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),


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,

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,

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,

Rehearsals 3 & 4

We finished Act One!  Well, mostly.  We’ve touched upon all of the first act and have given actors their blocking, but that doesn’t mean that it’s “finished.”  

This weekend, our actors were busy.  Not only did we get through a lot of blocking, but Lisa also taught a few more dances (most notably “Work t’ Do”).  And Will taught the rest of the songs (well, except for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” but everyone knows that).  See what can be accomplished when we work together – and have 2 rehearsals in one weekend!

Will was telling me that in trying to get our Evil Step-Sisters to be more evil that they should sing like the witches in Hocus Pocus.  Apparently, the girls didn’t know what Hocus Pocus was, let alone who the Sanderson sisters are.  This was appalling to the both of us, so I am putting in a link so that everyone can be introduced to this wonderful movie (especially now that it’s October).  This particular link is the big musical number in the movie.  After you watch this, please spend some time watching Freeform this month, as the movie will not only be on a lot, but will also be accompanied by a 25th anniversary special.

Okay, back to Twinderella.  After all the blocking has been given and a scene practiced, how do you get it to the point where it can be considered “finished”?  It’s possible that the answer is never, depending on how much of a perfectionist you are, but I’m here to tell you that a scene is “finished” after layers are added to it and everyone is doing more than just the blocking.

Every scene is like an onion.  If you peel a layer, there should be more there.  Sometimes this applies to what the ensemble is doing in a scene.  For example, during the ball there is dialogue between Cinderella and the Princess.  However, these characters aren’t the only ones in the scene that matter.  Everyone else on stage has to be doing something to help bring the ball to life.  Maybe one of our 5th graders is pretending to have a conversation about where her ball gown came from.  Perhaps the Duchess and Countess are politely laughing about how ridiculous the Step-mother is.  Maybe the Lady in Waiting is telling another character about the delicious food set up in the next room.  All of these little interactions help to add something extra to the scene – to help it come to life.  Without all of these little interactions, the show is very one-dimensional.

Sometimes the next layer down has to do with how an actor approaches the situation.  One big factor that most, if not all, professional actors consider is motivation.  Or, put simply, the want.  What does the character want in this moment?  In this scene?  From this particular character?  From that other character?  What is the characters goal for the whole show?  The King, for example, starts the show wanting his shoes to be tied.  By the end of the show, he wants to tie them himself – and he does.  When does his motivation change?  Was it when he witnessed both Cinderella and Bob losing their shoes?  If so, all of the second act should be subtly different from the first as the King now has a different agenda.  That being said, the King might have other wants during the show.  For example, in his first scene, while talking with his family, maybe he wants his children to be happy and have a good birthday.  Maybe he wants to be as smart as his wife.  Maybe he’s hungry and he really wants a PB&J (that one’s a little out there, I know).  Whatever the King wants, that gets put into the play and now there’s something more interesting going on – even if the audience doesn’t realize it.

There are so many other ways to add layers to a scene, but it all boils down to actors filling the space in a positive way to breathe life into every inch of the play.  When that is accomplished, then we will be “finished.”

Until Saturday,

Rehearsal #2

With only about a month until tech week we have a lot to accomplish, and we did just that this past Saturday at NDW. 

Will taught my favorite song from this show – “Stroke of Twelve” – to the Godparents and also worked with the step-families on their songs.  I really do love the music in this show.  Every number is different, but all are fun.  I challenge you to not leave the theater humming one of these of songs!

Since the song “Twinderella” was taught the previous week, Lisa started to teach the choreography for it this week.  If you still don’t know what this show is about, listen to this number – it tells you all you need to know.  Also, you will never hear the name “Bob” the same again.  Lisa also continued to work on the waltz for “This is Love.”  I know that some people are being very middle-schoolish about partner dancing, but you just can’t have this show without the ball scene!  (Or the base-ball scene.)

While those things were going on I worked with a few more of our actors on their characters and then played some improv games.  This week’s improv game focused on trying to create a full scene in one minute – not an easy thing to do.

After break, Cindy and I started blocking the show.  We got through the first 11 pages of the script – which is huge.  Does that mean that those 11 pages are done and we don’t have to go back to them?  Of course not, but we were able to lay the foundation which will allow us to add layers each time we work on it.  The first scene is pretty long, so by getting through those first 11 pages we are getting right into the story and could finish blocking this long scene this weekend.

For those who are unfamiliar, blocking refers to where you go and what you do onstage.  It includes exits and entrances as well as things like Snow White tossing an apple up and down (yes, that will actually happen in this show).  I don’t know where the term “blocking” comes from (I mean, I could Google it, but where’s the fun in that?), but I could give you my take on a possibility.

The stage is divided into 9 sections.  Each side of the stage is divided into 3 sections.  So for the upstage part of the stage you have upstage right, upstage left, and upstage center.  The same for downstage (downstage right, left, and center).  Then there’s also a strip in the middle of the stage.  The middle of that strip is center stage, with right of center and left of center next to it (usually just referred to as stage right and stage left).  Not to confuse anyone, but you’d get the same sections if you split the stage the other way (Stage Right would consist of down right and up right, Center would have upcenter and downcenter, and Stage Left would have up left and down left).  If you imagine each of these 9 sections as a block, the blocking tells you which of these 9 to stand or walk to.  That’s probably not where the term comes from though… 

When you’re writing your blocking (as all actors should always do), it’s not necessary to write everything out.  Upstage right, for example, would just be UR.  Here is a list of abbreviations to help you out:
UR – Up(stage) Right
UL – Up(stage) Left
UC – Up(stage) Center
DR – Down(stage) Right
DL – Down(stage) Left
DC – Down(stage) Center
C – Center Stage
SR – Stage Right
SL – Stage Left
AR – Aisle Right
AL – Aisle Left
LR – Loge Right
LL – Loge Left (this is only for spring shows at Wilson)
X – cross
Ex. – exit
Ent. – enter
Plat. – platform

Some people might use other abbreviations and that’s fine, as long as you know what you mean when you choose your various abbreviations.  When I write blocking I write down what everyone’s doing, so something in my script might look like this:

Cind. ent. SL from behind plat to chair.  Lucy ent. AR, X to Cind.  Cind. X Þ Lucy.

If you are playing Cinderella, you might just write: “Ent. SL behind plat. to chair.“  Lucy might write: “Ent. AR, X to C.”  It’s that simple!

Now a lot of people get upstage and downstage confused.  I do know the actual origin of this, so allow me to enlighten you and prevent any further confusion.  Back in the olden days, stages were slanted to allow the audience a better view of the stage.  The back part of the stage was higher than the front.  Therefore, if an actor were walking to the back of the stage he was literally walking “upstage.”  Similarly, an actor who needed to walk to the front of the stage was literally walking “downstage.”  And that is where those terms come from.

Now that you have all this fancy new theater jargon in your vocabulary why not try it out at the next rehearsal?  I can’t wait to hear you use these terms.

Until then,

Rehearsal #1/Read-thru

This week at Natick Drama Workshop we got right to work.  We started off with the read-thru and ended our day with various actors learning music, dancing, and doing character work.

The read-thru is the first time our actors see the script.  It is also the first time that we have the cast “perform” together.  Sure, they’re sitting in a circle and not putting too much effort into it, but from the read-thru you can get a sense of what the final product will sound like.  It’s always nice to see our actors get into it and not just read the lines on the page. 

Our actors all worked together to learn “Twinderella” – our first ensemble number of the show.  This song will really get stuck in your head!  Other songs learned this week were “There is Love” (which was also the audition song) and “Cinderella Do This (Bob Do That)”.  Cinderella and Bob also worked on their solos in “There is Love” along with the Prince and Princess down in the music room.

Lisa was back this week and jumped right in, teaching the waltz to several of our actors.  The waltz is a big part of the ball scene and our actors need to be able to dance while singing “There is Love” so it’s good that they got started on that right away.

Any actors who weren’t learning music with Will, or choreography with Lisa were either trying on costumes or in the middle room with me (assisted by our new Production Assistant, Bella) doing character work.  Character work this early in the process consists of actors introducing their characters and telling us all about them.  Sometimes I ask questions about how certain characters get along, and every now and then I have to correct the answers given, but for the most part, actors have free range in how they think of their characters.   

Character work is really important, not just for the individual actor, but also in adding layers to our show.  For example, if all of our kid characters had the same personality, that wouldn’t be fun to watch.  So by talking to all of our “kids” we can figure out who the sassy one is, who’s curious, who’s a know-it-all, etc.  When we get into the “kids’” scene work, this will help.  This is the same for the townspeople as well. 

This also helps with characters who have very clear personalities in the script.  It’s good to talk to the actor playing, for example, the King.  He spends the majority of the play needing to have his shoes tied and being confused.  Talking to the actor about this shows that he “gets” his character and from there we can expand into relationships easily.  The actor playing the King will also have a better idea of how to approach his character when we do start to work on his scenes.

Speaking of scenes – while we were all hard at work this Saturday, Cindy was meeting with various people working on scenery (scenery-scenes – that’s my segue) and costumes.  These are things that happen behind the scenes, but are just as important to the show.  The whole show is based on the director’s vision.  So when Cindy directs actors, she is doing so with a plan in mind.  Similarly, the set and the approach to costumes are all based on that same plan.  Having Cindy meet with set and costume folks is what allows us to have the best set possible and the best costumes possible.  Now, these parents can be backstage working on various non-acting aspects of the show (that all come together during tech week) knowing that their creations will fit into the larger concept of Cindy’s vision for Twinderella.

Well that’s all from me this week.  On Saturday I look forward to seeing everyone in their mentor groups, getting to know one another and continuing to work together to put on our best show yet.



Well, by now I’m sure you’ve seen the cast list for Twinderella and are hopefully getting excited and looking forward to rehearsals starting.  It’s important to remember that you won’t understand the full extent of your role until rehearsals start.  Even during the read-thru next week, some of you might not realize how much you get to do during the show until you are actually doing scene work.  So please, get excited, but if for some reason the cast list has had the opposite effect on you take heart – everyone will have a ton to do in this play.  And remember: there are no small parts, just small actors (and no, that is not a reference to our 5th graders).

Every show I try to write a blog that explains the casting process, as it is somewhat mysterious to those who have never been on the other side of the table before.  And every time I write this blog I talk about how much I love watching auditions – this is no different!  But first, a real-life Debbi-auditions story:

So this past May I auditioned for Othello with the community theater group that I’ve worked with for over 10 years.  Due to my summer schedule I put on the audition sheet that I would only do the show if offered the role of Emilia.  Usually I don’t care who I play and am willing to take any role, but with a tight summer schedule I only wanted to commit to the rehearsal schedule if the role was worth it.  For those unfamiliar, Emilia is the 2nd biggest female role.  It is not in my nature to audition for the lead, and so Desdemona was not even on my radar.

In order to prepare for this audition I had to have a Shakespearian monologue ready to go.  I had grand plans of learning something new, but found that with limited time I would have to go back to my standard monologue from A Taming of the Shrew.  I worked on this monologue, not just to rememorize it, but to bring something new to it.  I had faces that I was picturing while saying certain lines, associations that I was making to show particular emotions and I was really proud of myself.

I got to auditions, saw some friendly faces and then went in to the auditorium to audition for the director, producer, and stage manager/assistant director – all friends of mine (two of whom I had directed in the past).  I said hello, got onstage and started to say the monologue.  And then I realized that I was nervous.  Really nervous.  I did my best to stay on track, but I suddenly could not recall the faces I was supposed to be seeing or thinking of the things I was trying to think of and, although I didn’t forget the monologue, I was unable to bring to it all the emotions that I had been working so hard to muster.

And then I didn’t get the part… which was okay, and honestly, probably a good thing considering how busy I was.  At first I was really bummed though.  I thought about telling the director that I’d take any role – I just wanted to act and work with all my friends on this play.  But I stuck to my guns and waited by my phone for the news.  When the cast list was posted I saw that a friend got the role I had auditioned for and I was happy for her.  I went to see the final performance of the play and it was wonderful.  (It is possible that I would have gotten a smaller role had I been willing to take anything from the get-go, but there’s no way of knowing.)

The point of all of this is that everyone gets nervous, and you can’t always be perfect.  However, we always ask that you do your best.  When I realized I was nervous I didn’t stop.  I kept going and I did my best to hold on to the emotions I had.  When it was over I smiled, thanked my production staff friends and headed out of the room.  I saved my disappointment until they couldn’t see my face.  At Natick Drama Workshop though, things are much different.

First of all, everyone gets into the play, so you don’t have to be nervous about that.  Second of all, you don’t have to prepare anything ahead of time, which means no memorization.  And third, everyone has had the same level of preparation, meaning that no one has an advantage over anyone else.  Additionally, because everyone is doing a cold reading (a monologue given at auditions for auditions), no one has the chance to do a ton of work, so you just do what you can do and make the best out of it that you can. (By work, I mean preparation.)

And that’s exactly what everyone did at NDW this past Saturday.  And that is why I love auditions so much.  It’s especially great to see how our returning actors have grown since the last show (talent wise, as well as in terms of height and confidence), but it’s also nice to see what our new cast members are going to be adding to this program. 

And then, at 12:30, all of our actors get to relax and it becomes the staff’s turn to sweat.  Casting can be fun, but it’s not always easy.  It’s a puzzle, and this puzzle of 60 actors felt more like a 1000-piece puzzle at times.  Why?  Because everyone’s so talented!  And we want to make sure that each role matches the actor.  We don’t want to give anyone a role that they can’t handle.  That being said, sometimes we give out roles that are a bit of a stretch, knowing that the actor can handle it.  

The really tricky part is when you have several actors who can all play the same few parts.  That’s when you have to really batten down the hatches to figure out how best to cast people.  At that point, sometimes it ends up being about the actors around them.  For example, if we were doing Bye Bye Birdie and had 3 actors who could easily play Conrad, Albert, and Hugo, sometimes you have to look at the other actors that have already been cast.  Or sometimes, it comes down to something as simple as vocal range.  I mean you can’t cast a bass as Randolph MacAfee – you know?

Okay, so going with this example you have actors A, B, and C who would all be equally fabulous as Conrad (the teenage heartthrob of a singer who has to kiss Kim on live tv), Albert (the lead and a romantic interest to Rosie), and Hugo (a love struck and jealous teenager, dating Kim).  So what do you do?  You’ve already talked about who has the most swagger, who is best at playing awkward, and who could most easily carry the show, but all 3 actors are pretty even in each category.  So now, you look at the actresses playing Kim and Rosie and figure out if maybe Actor A works best with one of those actresses.  Or maybe, one actor doesn’t seem ready to pretend to be in love onstage (I mean all of our actors are in middle school after all).  If that’s the case then that actor might be better suited to be Conrad.  But then again, the person playing Conrad has to be able to flirt with every girl on stage.  (We really do try to look at every angle while casting.)  Well, then, maybe that means that Actor C, who always seems to be comfortable around girls gets the part.  If so, that means that the roles of Albert and Hugo could go with Actor A or B, which is somewhat more helpful. 

Now the problem is that you have two actors vying for the lead and the (something like) 4th best male role in the show.  If both actors are equally talented how do you decide who gets the lead and who doesn’t?  Is it fair for one of those actors to have a smaller role, even though you know he could handle the lead?  Well this is where the whole “no small roles, just small actors” thing comes into play.  After all, a good actor can turn even the smallest ensemble role into a scene stealing opportunity.  And realistically, both these roles are still good.  Even if Hugo isn’t the lead, it’s a great part to have. 

Okay so you’ve gone over everything over and over and over again.  You look at the music to see if one actor would be able to better sing one of the roles.  You look at the surrounding cast to figure out if one actor would work better with the Kim actress than the Rosie actress.  You talk about the actors’ individual personalities and how they’ve taken direction in the past.  You compare dancing (Albert does have to be the better dancer after all).  Finally, you make a decision.  You decide that Actor A will be Albert and Actor B will be Hugo.  It’s not a reflection on Actor B that he didn’t get Albert, but rather a decision based on the whole picture.  And in some cases, it’s possible that Actor B got the role of Hugo because he’s so good that the directors know that he’ll make the most of it. 

Either way, this is when casting gets stressful.  At the end of the day though, a beautiful cast has been assembled, with everyone getting a part that will allow them to shine.  The wonderful thing about this program is that we really do put a lot of thought into casting.  In adult theater, if you had 3 actors vying for 1 part, chances are 2 of them won’t get cast as all – even though all 3 are wonderful actors.

Having said all of that, I’m glad that the cast list is done and that it is up on the website.  I can’t wait for our cast to assemble for our read-thru this coming Saturday.  And I am very much looking forward to seeing all the work that our cast will be putting into this incredibly fun show.  I love this show.  I love the story, I love the music, and I love NDW.  So let’s get this party started already!

Until Saturday,

Preparing for Auditions

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 spring 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 spring musical (no, I can't tell you what we're doing, but you will be happy).

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 your 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.
Tip #3a: Sing by yourself.   Yes, you are allowed to sing in a small group of 2 or 3, but sometimes that means that we can't hear you at all.  If you are in 7th or 8th grade, specifically, just try to sing by yourself.  That way, it is easier for us to cast you whether you are the best singer in the cast, the worst, or somewhere in between.  

*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 didn't do so great with #1?  Well those same actors didn't 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!


Rehearsal #10

This week’s rehearsal was… interesting… Well, let’s just say that our actors found out what it’s like when their fellow actors don’t know their lines.  Normally I would sugar coat this a little bit more and write a blog about memorization techniques, but I’ve already written that blog.  So instead, I’m going to give you the truth – this week’s rehearsal was painful.

However, there were some bright spots.  Certain actresses knew their lines and should be role models for everyone else.  Lady Merle and her Ladies knew their lines, as did Maid Marian, Bridget, and Annabel, as well as the Sheriff’s Wife and Daughters.  Thank you to those of you who were on it.  There were a few others who seemed to know what was going on – thank you if you were one of them.

Now, let’s put that behind us, and focus on the positive, shall we?  With all the time that we’ve had to get this show ready I think this is the first time in years that we’ve been able to do character work with every single actor.  That’s pretty amazing with a cast of 79.  Now is the time to start putting that work together with the lines, blocking, and choreography.

What do I mean by that?  Most professional actors will tell you that a lot of work goes into each performance.  Most professional actors do prep work when they get a role and put notes in the script about their characters’ motivations and objectives (what they want and why), as well as things like beats (natural pauses), memories, relationships, and back stories. 

Let’s say that I’m playing a villager in this musical and I have my one line, plus various ad-libs throughout the play.  My villager (and I’m making all of this up in an effort to not take an existing character) is named Gwendolyn and she is a cobbler (shoe maker).  My line is, “The Sheriff is the one robbing us blind.”  (Again, that line is not in the script, I’m making this all up.)  From that line I know that I have very little money.  Because I’m a cobbler I know that I work with my hands and with leather from animals.  Perhaps I can no longer afford to buy the leather I need from the tanner (someone who prepares the leather).  I’m now going to have to take the cow I own and use it to create the leather I need to make shoes, which will mean less milk for my family.  Of course, in order to sell shoes, someone has to buy them from me and money is scarce all around.  So at the fair, when I see the golden arrow, I day dream about what it would be like to win the archery contest and the arrow, but I know that I would never actually win, so instead, I want Robin Hood (well, Cedric) to win.  That way, at least the Sheriff’s man doesn’t win the golden arrow.  My character is invested in the archery contest for this reason.  That is why Gwendolyn pays attention, and why she cheers and boos when she does.  This is also why she decides to join Robin’s merry band.  She can repair his shoes in exchange for food and shelter, while sticking it to the Sheriff.

Now this is just a small piece of the work that many actors do to prepare for their roles.  You may think that you don’t need to do any of this work because you have a small part, or because acting comes easily to you, but none of that matters.  A true actor knows his character inside and out and has a reason behind all of the actions that a character chooses to take or not take – even though the actor is not the one who wrote the script.

So, I challenge you.  As you continue to memorize your lines (and re-memorize them), review you lyrics, blocking, and choreography, take a minute to figure out why your character is doing or saying something.  You can’t use the excuse that “that’s what it says in the script” or “Cindy/Debbi/Lisa/Jane told me to do it this way.”  See what you come up with.  Giving your character purpose is extremely rewarding and will make your performance that much more believable.

See you Saturday,

Rehearsal #9

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter and Chag Sameach to those still celebrating Passover!  Having a week off from NDW was weird!  Maybe you didn’t notice, but I did.  Saturday seemed much longer to me.

At our last rehearsal our actors did a lot of everything while also getting in and out of costumes for our Debsan Window Photo Shoot.  (Doesn’t it seem more fancy when every word is capitalized?)  I can’t wait to see how these pictures turned out.  I know that many of our actors weren’t at this rehearsal, but fear not – you’re turn is this Saturday. 

I’m always amazed by how time moves.  Just a couple weeks ago it seemed as if we had a huge amount of time left to rehearse.  Yet, when we return on Saturday we’ll be less than a month out from our show.  That’s right, we have 4 Saturday rehearsals left.  That’s it.  Now the good news is that all the music has been done and our basic blocking (or first layer of blocking), at least, has been done for all but the last scene of the show.  Choreography is moving along, and will continue to do so now that Lisa is back, and almost all lines will be off-book (right guys?).  So why do I feel like time is running out?  Because it is.  There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.

In addition to blocking the last scene, almost all of the fights need to be blocked, the fair scene is still a work in progress, and not all the dances have been learned.  Can we do this is 4 weeks?  Yes – if everyone cooperates.

Now let me tell you all a story.  Last year I directed, choreographed, stage managed, produced, etc. a play for the school where I work.   The cast was made up of 15 teenagers from grades 5 through 8.  And they were awful.  They talked, they didn’t listen, and it was super challenging to teach the boys how to do a jazz square (something I take for granted at NDW).  On top of all that, because of the way the school and our venue had to schedule things, we only had 1 true tech rehearsal.  I told my parents not to bother going to the show (granted, they wouldn’t have anyways, as I work over an hour away from Natick) and I was sincerely afraid that my boss would see the show and decide not to rehire me.  That’s how bad it was.  I worked Memorial Day weekend (and Memorial Day) painting the set, as I couldn’t get any help from the school’s art teacher, let alone any one else.  I was prepared for this show to be a disaster. 

At some point, these awful students (who are great individually in a classroom setting) realized that they were going to have to do this in front of the entire school and their families and decided to take the show more seriously.  Did rehearsals go smoothly at that point?  No.  But they started to be a little bit better.  I did have one girl who kept asking what would happen if she got sick and couldn’t do the show (her family allowed her and her brother to be “out sick” the day of the chorus concert so that they wouldn’t have to participate).  In my head I was thinking that I might have to prepare to go on stage to take over her part.  I truly believed that she might not show up.  Luckily, the rest of the cast talked her out of it.  They may have been forced to do this show, but they understood the importance of it.

We got to our tech rehearsal and it went pretty well, all things considered.  The person running lights and sound had no idea what was going on despite having had a script for months (because she was also the musical director), and lines were skipped, but we had a show and I could finally relax a little bit.

Then it was show time.  The kids thought they did an awful job, but they pulled it together and I thought, considering what we had all gone through, that it was great.  The next day they did an in school performance and it was even better – and they all felt really good about themselves.

So, why tell you all about this awful experience?  Because, no matter how little time there is, no matter how much work still needs to be done, I know that if I was able to get those kids to pull off that show, that we can do everything and anything.  Seriously.  We have 4 weeks, plus 5 tech rehearsals.  We have behind the scenes people who know what they are doing and want to help out.  And more importantly, all of our actors want to be in NDW and are invested in this show. 

So no matter how much time we have left, I know that with a little hard work and a dab of theater magic, 4 weeks is plenty of time.

See you all Saturday,

Rehearsal #8

This week at NDW we started off the day by singing all of the Act 2 songs with Jane.  Our cast is starting to sound good – our actors just need to memorize those lyrics!  Lisa was back, so many in our cast were dancing once again while others reviewed blocking. 

All of Act 1 is now off-book and actors learned the Entr’acte blocking just in time to have that scene memorized for next week.  We also delved more into Act 2, Scene 1, which is good because that scene is also off-book next week.  Additionally, after working on blocking for “Help is On the Way!” I was able to teach fight choreography to our Robin Hood and Friar Tuck for their big fight in Act 1.  We are definitely moving right along!

With all of the snowstorms this month, we have been so lucky to not have missed a single rehearsal due to snow (I hope I didn’t just jinx us).  What do you do on snowy days?  I shovel, but that’s not all I do.  I read, I make hot chocolate, and I have a tendency to binge tv shows.  I like to watch old shows that I’ve already seen so that I can easily multitask.  Even when I do this, there are certain performances that cut through all of my Candy Crush-ing and grab my attention (even if I’ve seen the same thing 10 times already).  Why do these moments, these performers, grab my attention?  Well, their superb acting of course!

Whenever this happens and I get lost in a performance, I find myself thinking about it afterwards.  I think about what was so special, and if there’s anything that I can learn from it.  This varies from show to show and actor to actor, but the biggest thing is that I believe the performance.  I believe it to the point where it stops being performance and it starts to be more like watching life unfold.  Even on shows where ghosts and vampires roam, if the actors are doing their jobs right I get so immersed that I see past the supernatural plot and it doesn’t matter if ghosts are real or not.

So what exactly are these actors doing to make their performances so real?  I’m sure that there are many answers to this question, but I’m going to answer that they, the actors, believe that what their characters are going through, and that what they are thinking, is real.  If you want to know if an actor is good, watch his or her eyes.  The eyes should tell a story.  Not just in terms of if their eyes look sad when they are sad, but if their eyes are seeing things.  When a person, a normal everyday person, remembers a past event, the memory comes through the eyes.  Think about it.  Watch someone try to remember something.  You can see how hard he is thinking and you can tell when he grabs onto part of a memory.  It’s like how you smile when you think of something good that happened last week, or last year.  Actors who are really good are constantly doing this, too.  The backstories they craft for their characters help, but if an actor doesn’t use her backstory while acting, the performance can come across as hollow.

Okay, so why am I telling you all this?  For two reasons: First, as actors, it is important to appreciate the craft.  The next time you’re watching a tv show or a movie, stop and watch the actors’ eyes and appreciate all the work that goes into making their characters believable.  And second, so that you, as actors, can improve your craft. 

When you are at NDW, think about what you’re saying, doing, hearing (when other characters have lines your character would be listening to them, right?).  For example, in the very first scene, those characters in Sherwood Forest when the caravan horn sounds – how do you know it’s the caravan?  Have you seen a caravan before?  If so, what did it look like?  Who was in it?  How much money did you get from it?  Answer these questions for yourself and then see it in your mind’s eye.  This will then come out through your real eyes!  Or think of Friar Tuck when he’s thinking of food.  Of course he’s picturing the food in his mind’s eye.

Another example would be when Robin and Marian realize that they knew each other as children.  For our two actors, maybe they can picture what the other looked like as a child (which shouldn’t be too hard as our actors are far less removed from childhood than the characters they play).  Maybe there was a game Robin and Marian played or a place they used to walk.  If our actors picture those things, the relationship between the two will feel more real.  And it doesn’t have to be the same thing for both actors. 

There is another way to go with all of this of course.  Instead of making up images, use images from life.   When you’re at the fair, singing about all of the wonderful things that are there you can think about that time that you went to a carnival, or to King Richard’s Faire, and use those images.  Those real-life memories can transport your character to a more believable place, too.

So, having said all of this, remember that acting is in the eyes.  Try it.  Or, at least, try looking for it.

Until Saturday,

Rehearsal #7

Man is it snowing outside!  I hope everyone is enjoying (or did enjoy) your snow day.

How did your first off-book date go this week?  For many of you it went pretty well.  For a few of you, it could have gone better.  But guess what?  That’s what rehearsal is for.  Just don’t forget that you have to do work outside of rehearsal, too.

We did get through the entire first scene pretty successfully this week, without the script.  While doing that I made sure that everyone knew who they would be fighting in that scene and when they would enter to do so.  When I actually teach the fight choreography the spacing will work itself out.  Also of note this week, we finished blocking the end of Act 1 (minus the fair “business”), which is perfect because this coming Saturday, everyone must be off-book for the rest of Act 1 (scenes 2 & 3).  One more act to go and we’ll be all set!

And more importantly, we had our canned food drive for the Natick Service Council.  This is something we do during each show and it’s really important.  Natick Drama Workshop is all about community, so it’s good to give back.   As we said at rehearsal a couple of weeks ago, by bringing in canned goods we are giving back to the community that supports us.

NDW has been around for a long time.  When I was in 8th grade we were celebrating our 35th year.  That was over 20 years ago!  (Yes, feel free to do the math now to figure out how old I am.)  This theater program has been part of the community for a very long time.  We’ve had directors and musical directors that taught in Natick public schools.  We’ve had several staff members who grew up in Natick.  We’ve also had some children of NDW alumni go through the program. 

For me, NDW gave me a new community.  There are kids that I would not have talked to in high school (and who wouldn’t have talked to me) that I was in NDW with and guess what, we talked, and still do to this day (thank you social media).  I can reach out to someone who went through this program and we immediately have something to bond over because of NDW (like Mr. Rufo at the high school).  But our community is so much bigger than that.

NDW is community theater at its best.  Yes, it’s a workshop, but you’re doing theater because you love it, period.  And that goes, not just for our actors, but also for our NDW parents and our alumni that keep coming back.   We have so much fun in the gym every Saturday, but there are so many others involved in this show who help out because they want to (and because their kids are in the show).  There is a huge sense of camaraderie that exists beyond the gym and friendships that are made between the adults behind the scenes.

I’m proud to work at Natick Drama Workshop.  I’m also proud to be an alumna (can I just be the NDW poster child already?).  Even on the worst Saturdays, when we can’t get our actors to be quiet for more than two seconds (yes, that is every Saturday lately), I’m so happy to be at Cole with all of you and to be part of this wonderful community.  And I love going to see high school shows, starring many past cast members (sometimes directed by, or even written by, our alumni). 

Each mentor group that our actors have is like a mini community, and it changes up each show.  I have heard such great stories from alumni who talk about their experiences with mentor groups as 5th graders and how that led to them treating others when they were in 7th and 8th grades.  This program didn’t exist when I was in NDW, but I’m so glad that it exists now.  What other program forces you to get to know your fellow castmates (or teammates) in this way?

Everything that NDW has become has enriched our role within the community by being the best community we can be at Cole.  Why not take that and spread some of our love to the rest of the Natick community?  Without Natick’s love and support for the past 50 plus years we would not be here.  So as you use the snow day to go over your lines and sing your songs and review your choreography, remember that what you put in you will get back.  And the more you put in, the happier you will be because you’ll be able to come here Saturday morning with confidence.  That will allow you to just relax and enjoy the wonderful community we have all built together.

Until then,


Rehearsal #6

It’s nice when we get a chance to run scenes with music from the beginning through to a certain point.  That’s what we did this week.  We ran from the Prologue to what’s been blocked in the fair scene.  Jane also went over all Act 1 music.  That means that we’re really close to being done with Act 1!  Which is good, because this coming Saturday is our first off-book day in which everyone must have the entire first scene memorized.

As an actor, when you’re off-book, everything gets easier (assuming you know your lines and blocking).  When you can put down your script you can start really inhabiting your character.  No longer do you have something in your hand blocking your gestures, preventing you from dancing, or getting in the way of a good sword fight.

The flip side of that is simple: script in hand means that you are using a crutch.  It will take you longer to memorize lines, lyrics, blocking, and choreography.  Hopefully everyone’s been working on these things, but let’s say that you haven’t been.  Well, the next best way to work on it is to be forced to put your script down and figure it out.  Of course, this is painful for everyone else.  Imagine that you’re at rehearsal and you don’t have as many of your lines as memorized as you would like.  But you want to try – that’s great, and I urge you to do that.  However, the longer it takes, the more annoyed others get and the less patience others will have with you.  That is why this step must be done on your own.   Find someone to run lines with and do your best with them holding the script, rather than waste your fellow cast members’ time during rehearsal.

Here are some memorization tips:

1) Write your lines down.  I like doing this at the computer, but pen and paper work just as well.  You don’t even have to say your lines out loud, just write them down, in order.  Of course, in order to do this, they do have to already be at least mostly memorized.

2) Grab your script and test yourself.  Pick one line at a time to work on and repeat it at least 3 times.  Then say it without looking at your script.  Then put your script down and repeat the line another 3 times.  If you forget, or mess up, start again.  As you add lines, go back and say them all together.  For example, if your first line is, “Why, hello sir” and your second is “That’s my hat!” after you have both lines down say, “Why, hello sir.  That’s my hat!” over and over again.  Then add another line.  Once you can repeat all of your lines together at least 3 times you’re in good shape.

3) Find a scene partner.  This can be a person or an app.  I can’t speak to the app bit, but I know that there are plenty of apps out there to help you memorize your lines.  They may cost money though, which is why an actual person is always better!  Give your scene partner the script and have them read the lines that aren’t yours.  Tell them ahead of time how much help you want.  Do you want them to wait 5 seconds and then give you a word?  Do you not want any help until you say the magic phrase (which you make up on your own)?  If you do need help with a line, don’t just have them say it and move on.  You must also say the line in order for it to sink in.  This is also a good strategy for after memorization…

4) Find a scene partner – take 2.  Maybe you’ve memorized your lines, but you need to better learn the lines that come before yours (this is actually super important).  Have someone on book, reading those lines to help you.  The more you hear them, the easier it will be.  Also, sometimes you know your lines, but mix up words or keep changing little words here and there.  A scene partner can let you know when and how you are messing up so that you can fix it and get your lines down perfectly.

5) Sing in the shower.  You know your songs, why not sing them in the shower, where acoustics are great and you have some privacy.  I do not recommend dancing in the shower, however.

These are just some tips.  When I’m in a show I like to repeat my lines to myself while I drive.   None of our NDW actors can drive, but you get my point. Basically, I just try to find some alone time to commit my lines to memory, but everyone has a different style.  Once you find your style, it will become that much easier!

Whatever you choose to do – be prepared.  Don’t wait until Friday night to memorize your lines and once you have them, keep working on them.  The easiest thing to do is to forget.

See you Saturday,


Rehearsal #5

We had a productive week at NDW.  Lisa went over the “Merry Life” dance while Cindy and I went through blocking.  We are in the fair scene!  That’s huge – that’s scene 3 in a show where Scene 1 might as well be worth 3 scenes all on it’s own.  Now the fair scene is also a really big scene, and as the weeks go on we will have to layer it.  It would be impossible to give the actors all the blocking for that scene at once, so it’s great that we started it.

Cindy also went over the Entr’acte with members of our cast and I did more fight choreography, giving a huge tutorial on fighting with quarterstaffs, which is something we only get to do when our play is Robin Hood.  And of course, there was time for some improv as well!  Late for Work is always a fun game to play.

One thing that I want to talk about this week is complacency.  Normally, our tech week would be about a month away and we’d be two more rehearsals into the show.  This time around, we have 2 months until tech week, which more than makes up for starting 2 weeks later than usual.  However, this is the time when all of us, directors, actors, parents, need to realize that we still need to go full steam ahead, despite the fact that it feels like we can relax.

Compare this show to the fall show.  We had somewhere around 8 weeks to pull the whole thing off.  That’s about the amount of time left to rehearse Robin Hood.  The staff picked Mirror Image because we knew we could get it done in a short rehearsal period and that costumes and the set would be relatively easy to pull off in that amount of time.  So all of us are thrilled to have so much more time this spring to work on our show.

However, this is when we get in trouble.  While it’s great that we’re into the 3rd scene and all the music’s been learned, there’s still a lot to do and a lot to fix in the blocking that’s already been done.  We need to forge ahead, but it’s easy to forget that when there is so much time left.  This works for lines, too.  Our actors may be thinking that they don’t need to start working on memorization yet, especially with other school plays coming up sooner and other activities, in general.   This line of thinking is a mistake.

Trust me, this play will sneak up on all of us if we aren’t careful.   In fact, I can’t believe that March starts this week.  Where did February go?  Forget February, where did January go?  Before you know it we will be in April and will have a week off from NDW for a holiday break. 

Having said all this, what can you do to prevent us from becoming complacent and to help us all be ready come tech week?  That’s simple.  Don’t take the time we have for granted.  Start working on your lines now.  Make sure everything gets done before it’s too late.  At our end, we will keep plugging away.  If we’re lucky (and I think we could be) we will be running this show before we get to tech week.  Can you imagine not needing to block a single thing at Wilson?  Can you imagine having the dances learned perfectly before tech week?  And memorization – I mean, come on!  Lyrics and lines will be so memorized by the time we get to Wilson that no one will have to call line.  Can you imagine all of that?  (I mean, yes, adjustments will have to made once we get into our performance space, but that will be so much easier if everything else is in place.)  Good, now let’s make it a reality.  Let’s continue to work hard and to enjoy all the time we have at Cole, because before you know it, we will be in April and then in May, and then NDW will be over for the year.  (Sorry 8th graders.)  Let’s use the time we have to make this our best show yet!  We need to work together, all of us: actors, staff, parents.  But that’s what we excel at.  Are you with me?  On 3: 1, 2, 3 – NDW!!!!!

Until Saturday,


Rehearsal #4

I hope everyone is enjoying February break.  Of course, I know that you are all going over your songs and choreography…

This week at NDW there was a lot of music and blocking going on.  I don’t know if all the music has been taught, but if not there must only be one song left to teach.  Also, almost all of the first scene (which is looong) has been blocked.  With many actors on vacation, we are trying to use the vacation weeks for some workshopping and this past week we started with some cast members learning more about fight choreography.

In Robin Hood there are two kinds of fights: sword fighting and quarterstaff fighting.  What is a quarterstaff you ask?  A quarterstaff is a large wooden staff that is used for fighting.  It is most associated with Robin Hood.  In fact, while re-watching my favorite tv show of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I chuckled as Buffy actually reacts to having to train with a quarterstaff by saying that she’s not “planning on fighting Friar Tuck anytime soon.”   (I just started re-watching within the past two weeks, so this quote is extremely fresh in my brain.)  This week, because I was working with non-Sherwood people, we mostly used just swords.  We talked about different basic sword fighting moves and how to create a fight while still being safe.  Someone always gets injured when we do Robin Hood.  The first time we did this show while I worked at NDW, we were practicing and Friar Tuck accidentally hit Robin Hood with a quarterstaff in his privates.  The last time we did this, the Sheriff accidentally got hit very close to the eye with a sword.  This is why we have to be super careful and why every fight has to be choreographed.  This past Saturday I got hit in the head with a sword and sustained a very small bump.  Hopefully that counts as an injury and no one else will get hit this time around!

My history with fight choreography goes back to my freshman year of college.  I never took a class, but was able to observe some graduate students in their class while working backstage on a show.  The main stage at Brandeis University links to the other theaters in the building.  When you are backstage in one theater, you are on the stage of another.  And so, while hanging out backstage, working crew for Hapgood by Tom Stoppard, I got to watch rehearsals for fight choreography class happening on another stage.  It was really cool.  There were sword fights, quarterstaff fights, and fist fights.  The quarterstaff fight was actually set to a scene from The Matrix and one of the two actors now does fight choreography professionally (and is now married to my theatre arts advisor).  That fight was the best and it was great to watch, but during the final performance of it, one of the guys dropped their quarterstaff.  We had all watched this perfect fight for a whole week and then disaster.  So, it is quite easy to know exactly what you’re doing and still mess up – we just hope that it doesn’t lead to injury.  And it also means that extra concentration must be paid to the craft, even when you think you have it down pat.

Hopefully I’ll get to work with some others on fight choreography this coming Saturday.  And if not, anyone involved in a fight in this show will still get the opportunity to learn about fight choreography just by doing it.

So enjoy your vacation and these randomly summer-like days and I will see you all soon.


Rehearsal #3

Well, it's official - I have "Come to the Fair" stuck in my head and probably will until mid-May.  Hopefully you have some songs stuck in your head, too.  After all, if I heard Jane correctly, there are only 2 songs that have not been taught yet, which means that the majority of songs have been and there are plenty of choices for which one could be stuck in your head!

This week, in the midst of singing, dancing, and trying on costumes we started blocking the first scene.  The first scene is a long one.  We actually have a few really long scenes in this show.  In a world in which people see more film and television than live productions, it's good to remember that a play is written with different rules than a screenplay or a teleplay.  In the latter two, scenes are short by design.  With film/tv, having a long scene takes a lot of work to produce and is generally considered to be boring, unless the director comes up with a really interesting way of shooting it, so scenes are generally designed to be shorter and more quick paced.  In theater, it is the opposite.  This is partly because we can't change locations and settings as easily - that would make scene changes laborious and boring for the audience.  Live theater relishes scene work and stage actors love the rehearsal process.  Not to say that screen actors, don't, but the medium they work in rarely takes advantage of rehearsals, except of course, when there are long scenes.

In our play, although the first scene is long, it can broken into different parts.  The first part is the opening number.  The second part is the noblemen and villagers talking, which ends with David and his family leaving for Sherwood Forest.  This then segues into the third part, which is our introduction to Sherwood and Robin's merry band.  The introduction of Friar Tuck and the fight between him and Robin Hood would be the fourth part, the fifth part starts with the entrance of the Sheriff, Lady Merle, and company, and so on and so forth.  All of these parts are mini scenes which allow for a lot of interesting ways to stage the scene.  

Another long scene is the fair scene, but again, so much happens that there are mini scenes, keeping the audience entertained.  The scene starts with the Sheriff's family, another part of the scene is "Come to the Fair", and yet another part is the archery contest.  These scenes might be long, but they involve a lot of people (if not all of them), and also feature a good amount of character introductions and/or plot.

What all of this means for our actors is that while blocking and rehearsing this scene there could be a lot of downtime while waiting for your mini-scene to come up.  It also means that we can divide and conquer, having actors go in all directions, working on song, or dance, or blocking, without missing a beat.  It's good to have options!

Generally speaking, a visitor to one of NDW rehearsal's would not know where to go first.  Something's always going on the gym.  Often there's something going on in the middle and/or back room.  And then of course there is something going on at all times in the costume room and with set building and in the NDW office.  It takes a village to put on a production and our actors do their part (the most important part I think).  This experience is so different from tech week when we're basically in the auditorium the whole time (for the most part) fixing and running the show.  Putting on a musical never gets boring and keeps everyone on their toes, that's for sure.

For those of you going on vacation, have a great time, but don't forget to practice your songs and your dances!  (That goes for everyone!)

See you on Saturday,


Rehearsal #2

This week at Natick Drama Workshop we continued working on music and choreography.  Once we get into blocking, I don’t get to see our actors working on other aspects of the show, so it was nice for me to walk around and see what our actors were up to (and get a sneak peak at a couple of costumes).  As I mentioned last week, it’s really important to continually practice all choreography and to learn lyrics to songs that have been taught – it will make everything so much easier as rehearsals go on and as we get closer to our off-book dates and, eventually, tech week.

I also got to spend some time with about half our cast, talking about stage directions and doing some preliminary character work.  What do I mean by stage direction? Each part of the stage has a different name, making it easier to give an actor precise blocking.   If a director just said, “You enter over there, walk that way, and end up over there,” well, that’s rather confusing.  However, by saying, “You enter upstage left and cross right to the pit platform,” well now you know exactly what the director is asking of you. 

Stage right vs. stage left
Even as someone who has been involved in theater since kindergarten (and directing since college), this can still trip me up, but I am also directionally challenged.  It’s actually not that hard – as long as you know your right from your left.  The tricky part is knowing your right from your left and where you are standing in relation to the stage.  Stage right and left are the right and left of the actor ON stage.  As the director, I am usually facing the stage and therefore my right and left are the opposite of stage right and left.  Let me say this again: stage right and stage left are based on the actor’s right and left while on stage.  Think about it – if you’re an actor and the director tells you to move left, all you do is move left.  It’s that simple.

However, house right and house left (house=auditorium/audience) is the opposite of all this.  What?  Now I’m confused.  I know, I know, but this is still from the actor’s perspective.  If an actor is in the house (and presumably facing the stage), the actor’s right is house right and the actor’s left is house left.  The confusing part is that house right is on the same side as stage left.  If an actor enters from aisle (or loge) right and continues onto the stage, the perspective changes.  Even though the actor walked in a straight line up onto the stage from aisle right, once that actor is on the stage (and presumably facing the audience), the actor’s right and left are opposite of what they were when that same actor was facing the stage.  Because, again, now the actor is ON stage.  This is the part that I think always trips people up.  But once you get it, you get it.

Down stage vs. up stage
Time for a history lesson.  Way back, a long time ago, in a land far away, stages used to be tilted.  This way, the audience, who would all be sitting at the same level, would be able to see things happening at the back of the stage, as well as things happening at the front of the stage.  The back end of the stage was, therefore, up, compared to the front of the stage, which was down.  So if an actor needed to move from the front to the back, he was literally walking “up” stage and an actor walking from the back to front was literally going “down” stage.  If you think about a tilted stage, you’ll never get these two stage directions mixed up again.

Center stage
Do I really need to explain this one? No, I didn’t think so.

In order to help teach this I’ve taken to having actors go stand in one of 9 spots that the stage is divided into to help make all of this more visual for other actors.   Those 9 spots are up right, up center, up left, stage right, center stage, stage left, down right, down center, and down left. 

Once that is made clear, then I start getting more complicated with actors standing in aisle right or left and loge right or left (at Wilson there on loges on either side, at Kennedy there is only a right loge), in the pit, and on the down right and down left extensions.  The step after learning this would be learning how to write stage directions, but we didn’t get into that today.  When we start blocking next week we will get into that for any actors who are new or need a refresher.

The other thing I did with some actors, as I mentioned, was start character work.  It’s really important for actors to understand their characters.  Sometimes this means creating a backstory.  For example, why our soldiers are soldiers (rather than farmers, for example).  Sometimes it requires the actors to focus on their characters’ motivations and wants.  All of this depends on the actors’ experiences.  One of our 8th grade actors named her character’s motivation right off the bat, whereas one 6th grade actor had already come up with a backstory and discussed it with an actor that he would be sharing all his scenes with.  Some actors don’t know to think about either of these things and that’s why it’s good to discuss all of this in a group setting – who better to learn from than your fellow actors?  Much of this is based on the script, but there are holes to fill in and choices to be made.  Any actor could decide that his or her character is always really excited about everything, which may or may not make sense with the script.  If the actor can justify it, why not go for it.  The worst thing that could happen is that the director will ask you to try it another way.  After all, even though the characters are in the hands of the actors, the entire play is created from the vision of the director based on how she interprets the script.  Just another way in which, as Jane likes to put it, “theater is a team sport.”

Well, that’s it for now.  See you all Saturday,


Read-thru/Rehearsal #1

We have officially started working on Robin Hood!  There were kids singing and dancing this past weekend at the Cole Center.  Actors began to learn the opening number of the show and some even began some work on another dance, while our younger actors were busy singing with Jane. 

In between all the dancing and singing was our read-thru.  For the first time our actors got to go through the script, read their lines, and hear what everyone sounds like together as a cast.  Of course, the kids were just excited to get their scripts, but I personally love the read-thru.  For the first time you get to see how the show is going to end up.  Of course, we were missing several actors (mostly for Junior Districts - I hope you all did well), which meant that Kiva and I spent a lot of time talking to ourselves as we each “played” several characters.  Despite that, it went well and I can’t wait to start doing character work and blocking with everyone.

You may wonder why we don’t start with blocking.  It’s simple actually:  because we are working on a musical, it is more crucial for music and choreography to get started sooner.  These can be seamlessly worked into the blocking and take a lot of practice.  When I do show, musical or not, I work on my lines and picture my blocking in my head.  Blocking isn’t something I generally “practice” on my own (unless it is more complicated, like fight choreography, which is hard to do by yourself anyways).  I can go through my lines and think about blocking in my head.  However, when I am working on a musical number, I need to actively practice the dance moves in order to learn them.  I remember being in Natick Drama Workshop and practicing all the choreography in my bedroom.  I’d put on the tape that Jane made for all of us and dance and sing along.  For some reason, muscle memory works differently when it comes to choreography (maybe that’s just me?).  I need to physically get up and dance to review and learn the moves.  If you’ve ever seen a dancer or cheerleader practice moves you know that it doesn’t have to be done full out, but it must be done.  This is the only way to really get it into your head.

As for the songs, it’s not just about learning the lyrics.  You must know the tune and practice your pitch, and there is also rhythm to consider.  These are things that can’t be practiced in your head and must be practiced with music (which is why Jane has already made audio recordings of all the songs for you).  If you don’t have access to the music, please still practice the songs, but if you’re unsure of how a part sounds, just ask about it at the next rehearsal, or review with music once you again have access.  Of course, without music you can still learn the lyrics!  If you mumble through your songs, or if different people are singing different words at the same time the audience can tell.

Another thing to consider is that music and choreography go hand in hand.  Let’s say that you are practicing a dance in your house in between rehearsals.  Chances are, you are playing the music while doing so.  Even if you aren’t concentrating on the lyrics and on singing, just hearing the song will help get it into your head.  Likewise, there may be certain moves that correspond with certain words that you are either listening for, or noticing, as you go along.  This will help you learn your lyrics.  The reverse of that, of course, is that the sooner you know your songs and lyrics, the easier it will be to learn your choreography because some of the moves will correspond to certain lyrics.  I don’t know which is easier to learn first, lyrics or choreography – I think it’s different for everyone, but either way, they definitely go together.

When it comes to blocking and the acting part of putting on a musical (although you would certainly be acting and in character for all of your songs and dances), it’s not that it’s less important, but rather, something that takes less obvious effort in certain ways.  Making that last statement feels untrue, as acting classes I took in college were my hardest because I had to put so much effort into them, but there was always less homework to do, which is maybe an easier way to explain the difference.  Acting requires effort; song and dance requires effort and homework (but the fun kind).

Please, please, please start practicing what you’ve already learned and re-read the script this week – it’s never too early to get going on memorization.

See you Saturday,