it. We really dug into their characters more than I am able to do with some of the younger cast members. These guys put the work in, and because they’ve been doing this since 5th grade, they have more tools to work with when it comes to developing their characters. This may not seem like work, but it is, especially if, as an actor, you’re able to take that work and infuse it into what you do onstage.

Part of understanding one’s character is understanding the world your character lives in.  This is why I’ve been sharing videos in this blog each week. As fun as it is, the 1960s were 50 years ago! Growing up as a child of two boomers, I learned 60s culture vicariously, listening to my dad’s music, watching re-runs, and hearing my parents and other older relatives talk about their childhoods and teenage years. And yet, there’s still so much that I will never understand about this decade because I wasn’t there. But the more I learn about it the closer I get. So, having said that, here are this week’s videos.

One of our characters makes a joke about Clearasil. This is a brand that I grew up with, but I thought it might be fun to share a commercial for the product from the 1960s. This is certainly retro!

American Bandstand was an extremely popular music and dance show that was on for decades and hosted by the late, great Dick Clark. Here is a great example of 60s fashion, dancing, and music coming together. American Bandstand sometimes had dance contests (similar to what you see in Hairspray) and here is a clip that shows one part of the contest finals. Which couple do you think should win?

Alright – see you all Saturday!

-Debbi

Rehearsal #6

This week at NDW we ran the whole first act for the 2nd time!  That’s pretty exciting.  Our actors also reviewed most of their songs with Will, and Lisa continued to teach choreography. Our show is definitely coming along, but now we have to be careful to not get complacent.

This coming week, the rest of Act 1 has to be off-book and I warned our actors to not sacrifice the hard work on what has already been memorized in order to add new information to their brains. This is one of the challenges any actor has when memorizing a script.  How to not lose old memorized lines while memorizing the new ones.  In a musical there is even more to consider than just lines.  Lyrics are just as important, and choreography has to practiced right along with blocking. So how do you set about accomplishing this task? Well, first and foremost, don’t stop practicing the things that have already been committed to memory. That is the easiest way to lose lines and have to start from scratch with memorization, thereby creating more work for oneself.

When I’m in a play I practice my lines whenever I have a chance or a quiet moment. In the car I’ll recite my lines while driving.  When getting ready in the morning I’ll recite my lines. If I have a moment at work where I need a break and can take one, I’ll pull up a blank document and type my lines.  If I notice that something is wrong, I can send the document to myself to check against the script later.

When it comes to music, there are these wonderful devices that did not exist the last time I was in a musical – a smartphone!  (No, I’m not kidding – I haven’t been in a musical for a very long time.) These magical devices can store music on them.  Amazing isn’t it? If I were in a musical, I could very easily pop in some headphones and listen to my music.  Even if not singing along, this will help accomplish two things: getting the music in my head will help me be more comfortable with it and I can practice choreography either in my head or with small movements as I go about my day.  Of course, if you’re able to sing along that would be best. Either way, listening to the music will help to keep lyrics and choreography in your head – whether you’re listening to the vocal or instrumental versions. At some point, it is important to listen only to the instrumental versions of songs so that you don’t learn to lean on other people who have memorized their lyrics.

One thing that’s really cool about putting all this work in is that you’ll find that you will know more than your own lines. This is really important for any live show. What happens if someone forgets a line or misses an entrance? If you know what needs to happen and/or be said, you can easily create an improvisation that matches the show perfectly and keeps everyone else from missing a beat.  Can you imagine if the entire cast were able to do this? The entire show could be done as improvisation if necessary! Although, if everyone knew everything this would, obviously, be unnecessary.

It’s important for the staff to also not get complacent.  There is still so much work to be done during rehearsals (I mean, we haven’t even started blocking Act 2 yet). We, the staff, need your cooperation to continue down this wonderful path we’ve started, but we know that we still have work to do, too. So help us by doing your part, and we will help you by doing ours.

This week I thought that I would share a video of a 60s dance move with you, but not just any dance – the Batusi! That’s right, it’s Batman’s very special dance that he does.  Batman is my 2nd favorite show from the 1960s and provided me with love for comic books and superheroes.  This video has two clips, the first is from the very first episode back in 1966. If you’re ever looking for some fun 1960s culture, I highly recommend this campy show.  I’ve been lucky enough to have met Adam West (Batman), Burt Ward (Robin), Yvonne Craig (Batgirl), and Julie Newmar (Catwoman) in person. The two nicest happened to also be the actors who played my two favorite characters on the show? Any guesses who those two characters might be?

And now for a music clip or two.  Here is Paul Revere and the Raiders singing “Kicks” – my favorite song by them – on the Ed Sullivan Show. They were a real group, unlike what Crusher things in our play, and they had several hits.  A few years ago, I went to a rock show with my parents that featured musicians from the 1960s and Mark Lindsey, the lead singer of the group (Paul Revere was the keyboardist) was there and I heard him perform live. Also at that concert? Flo & Eddie.  You may have never head of these guys, but they were also members of The Turtles, a group that I wish more people knew about today, and the only ones who continue to tour today.  Their most famous song is “Happy Together.” The Flo & Eddie guys, by the way, are the lead singer and the guy in the orange – you can tell that they love what they do – no wonder they continue to tour happy(ily) together today. Enjoy!

Until next time,

Debbi

Rehearsal #5

This past Saturday, we not only ran the off-book scenes, but we also blocked through to the end of Act 1!  Woo hoo!  Our cast ran with music and dancing and after all of that, we still had time to get some new stuff in.  Lisa worked with our bikers on their big number and I did character work with most of our 5th and 6th graders.  They have great backstories, by the way.

Recently, I was complaining to a co-worker at the school where I work that I don’t have enough rehearsal time for the spring musical.  She said back to me, “Well, is there blocking in the script? I’m sure the kids can just learn it on their own.”  What?  Um, that is not how it works.  I informed her that if that was the case ,then a director would not be necessary.  The thing is, sure, there are some stage directions in the script, so actors, in theory, could do all of this work at home and teach themselves blocking, but a play is so much more than that.  Not to mention that the script’s stage directions don’t always match the director’s vision, set, etc.

So, what can a director offer that the script can’t?  All of the little moments.  All of the extra stuff that happens.  All of the background in a scene that isn’t mentioned in the script. This is also what rehearsal is for.  Act 1 may be blocked, but it’s not done, not by a long shot.  There are character crosses that have to be put in to add atmosphere to the scene, there are nuances that need to be added to line readings and reactions, and so much more.

Every scene is like an onion.  On the surface of a show like ours you have the blocking, singing, and dancing.  The next layer down is the background stuff that some audience members might not realize they are watching.  The layer after that might be line deliveries or gestures that add something different to the basic words on the page.  All of these things create the full onion – the full show.  If one layer is missing, something will feel off.  Maybe the show won’t even feel real, allowing the audience to come out of the trance that theater holds over its audience.

As our actors rehearse and practice everything on their own more of these things will be added.  The more comfortable they are with the show, the more they will be able to contribute to add these layers, as well.  We’re just getting started and we still have more than a month left – imagine all the layers we can add!

I’ve been inspired by our bikers to share a movie clip with everyone this week.  I grew up watching several Beach Party movies from the 60s starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon (as well as my uncle’s 3rd cousin – Donna Loren).  In all of these movies, there are incompetent bikers who cause trouble and get in fights.  In my head, these are the guys (and gals) I picture whenever I think of 60s bikers.  Here is a clip from Beach Blanket Bingo

I also want to share some music with you this week, as always.  At one point during our show, Max is talking to Grace.  Who’s Grace?  Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane and here is one of their songs.  Max also talks to Janice – that’s Janis Joplin.  Janis Joplin and the Holding Company sang a Kris Kristofferson song called “Me and Bobby McGee”.  I hope you enjoy both of these songs.

Until Saturday,

Debbi

Rehearsal #4

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to be in a play. She loved going to rehearsals and saying her lines and singing and dancing. She shared this experience with several of her friends and every rehearsal was a chance for them to catch up and make new memories.

When each rehearsal ended, this girl went home, ate lunch, and then forgot all about her rehearsals until the following week when it was time to go to rehearsal once more. And again, this girl loved being at rehearsals with her friends, but forgot all about the play when she arrived home.

One day, she woke up for rehearsal and found that she was no longer allowed to use her script. She didn’t know what to do! She needed her script to say the lines she loved saying so much. She needed her script for singing all the lyrics required for the songs. She also needed her script to remind her of her entrances and exits.How would she ever get onstage if she didn’t know where and when to come in?

To make matters worse, because this girl didn’t know her song lyrics, she found that she was a beat behind everyone with her dances, as well. She had to watch the people in front of her and to her side and try her best to copy their moves. By the time the rehearsal was half over, the girl was very sad and for the first time, found that she could not fully enjoy the rehearsal.

Has this ever happened to you? I hope not. With our first off-book date this weekend, I imagine that a lot of our actors will be in this position. It’s very easy to go home Saturday afternoon and think about anything other than NDW. There’s homework to do, friends to see and talk to, errands to run, television to watch, games to play, books to read… the list goes on and on.

No one expects an actor to leave rehearsal and think only of what s/he worked on at that day. It is expected, however, that some time during the week be spent thinking about the play. You can’t learn lines without going over them over and over. You can’t learn songs or choreography without repeated practice. Of course, no one expects everything to be perfectly memorized right away either. What is expected, is that each actor tries. There’s a reason why “line” is an accepted way of receiving a forgotten line - if every actor would be expected to be perfect, no such practice would be in place.

Let me back up for a minute. What do I mean by “off-book?” Simply that all lines, lyrics, blocking, and choreography is memorized and no book (or script) is needed. When an actor is off-book, if a line is forgotten, rather than saying, “I forgot my line,” or, “I’m sorry,” an actor is expected to simply say, “line.”

Now, let’s tell the above story a different way:

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to be in a play. She loved going to rehearsals and saying her lines and singing and dancing. She shared this experience with several of her friends and every rehearsal was a chance for them to catch up and make new memories.

When rehearsal ended, this girl went home, and went about her business. The following day she found herself to be bored, and knew she had at least 10 minutes to spare, so she went to her room, took out her script and tried singing some of the songs she enjoyed singing with her friends at rehearsal. She had a little bit of trouble with one of the songs, so she took out her computer, downloaded the music, and sang along to the song until she felt more comfortable with it. Then her mother called her away and she put her script down.

The next day, the girl got home from school and needed a break from doing her homework. She decided to put on some of the music that she had downloaded and practiced a dance that she had learned at the last rehearsal. After about 5 minutes of practice, she felt ready to do her homework.

The girl continued to practice for the play she loved so much throughout the week. When it was time to go to rehearsal once more, the girl felt more confident and could enjoy rehearsal and spending time with her friends even more.

After rehearsal, and during the whole week following, the girl continued to practice for the play she loved so much on her own. She continued to do this week after week, rehearsal after rehearsal.

One day, she woke up for rehearsal and found that she was no longer allowed to use her script. She didn’t care though. She knew the lines she loved saying so much and the lyrics she loved to sing. She even felt confident in all the dances. As she danced, she noticed that others were watching her movements and copying her. She felt so proud that she could hold her head up high and be an example to others. This rehearsal turned out to be the best one of all!

Do you see how easy it is to find the time to practice at home?By doing this just a few minutes every day or so, you too can have a wonderful off-book rehearsal!

Now that all the music has been taught, the dances will hopefully become easier to learn the more confident you become with the music itself. Now that we’ve blocked 4 1/2 scenes (the pre-show, and Act one scenes 1-3, and a little of 1,4) being off-book shouldn’t be too scary if you’ve put the work in. And remember, you can always call “line”!

And now it is time for another 1960s music lesson. The Ed Sullivan show was a staple in many homes for years. It was a family friendly variety show on Sunday evenings.  Many popular music acts of the day performed on the show, bringing them into living rooms across the country.  On occasion, because it was a family show, Ed Sullivan would ask some artists/bands to change the words to their songs.  Here are two such examples:  the first is The Rolling Stones singing “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” That wasn’t wholesome enough, so they were asked to change the words to “let’s spend some time together.” As Mick Jagger sings the chorus, you can see that he is making faces, but he did change the words and The Stones were invited back onto the show in the future.  The second example is when The Doors sang “Light My Fire” on the show.  They were asked to change the lyric “girl, we couldn’t get much higher” to something less offensive.  They didn’t and were not invited back on the show.  Ed Sullivan was a huge influencer, but luckily, I don’t think The Doors disobeying Ed Sullivan lost them too many fans.  After all, going against the man was part of the counterculture. 

Until Saturday,

Debbi

Rehearsal #3

Well, another week and more things to practice (see my last blog for more information on that)  Will has taught almost all the music and Lisa taught some more choreography.  Cindy also placed actors in our opening number and gave a little blocking leading up to it.  I’d say we are off to a good start!

Cindy also took some time to talk to the cast about the set. It’s really hard to imagine what the set is going to look like until you see it.  Some people are better at this than others – I am not one of them.  I always understand how I think the set is going to look, but spatially it’s always really hard for me to picture. Thankfully I’ve done enough of these shows now that I at least have a general idea based on drawings and past shows at Kennedy and Wilson.

The problem is that the Cole gym and stage is so radically different from a school auditorium.  This is a somewhat amusing statement as I happen to know, first hand, that the Cole gym used to also function as a school auditorium (and cafeteria).  We do our best with what we have, which is too much space.  How do you go about picturing the stage?  How do you go about figuring out where offstage is?  Where is the front row of the audience and the edge of the stage? How do I know where to stand if I’m entering through an aisle or on the Loge?  Well, we do our best.  Sometimes we are able to put up markers, but I never know if these are in the exact same place from week to week.  So, we all do our best and WRITE DOWN OUR BLOCKING, hoping that the transition from Cole to Wilson (or Kennedy in the fall) won’t be too difficult.

And that brings me to the importance of blocking notes – you know, in case you missed the fact that caps lock was used for a bit in the last paragraph.  What is blocking?  Glad you asked.  Blocking is where the actors move on the stage and when they make those moves.  Generally, blocking consists of entering, crossing, and exiting, but there are other levels of it as well.  It might be a gesture you give or a glance at another character at a specific point in a scene.  Sometimes songs are blocked, rather than choreographed, with precise movements given instead of dance moves.  A good example of this would be “Cinderella Do This (Bob Do That)” from Twinderella.  Cinderella and Bob had to walk at certain points during the song, hold an arm up here and then put it down there, etc. You could refer to this as choreography, but there weren’t any traditional dance moves involved.

Blocking is given for a reason.  In some cases, the reasons are obvious.  If a character has a line, it would help if they entered the stage at some point to deliver it, for example.  You could perform a play in which everyone is on stage at the same time and they only move forward when they need to say a line, and move back when they are done.  That would be pretty boring though. 

A lot of times, blocking is given for character reasons, rather than practical ones.  For example, if a character is charismatic and can get the attention of anyone from anywhere, the approach to that character launching into a speech might not be the same as a shy character (say Gloria from Mirror Image) who would need to be centrally located in order to get the attention needed from other characters. Tiny movements and gestures also fall into this category.  Sitting and standing usually falls into this category, as well.

So, when an actor is given blocking, it is crucial that s/he writes it down.  In our case, because we rehearse in a different space than our performance venue this is key.  As we build up muscle memory at Cole, we all learn our blocking a certain way, but when we get to the middle school for tech week, our muscle memory might hinder us, as we are now in a new location with an actual set and levels and doors.  By writing blocking down, one can look at her notes and reassess where to go during a scene or how to exit now that you aren’t just on a gym floor.

How does one record blocking? I think everyone has their own way of doing this, however, there are some things that are pretty standard. “X” is a big one – this means “cross,” as in Character A crosses (or just X) to Character B.  I also usually use an arrow instead of the word “to.”  I also abbreviate characters, but as an actor I’m probably only writing my own blocking, so I would have less character names to write down. The other pretty standard blocking shorthand are the quadrants of the stage: C (center), SL (stage left), UR (upstage right), DC (down center), DL (down left), and so on and so forth.  For entrances, I usually just write “ent.” and for exits I usually write “ex.” For things like gestures, I do write that full out usually, but you can develop your own shorthand for these things.  However you choose to write down your blocking is up to you, but I strongly suggest that it does get written down, in your script, where it happens.  (In other words, don’t write that you enter from UR at the top of the page if you actually enter halfway down.)

The more effort you put into all of these little things – writing down blocking, practicing your choreography, etc. – the easier the tech week transition will be!

Now, as promised, more 60s music!  Sonny and Cher are somewhat spoofed in Flower Power! In the form of Lester and Hester who go incognito as Sunny and Clair.  Their song “Oh, My Honey Babe” is strikingly similar to Sonny and Cher’s most well-known hit, “I Got You Babe” and so it’s only fitting that you be able to compare the two!  Here is a performance from a British show called “Top of the Pops.”  This was a really popular music show on the BBC that lasted from 1964 until 2006.  “I Got You Babe” is from 1965, so this was a pretty early episode considering how long this show was on the tele (British slang for tv).  Sonny and Cher’s hit is still popular today.  To try to explain its popularity, here is another video featuring Beavis and Butthead.  I must say that while I did grow up in the 1990s, I never really liked these guys, but this is pretty funny and awesome.  And finally, this video (right before the 2 minute mark for direct access) is from the 1980s and was a really exciting moment – the only time that Sonny and Cher reunited to sing – and guess what song they sang?  Enjoy!

Until Saturday,

Debbi

Flower Power! Daydream Believers

This week at NDW we continued our preliminary work on Flower Power!  Will taught “The Hippie Generation” and reviewed the title song, Lisa choreographed “Flower Power” and we started doing some character work with folks.

At the end of rehearsal, we actually had our actors perform “Flower Power” – doing the dance while singing along with Will on the piano.  What a great start – our opening number is sure to be great since we’ve already accomplished so much with it!

While we ushered kids between Will, Lisa, and costumes, I worked with several of our actors on character work.  Here, actors have to explain who their characters are (rather than what their characters do).  This can be tricky as it’s not always obvious, and actors are still getting used to the script.  Towards the end of rehearsal, I took character work to the next level and played a bunch of 60s music (courtesy of my smart phone and YouTube) to get them used to the music of the decade.  It was nice to see so many of our kids grooving along – and in many cases, already knowing the music.

One of the reasons we start rehearsals with song and dance (and not blocking) is that these tend to be the things that need to be practiced most.  You start with the songs.  Once you learn each song, it’s much easier to learn the lyrics and once you have the lyrics, it’s much easier to learn the choreography. 

This week, at my school, we have our performance of a musical called “Learning to Learn” which is all about the fact that you can learn how to do anything – as long as you practice.  There’s a great scene where some knights are explaining to our main characters that you have to do the work and repeat it and then it will become easier.  The song they sing has these lyrics:

            Focus, just concentrate

            Practice, and you’ll be great

            Repeat until you’re in the groove

            That’s how you improve.

This may seem obvious, but we find that a lot of our actors don’t practice and repeat what they learn on Saturdays.  It’s really hard to commit a musical to memory, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.  Ten to twenty minutes every night (yes, on top of all that homework) is all that’s required.  Sing through what’s been learned with Will.  Then practice choreography given by Lisa.  Then, if you feel comfortable with both, try putting them together.  As the weeks go on, you’ll be able to practice the older songs more easily (and quicker) and can then focus on newer songs and try to commit those to memory.

For example, if I were in the play, last week I would have sung “Flower Power” over and over.  This week, I could just review it and then go over the choreography for it and then put the two together.  Once I felt good about that and tried that a couple of times, I could move on to singing “The Hippie Generation.” Next week, I’d do the same, but add to it whatever else I learned from Will and Lisa (and eventually add in blocking to this routine of course).  “Flower Power” would be easy to review because I’ve already practiced it so many times, so instead of practicing just the singing and then just the dancing, I’d start off by singing and dancing to “Flower Power” – it would be reviewed nice and quick since I already know it.

Now, of course, you may forget some things between rehearsal and practice time at home.  If it’s the music, hopefully you’ll have access to the songs and can listen to them.  The following week you can always ask Will or Lisa to review what you’ve forgotten or are unsure about.  And, let’s not forget – you can ask your friends!  Why wait until Saturday when you can ask another NDW actor who you go to school with – maybe s/he remembers what you don’t, and in turn, maybe you can help him or her remember something else!

So – practice makes perfect.  Keep that in mind.  The sooner you get into a routine the easier it will be to learn everything and to eventually be off book.

Now, I promised that I’d share different 1960s music at the end of each blog.  This week I’m sharing two videos with you.  The Monkees are my favorite group of all time.  Based on the idea of The Beatles, they were a family friendly version of rock ‘n’ roll that was formatted as a half hour television series.  The actors played characters with the their own names and eventually went on tour together as The Monkees (they are still touring today, in fact).  Some say they weren’t a real band and I say that’s up for debate.  Either way, they were a huge part of pop culture, whether you consider them just for their television show, or for that and for their music.  Here is their first single and hit – “Last Train to Clarksville.”  I love this video – it’s so silly and very Monkees.  Also, did you know that this is a protest song?  And the other video I want to share is “Daydream Believer.” This is a classic, but I’m sharing it because they all get rather silly towards the end, making this another typical Monkees moment.  I also enjoy watching Mickey play the tambourine.  If you watch closely, you’ll see that he misses it at a certain point.  By the way – both of these songs went to #1 on the Billboard Chart. Enjoy!

Until Saturday,

Debbi

Flower Power - Readthrough #1 and Meet the Beatles!

We have officially started our rehearsals for Flower Power! We started our day with kids getting their scripts and then sitting down for a readthru before the song “Flower Power” was taught.

The readthru can be difficult for some, as they’ve never seen the script before and don’t really have time to preview (or pre-read) their lines ahead of time.  On top of that, when we do a period play, some of the language is unfamiliar to our cast.  For example, this time around, the word “kook” tripped up some cast members.  Sometimes, when we have some absent actors, I end up reading a part or two, and even I find myself tripping over words and I’ve already read the script – more than once! However, despite any difficulties the kids also get into character.  For example, Peter, who is playing Lester, said all his lines with a British accent (which is required for that role) and Anna, who is playing Starpetal, really emoted during her lines.  These things are hard to do upon a first reading and all our cast members did really well.

How did our cast members react to the play? Well I hope they liked it – it sure seemed like it.  There are definitely some jokes in there that we are going to have to explain, but I think that by the time tech week rolls around our actors will know a lot more about 1960s culture!

After the readthru the soloists in “Flower Power” worked with Will, while Bella and I played two games of Zip, Zap, Zop with the rest of our cast.  I think I explained this theater game in a blog during the fall show, so I won’t do that again, but I will say that it’s a fun energy passing game that requires focus.  Also, I was recently talking to a friend of mine who is a music teacher (not at the same school where I work, though) and he started telling me a story that involved this game.  He paused and looked at me and said, “Do you know the game Zip, Zap, Zop?”  I was honestly a little offended – I am a grown-up theater kid after all!  I told him that not only did I know it, but I used it while teaching, too – at which point he was like, “Oh, of course you do” – duh!

We then brought the whole cast together and Will taught the rest of “Flower Power.” Hearing the ensemble sing – in harmony – was so nice.  It’s a really good start to a fun show and I hope that everyone ends up loving this show as much as I do.

Okay, I should probably stop and explain my love of the 1960s… growing up I listened to the music that my dad played.  Sure, he played some 80s stuff (ask him what I used to call The Bangles and Boy George), but he mostly played oldies.  In the car, we almost always listened to Oldies 103.3 (a station I still miss dearly).  On tv, I watched a lot of reruns and my favorites when I was really young were “The Monkees” and “Batman” (also “Happy Days,” but that was a 70s show about the 50s so ignore that one).  I also really loved “I Dreamed of Jeannie” and “Bewitched” and “Gilligan’s Island.”  As a result of all this, I am well versed in 1960s pop culture.  I’m not an expert, but I’m always willing to learn more and I hope our kids are too!  I will leave you with this video and a fun fact!  This is The Beatles’ first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and during this same episode, the company of “Oliver!” performed some songs.  Playing the Artful Dodger was David Jones, an actor/singer who in a couple of years would be one “The Monkees.”

That's all for now - see you Saturday,

- Debbi

Flower Power! Auditions - A Glimpse Behind the Scenes

NDW is back and we are ready to start rehearsals for Flower Power!  I’m sure by now you are all aware that we are doing a show that has never been done by NDW before.  Flower Power is a somewhat silly take on the culture of the 1960s.  The show culminates at a music festival of sorts and the characters we meet along the way all represent different people you would have found during this decade. I can’t wait for our kids to read their scripts and find out just how fun this show is going to be!

At auditions this week we definitely had our work cut out for us.  As usual, we split the cast into 3 groups and rotated them through their audition workshops.  While one third of the cast was learning their audition song with Will, another third was with Lisa working on choreography and the last third was with Cindy and me (and our production assistant, Bella) discussing how best to choose and deliver a monologue.  Once all the groups had “attended” each workshop we got started, each group rotating through auditions, costumes, and the NDW welcome meeting.

During auditions Cindy, Lisa, Will, and I were all very impressed. One great thing about auditions at Natick Drama Workshop is that, because our actors grow up in the program, we are constantly surprised by them.  By the time the kids are in 8th grade they are more comfortable auditioning for us and really allow themselves to shine, which in turn helps us cast them in roles that are best suited for them. The best thing though, is the change between the fall show and the spring show.  We might think we have all of our returning kids (and especially the 8th graders) pegged, but then they audition and blow us away, having gained extra confidence and abilities since the audition in September.  It’s amazing really.

After our actors leave, we, the production staff, sequester ourselves in a room and throw out a lot of pros and cons and various casting scenarios in order to find the best overall cast.  I always say that casting is like a puzzle.  Imagine having various pieces, several of them may seem very similar, but yet all are unique.  You sit down to put all the pieces together and you think one piece would go really nicely in this one spot, but there might be another piece that fits there even more perfectly.  As we cast, we have to keep moving all the pieces (our actors) around to find just the right fit in order to create a finished puzzle. 

Many times, and definitely this go around, we have more than two actors who could easily play one or more parts.  How do we then go about deciding which actor would be best for each role?  There is no simple answer as we have to look at a lot of factors. Aside from talent (which includes the three separate abilities of acting, singing, and dancing), we take into consideration things such as personality (for example, would a super bubbly person be better suited for this role?), how actors work together (when casting families or couples this is important), and sometimes even looks (how believable would this actor look in this role, next to this other person?).  There is a lot more than this, these are just the things that are easiest to describe to someone about casting.

After several hours of going around and around we usually have a complete cast assembled that we are happy with. Sometimes we go home to think about everything and spend a good part of the next day continuing the casting session over the phone.  No matter how long it takes, we do our best to take everyone and everything into account.

And so, this Saturday, we will see how our Flower Power puzzle looks for the first time.  Our actors will read through the script together and we will start to add color to this puzzle that will eventually become a huge, colorful, and layered performance.

Catch you on the flip side (okay, that’s more 1970s lingo),

Debbi

Rehearsal 8

We are in the home stretch NDW friends!  We have one more Saturday rehearsal and then we are on to tech week!

What is tech week and what is so special about it?  “Tech” week – or technical week – is when all the elements of the show are put together into what will become the final product after daily (and longer) rehearsals.  Tech week is known by another name as well, but I won’t put that here just in case it offends somebody.

During our NDW tech week a lot of the work is done upfront.  With load-in on Saturday, the set is mostly completed by the time our first rehearsal starts and we don’t hang lights, so a lot of what we do is make small adjustments as we go.  One thing that does get added that can sometimes take several rehearsals is sound.  We need to get the mics in order and get all of our sound cues ready to go.  And of course, the costumes are used for the first time during this week.

The point of all of this is to get the actors ready for opening night (and show weekend) by giving them everything they need to finish creating their characters and the show.  In addition to the technical stuff, we also work to get our actors truly off-book (although they should be already), fix what needs to be fixed in terms of acting, blocking, choreography, and music. 

Speaking of music – this is also the week where the actors get to work with a drummer (and sometimes other musicians as well).  I won’t say that we never use the boom box during tech week, but for the most part the actors get to work pretty exclusively with live music.  

It’s an exciting week.  And the thing that most people take away from tech week has nothing to do with the reason behind having tech week.  It’s a great week to be social.  A lot of cast (and crew) memories are made during this week.  After all – you see each other every day and there’s a lot of that whole hurry up and wait thing going on all over the place.  

So as we get ready to do a lot of work (and it is a lot of work), remember that it can be fun, too.  Let’s have everything ready to go and bring our best attitudes and then, starting on Sunday, you’ll have a great experience and will understand how sad it is when a week after tech week starts, the show is over and we have to part ways.

Until Saturday,
Debbi

Rehearsals 6 and 7

Time has really flown by this fall.  Can you believe that in 2 weeks we will be in tech?  We’ve accomplished so much, but we still have so much left to do.

All the musical numbers have been learned, the first act has been blocked, and many dances have been taught.  We still have much of the second act to block, a few dances to learn, and a lot of layers to add.  It can seem overwhelming, but I know that our kids are up for the challenge!

There are a lot of other things going on at NDW, aside from what the actors are doing.  Pam has been busy, with the help of her parent volunteers, getting costumes done.  Whether that means fitting items to actors, buying new pieces, altering what we have, or some good old-fashioned sewing, they have been working hard to get our actors looking the part.  We also have parents who have been working in the back on props (like our Narrators’ books) and set pieces.  Whether building, painting, sawing, or other construction like things, they are busy making sure Wychwood-Under-Ooze looks just right.  (Don’t know what Wychwood-Under-Ooze is yet?  Just another reason to see our show!)

In order to put on a successful production, all of these things need to come together.  Usually, the director has a vision and works with designers in the set, costume, and lighting departments.  After they create their designs and have approval from the director a whole bunch of people come together to bring these things to life.  And while the designers are busy overseeing the director’s vision, the director is free to work with actors and bring the author’s words to life with their performances.

There are some productions in which the actors don’t have sets or costumes or even props.  Sometimes it is a budgetary or time issue, but sometimes that is the director’s vision.  For example, sometimes Shakespeare is done on a 3-sided set with all white walls where all the actors wear black.  Now – even in this instance set and costume design are required, but on a much smaller scale.  The director might choose to go this route to help highlight the actors’ performances and the author’s words without other things getting in the way.

I myself was in a play in which I played a chair, a bed, and a table with a bowl (my hands were the bowl).  This was in 8th grade when NDW did The Trial of Goldilocks.  I had other things to do, but during the reenactments of what happened according to, first Goldilocks, and then the Bears, instead of having set changes, the director decided to use actors.  It was a choice.  I’m not sure it worked, but these are all things that can work to benefit a performance within the director’s vision.

At NDW today we are all very lucky to have the wonderful crew that we do.  Everyone works with Cindy to come up with something that matches her vision, and we allow for some creative license as these things are happening.  We owe so much to what our parent volunteers do, but we, the staff, and the actors don’t always get to see these things until tech week.  There was a time when I would have a chance to go down back or hang out in the costume room, but that hasn’t happened for a while.  I’m sure I’ll get there soon.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’ve forgotten all the other things that go on behind the scenes, like fundraising, but I wanted to talk specifically about the production process that goes behind what will be seen during performances.  These are the same things that the actors will combine to create their world: direction, costumes, sets, and props.

In my life I have been lucky enough to act, direct, build and paint sets and props, and help with costumes (my least favorite – I usually get stuck ironing).  My favorite thing is directing, with acting not far behind – in case you were wondering.  Due to my experiences I understand how things work backstage, but I know a lot of people have no idea what goes into these things.  Hopefully you’ll all have a better understanding now.

Until Saturday,
Debbi

Rehearsal 5

Can you believe that we are only a few weeks away from tech week?  A month from now the show will be over and we’ll all be sleeping in on Saturdays. 

Before we get there though we have a lot of work to do.  We’ve done some great stuff thus far, but there are still dances to learn, music to practice, and lines and blocking to memorize.

Speaking of memorization… this Saturday is the off book date for Act One.  What does “off book” mean?  It means that you’re lines (and lyrics, blocking, and choreography) are all memorized and you don’t need your script (or book) in your hand anymore.

Memorization can be a daunting task.  I’m a big fan of repetition.  Just say your lines over and over again.  Sing your songs in the shower, go through choreography in your head while waiting in line – find moments to practice.

What happens if you’re trying to remember something and you can’t and your script is nowhere nearby?  Do your best and then check with your script when you are able.  It’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you are constantly fixing them.

It’s pretty easy to learn things incorrectly, so do check your script occasionally, even if you think you have everything just right.  I’m a big fan of finding someone to run lines with and having them stop you each time you make a mistake – no matter how small.  That way, you are forcing yourself to learn the author’s words correctly.

When it comes to music, have a dance party in your room.  You have access to the music, so use it.  For songs that require singing and dancing you can take turns focusing on singing or dancing, but make sure that you also practice doing both together.  I know it’s hard to sing when you’re concentrating on the steps, but unfortunately you do have to be able to do both at the same time!

Whatever you do, practice, practice, practice.  Repetition is key.  And the reward is peace of mind, knowing that the hardest part of memorizing one’s lines is done.  Of course, if you don’t continue to practice you’ll have to go through it all over again – so keep practicing, even when you think you have everything 100% learned.

See you Saturday,
Debbi