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.

-Debbi

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,

Debbi

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,

Debbi

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,

Debbi

Auditions

Well, by now you’ve all seen the cast list and I can’t wait for scripts to be handed out on Saturday for our read thru and first rehearsal!  Robin Hood is one of my favorite shows and I am beyond thrilled to be able to work on it again with our current group of NDW actors.

Speaking of our actors, they brought it to auditions.  In fact, we had a really hard time casting the show because we have so much talent in our group!  So what do you do, as a director, when you have to find parts for multiple actors who are talented enough to play just about any role?  This is the challenge that faces us every time we cast a show, but this time around was really difficult for some reason.

For any casting session, the director’s job is not only to find the best actor for a particular role, but also the best combination of actors.  At NDW, because everyone who auditions automatically gets a role, it’s also about finding a role that will help each actor shine.  It’s quite the puzzle to put together.  Sometimes we have to consider things other than pure talent, like do these two actors look like they could be a couple, or will these two actors work well together?  Sometimes, it doesn’t matter, but sometimes, depending on the actors, it is something that we have to consider before we make any cast list official.  Thinking this way also allows us to figure out what to do with actors who could play any role.  It helps us narrow things down and find the best part for the actor and vice versa.

Let’s say you have 4 actors that could easily play any of the main roles (they can all sing, act, and dance).  How do you figure out which actor to put in which role?  If we were casting Bye Bye Birdie, for example, maybe all of our actresses could easily play Kim, Rosie, Ursula, and Mae Peterson.   Maybe, even though they are all talented, a couple of them may look more mature than the other two.  Those two would then be considered for Rosie and Mae Peterson and not Kim or Ursula.  Let’s say that Conrad Birdie and Hugo Peabody have already been cast.  Does one of the younger looking girls work better with those two actors?  Does one of them look better standing next to the actor playing Hugo?  If so, that actress could be best cast as Kim.  For the two more mature actresses, which one would be better paired with the Albert Peterson actor?  Rosie is his girlfriend and Mae his mother, so how the two actresses interact with this actor matters.   Sometimes though, it comes down to a feeling.  If you’re trying to cast a girlfriend or a mother, who of the two contending actresses seems like she would be best to lay a guilt trip on someone?  Does one look more matronly than the other?  All of these things, and more (like personality), need to be considered when casting.

Sometimes, when an actor could be considered for multiple roles you have to create multiple casts and figure out which one feels better in the end.  Often in doing this, you find yourself playing musical chairs on paper:  If Actor A plays Conrad Birdie, than Actress B will play Kim and Actress C will play Rosie.  But if Actor D is playing Conrad, then Actress B would be Rosie and Actress C would play Kim.  This is a much less complicated version of what we do during casting (and with over 70 actors).

One other thing we have to consider when casting is that NDW is a workshop.  This means that we strive really hard to cast actors where they fit and not where they will fail.  Sometimes this means that we cast an actor a certain way to help him or her grow.  There have been many shows where we cast someone in a serious role, when in the past they’ve only done comedic roles, and vice versa.  In fact, I remember the first time I worked on this show with NDW we cast Jane Raithel’s daughter (who was an 8th grader) in the role of Salome because she had just done a more serious role and we wanted to see her do something lighter – we knew she had a comedic side and we were right.  (Quick disclaimer: Jane never took part in casting her own children and we didn’t have a choreographer that show, so it was just Cindy and I making that particular decision.)

I’d like to think that when the cast list goes up no one makes any judgments about their roles until the read thru, but I know that is not always the case.  Even after the read thru, some actors think that because they only have lines in certain scenes, that means that those are the only scenes they are in.  Not so!  Back to my first point though, it’s hard to grasp your role when it isn’t one of the “main” characters.  Robin Hood is a story that dates back to the middle ages and most people are familiar with certain characters (Robin Hood, Maid Marion, Little John, the Sheriff, for example) and think that if they are not playing one of these characters that they don’t matter.  That is never the case.  And in the case of Robin Hood, our play is just one interpretation of a story that has been retold several times over, so you really do have to wait until you get your script to see how characters you may not be familiar with fit into the story.  There is so much going on in this play and I think you will all really enjoy it and be happy with your roles.  Plus – we get to do fight choreography!

So, having said all that – I can’t wait to share this story with you on Saturday and start rehearsing.

See you all at 8:55 Saturday morning,

Debbi

To prepare for auditions

Hello everyone and welcome back to Natick Drama Workshop!  This blog is an edited version of something I posted at the end of the summer.  If you read it back then 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, Jane, 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 fall 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 (which our "new" musical director, Jane, can attest to), but I wish I did.  Here's the thing - your signing 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!

-Debbi

Almost There!

Well, here we are, a week and half away from tech week.  Can you believe it?  I certainly can't.  In fact, I might be in denial...

Tech week is a lot of fun, which is funny because it's also a lot of work and really tiring.  Unfortunately, the amount of fun and the amount of work go hand in hand.  For example, if all of our tech rehearsals are amazing (everyone remembers their lines, lyrics, choreography, and blocking, allowing us to add layers to your performance, rather than fix things) this tech week could be the most fun ever.  However, if tech rehearsals are not so great (lots of lines missing, not a lot of improv to cover it up, choreography's a mess, etc.) you will not be having as much fun as you could be having.  Yes, this applies to the staff as well, but it mostly applies to you, the actor.

So in preparation for tech week what should you be doing?  Basically, the same stuff you've been doing, or should be doing:

1) Know your lines.  This week you have to be off book for most of Act 2.   That's in addition to all of Act 1.  Just because you are concentrating on memorizing these new scenes doesn't mean that you should stop practicing your old scenes.  All scenes are equally important and your brain is a muscle that must be exercised.

2) Know more than your lines.  What?  I know, it's a lot of work, but you can't memorize just your lines. You should know the lines before yours (these are your cue lines).  Side note: speaking of cue lines, understand that all of your lines are cue lines, but the most important cue lines you have are right before musical numbers.  Jane will be listening for these and therefore these are maybe the most important lines to get exactly right. You should also know what's going on in all of your scenes.  You probably think, I know what happens, but do you?  Let's say that you're waiting to come on stage and no one on stage is talking.  What do you do?  Well, first you wait to see if the people onstage can figure it out, but if they don't it's up to you.  I don't mean that you're backstage whispering lines, hoping that the people onstage will hear you.  I mean that you need to enter and help out your fellow actors (your teammates).  What happens if you're waiting to come on and the actors onstage skip your entrance?  You need to know everything around your entrance so you can still come on and say your lines or do your expected blocking.

Okay, now what happens if you are onstage and no one is saying a line?  Do you know what the conversation that's supposed to be happening is about?  Can you improv a line that makes sense and gets the scene rolling again without anyone panicking?  This is why you need to know more than just your lines.  Things happen in live theater, sometimes these things have nothing to do with actors.   For all you know, I could fall asleep at the back of the house and not cue the curtain to open or the lights to go on, but still, the show must go on!  (Don't worry - I wouldn't do that to you.)  Sometimes these things are easy to work around, sometimes they aren't, but the more you know, and the more prepared you are, simply by knowing the whole script and story (and not just what affects you specifically), the better you will be able to handle whatever comes your way when you are in front of an audience.

3) Know your lyrics and music.  Yes, this is kind of like knowing your lines, but you have to really know the music to know when to sing your lyrics.  You need to know the rhythm of the song.  You need to know which verse comes first, second, third.  We are, after all, putting on a musical.  The people are coming for the music just as much as they are for everything else (yes, I know, most people are coming to see you, but that doesn't mean that they aren't expecting a musical). I'm not the music director, so I can't speak to all of this, but I can tell you that's it a lot harder to improv your way through a forgotten song than a forgotten scene.

4) Know your choreography.  Honestly, if you don't know your dance moves you look sloppy and that can ruin the show - I kid you not.  If everyone's doing different things, or if only a couple people are doing all the moves, your audience will know that you don't know your stuff.  If you know your lyrics to the point where they become an extension of you, I promise that the choreography will be easier to learn.  And what's more, when your choreography becomes muscle memory for you, the lyrics will be easier to remember.  Ah, the circle of life...  Seriously though, it's true.  #3 and #4 on this list go hand in hand.  

5) Know your blocking.  You knew this one was coming, right?  It's last on the list solely because this will hopefully get learned as you go over your lines and as you work in rehearsal.  This is also one of the toughest things for NDW kids because our rehearsal space is completely different from our performance space.  I remember when I worked at North Shore Music Theatre.  It was an eye opening experience to see what a professional theatre did.  They also had a different rehearsal space, but it was theirs and they were able to mark it up.  If there was a platform, there would be tape on the floor indicating that.  At NDW for us to do that would take too much set up and clean up time before and after each rehearsal (not to mention a huge waste of tape).  And for a show like this, it might still be confusing because of the ramps.  We can mark them on the floor, but you still have to remember when you're going under them, which you can't do if they're just marked on the floor.  So it's extra important for you to know your blocking.  When we get to Kennedy, if you know where you're coming from you can figure out where you are actually coming from (or going), but if you don't it will be a mess.

Now, we have 2 Saturday rehearsals left and only a couple of scenes to block.  Your rehearsal time is there for you to rehearse and practice all the things that you need to practice to have a good show and tech week.  That doesn't mean you don't have to put your own time into this show, but the more you pay attention and work during rehearsals, the easier it will be for you to practice on your own (or at the lunch table with NDW friends) and the better your tech rehearsals will be. 

And they are your tech rehearsals, so make the most of them.

See you Saturday,

Debbi

Memorizing Lines

Hi Folks!

This isn't really a blog, so much as a passing along of information.  Today I stumbled upon some tricks for memorizing lines from Pioneer Drama (you know, the company where many of our musicals come from).  Since I know that everyone at home is working on this I wanted to share the Pioneer blog with you.  It can be found here.

Enjoy and see you all Saturday for our first off-book date!

-Debbi

Rehearsals 2 and 3

We accomplished a lot at Natick Drama Workshop this week!  Almost all of the music has been taught, our opening songs have been choreographed, and we blocked the first 4 scenes of the show!

What does that mean for our actors?  It means that from here on out there will always be “homework.”  It is really important that each actor goes home and “studies” what’s been learned during rehearsals.

I remember being in NDW as a kid and practicing my dances over and over.  Jane used to make cassette tapes for us and I would put the tape into my stereo system during the week and practice ALL the choreography that I learned.  The tape had 2 sides: one had vocals (Jane singing along), and the other side was just the accompaniment. When I was trying to concentrate on just the dance moves, I would listen to the side with Jane singing.  I would sing along, but I didn’t have to think about the lyrics until I was ready.   Then, after going over the dances a couple of times, I’d flip the tape over and dance while singing.

Practicing these things is really important.  From a staff/teacher perspective, it’s really frustrating when you teach something and then you have to re-teach it every week.  By practicing, you are ensuring that we won’t be wasting time re-teaching (although certainly we want to answer any questions you have so that you don’t learn things incorrectly over and over).  From an acting perspective, the more you practice, the more comfortable you will be onstage during the performances.

Imagine this: you are an actor with a smaller role and you memorized your 10 lines and you figure that’s all you really need to worry about.  During the shows you plan to sing quietly and have managed to get spots at the back of the stage during all the dances so that you won’t be seen.  This way, you don’t have to worry about learning the lyrics or choreography and you’re all set.  Except that you’re not.  Your parents, friends, grandparents will find you on stage and will be watching you not knowing what you’re doing.  You could also throw off your fellow actors.  By not knowing what you’re doing you risk getting hurt or hurting someone else (an extreme, but not impossible).  At best, you might throw off someone’s concentration or confidence when they see you doing something other than what they are doing.  And, worst of all, your fellow actors, once they catch on to you, will realize that you don’t care and are not a member of the team.  The entire cast is a team and each member needs to do what’s expected of them so that the team can stay whole and continue to work together.

It may seem tedious to go home every day after school (and whatever afternoon activities you may have) and do homework, and then have to work on this show, but your effort will pay off and you can do this homework with the aid of friends, and you’ll feel a lot more confident at rehearsals and, ultimately, during the shows.  It’s a win-win.

So, when we ask you to read the entire script, or review your blocking, or choreography, or to start memorizing your lyrics – do it!  It is for your own good and for the good of your team.  The more you do all of this, the happier you will be at NDW – I promise!

-Debbi

Read-through and Rehearsal #1

We are off and running!  There were actors singing and dancing all over Cole this past Saturday.  Songs have been learned, dance moves have been reviewed, and soon, before you know it, we’ll have a show.

The first thing we did this week was hand out scripts to our actors and had our read-through.  “What’s a read-through?,” you ask.  Well, all the actors sit in a circle and read the script out loud.  It’s the first time that the actors speak their lines, but it’s also the first time that the cast gets to hear others speak their lines.  One thing I love about the read-through is seeing who is already in character.  Usually, the 8th graders step up.  Many of our actors take this seriously (as they all should) and really get into it.  Shout outs to Jessica, Ryan, and Rebecca for already being in character, although they weren’t the only ones.

Now actors are asked to re-read their scripts.  The more familiar an actor is with the entire show, the better rehearsals will go and the more each individual part will make sense.  For example, in reading just your own lines, you aren’t seeing how your character could be interacting with other characters and actors.  Who else is on stage in your scene?  What just happened before you entered?  All of these things affect your character. 

In life this is true, too.  Let’s say you walk into your classroom just as the bell rings and your teacher seems angry.  You might think the teacher is mad at you for not being in your seat as the bell rings, or you might just think that your teacher is having a bad day.  Now, as a person, you don’t know what happened before, but maybe if you knew that a student walked in, knocked the teacher’s coffee all over himself and the floor and then yelled at the teacher, rather than taking responsibility, you would react differently than if the teacher just really hates it when students aren’t in their desks when the bell rings.

In this case, you don’t have the script and you can only react to what you’re given.  However, in a play, you do have the script.  As a character, perhaps you are still clueless, but as an actor you have more power by knowing the whole story.  If you are a fairy tale character you know that at some point in the story things get messed up and nothing happens like it’s supposed to.  This is important information.  As a character you are only concerned with what’s going wrong in your own story, but as an actor you know to be in a certain place so that Jack and Jill can have their moment to show what’s wrong, just as they know to move aside for your character when the time comes.  You also know that there are things that happened offstage to your characters that the audience doesn’t get to see.  You, as an actor, get to use your imagination to fill in those gaps (within reason) and make character choices based on what you decide.  For example, how did Mary and Little Bo Peep’s sheep get lost/mixed-up?  What happened off-stage that we didn’t see?  As an actor you need to know the whole story from both sides and then pretend to know only what your character knows when onstage.

Boy, this acting can be a lot of work.  But, it’s fun work.  Just like school there’s homework: you have to know the play and reread it several times, memorize lines, blocking, lyrics, choreography, and make-up back stories.  But it’s worth it.  Acting can be the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but it can also be the most rewarding.

See you Saturday,

Debbi

Auditions

Hi everyone!  Great job at auditions Saturday.  I say this every show, but I really love watching our cast audition.  I always learn a little something new about our returning actors and it’s a great introduction to our brand new actors.

For this show, casting went by really quickly, in part because our cast gave us a lot to work with and showed us (the staff) what each individual brings to the table, so to speak.  When casting there are always so many things to consider, which is why I always say that casting is like a jigsaw puzzle.  The directors have to line up the actors in the roles in a way that fits, not just for each individual actor, but also for the whole show. 

For example, we usually have a few actors that could pull off each role.  But we can’t cast 3 people in each role – that wouldn’t work at all.  So we have to figure out combinations of people and see what works and what makes sense.  Sometimes, in order to do this, we have to change casting that we thought we had already figured out in order to make something else work that wouldn’t otherwise.  This is the tricky part, but in the end, I think we usually do a good job.

Let’s say that you are going to cast Mickey Mouse and his friends as characters in a production of Robin Hood.  How are you going to go about this? 

First, these are the roles that you need to cast:
Robin Hood
Little John
Will Scarlett
Friar Tuck
Maid Marian
Sheriff of Nottingham

Second, here are your actors:
Mickey Mouse
Minnie Mouse
Goofy
Donald Duck
Chip
Dale

You might think that Mickey is going to be Robin Hood, but maybe he did a really good audition for the Sheriff of Nottingham, too.  And then perhaps you would want Goofy to be Robin Hood.  You have to think about all the possibilities.  Perhaps, after doing this your casting possibilities look like this:

Robin Hood – Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Dale, Minnie
Little John – Goofy, Mickey
Will Scarlet – Chip, Dale, Minnie, Donald, Mickey
Friar Tuck – Mickey, Chip, Dale
Maid Marian – Minnie
Sheriff of Nottingham – Donald, Mickey, Goofy Chip

Now you have to narrow it down.  Since Minnie is the only one that you, as the director, see as Maid Marian you can take her out of the running for everything else.  You also see that only Goofy or Mickey could be Little John.  Mickey is listed as a possibility for all the parts, but Goofy is only listed for 3 roles, so in order to figure that out you need to decide which you’d rather see for that role.  After you think about that you need to make sure that there is still a part for the other person that makes sense.  So I think our director would probably write down Goofy’s name for Little John, but only in pencil, just in case the director changes his/her mind.  That leaves us with this:

Robin Hood – Mickey, Donald, Dale
Little John – Goofy
Will Scarlet – Chip, Dale, Donald, Mickey
Friar Tuck – Mickey, Chip, Dale
Maid Marian – Minnie
Sheriff of Nottingham – Donald, Mickey, Chip

Okay, so now what?  I think it’s important to look at the villainous character, because not everyone can pull off being the villain.  The director thinks about the possibilities (Donald, Mickey, and Chip) and realizes 2 things: 1) Mickey has a hard time not smiling, even though he did have a really good audition, and 2) Chip is a newer actor who did an okay audition, but maybe isn’t ready for such a big role.  However, the director isn’t quite ready to cross Mickey’s name off the list, so this role is now between Donald and Mickey.  That means that Chip has to be either Will Scarlet or Friar Tuck.  Thinking about what Chip brings to the table, the director decides that Chip would be a really good Friar Tuck because he shows the ability to be both serious and funny.  Now your cast list looks like this:

Robin Hood – Mickey, Donald, Dale
Little John – Goofy
Will Scarlet –Dale, Donald, Mickey
Friar Tuck –Chip
Maid Marian – Minnie

Sheriff of Nottingham – Donald or Mickey

Now, of the remaining 3 roles, Donald or Mickey could be any, but Dale is only listed as Robin Hood or Will Scarlet.  So now there are a couple possibilities based on how we place Dale:

Possibility #1
Robin Hood –Dale
Little John – Goofy
Will Scarlet –Donald or Mickey
Friar Tuck –Chip
Maid Marian – Minnie

Sheriff of Nottingham – Donald or Mickey

Possibility #2
Robin Hood – Mickey or Donald
Little John – Goofy
Will Scarlet –Dale
Friar Tuck –Chip
Maid Marian – Minnie

Sheriff of Nottingham – Donald or Mickey

With Possibility #1 you are left with Mickey and Donald as Will Scarlet and the Sheriff.  You don’t mind that, but both are really good actors and Will Scarlet isn’t as big a role as Robin Hood.  But Dale would make a really good Robin Hood.

With Possibility #2 you are left with the hero and the villain role for Mickey and Donald.  From there this becomes much easier as you know that Donald would be a great Sheriff (and you could make the role a bit more comedic) and there was never a doubt that Mickey would make a wonderful Robin Hood.

However, what makes sense for Dale?  Is he ready for a leading role? Are there any benefits to seeing him as Will Scarlett over Robin Hood?  Or in having him play Robin Hood over Will Scarlett?

This now comes down to a couple of things.  One – Possibility #2, with the added commentary above, does make a lot of sense to you and the cast seems to be rounded out.

Possibility #2
Robin Hood – Mickey
Little John – Goofy
Will Scarlet –Dale
Friar Tuck –Chip
Maid Marian – Minnie
Sheriff of Nottingham – Donald

Possibility #1, on the other hand, will allow an actor who had a good audition a chance to shine, and can focus on other aspects of Mickey and Donald’s talents:

Possibility #1
Robin Hood –Dale
Little John – Goofy
Will Scarlet –Donald
Friar Tuck –Chip
Maid Marian – Minnie
Sheriff of Nottingham –Mickey

Mickey rarely gets to play the bad guy, and if he could just stop smiling so much… but maybe he could smile evilly… he could be great.  And Donald can be really funny.  Giving him the role of Will Scarlet will give him the chance to be comedic, a second banana, if you will.

When considering all these things, the director decides to take a chance on Dale as Robin Hood.  It might not be what people expect, but it allows certain actors the chance to try something new and hopefully shine at it.  And since Robin Hood always ends up with Maid Marian, you know that Dale and Minnie are good friends who will work well together, but they are just acting.  At the end of the day, it is still Mickey and Minnie forever with a big heart.

So you see, there are several things to consider.  And the end result of both possible casts will work, as long as the director has faith in his/her actors.

Do you agree with my Robin Hood casting?  If not, tell me why (I am curious).

Next up, the read through!  Be glad Donald Duck won’t be around – he spits a lot!

See you all on Saturday,
Debbi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of Summer Preparations

Hello everyone and welcome back to Natick Drama Workshop!  I hope everyone had a wonderful summer filled with adventure and fun.  In a little over 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 (no, I can't tell you what we're doing).

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, Jane, 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!

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!

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 (which our "new" musical director, Jane, can attest to), but I wish I did.  Here's the thing - your signing 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.  

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.

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

-Debbi

Rehearsal 3/18

Can you believe that tech week is next week?  I can’t.  I love tech week, but I feel like our Saturday rehearsals have gone by too quickly.  That being said, we are in good shape.  There are only 2 scenes that we haven’t really blocked yet, the dances are looking good, and now that kids are remembering their lyrics, our music is in good shape, too.

So what is tech week?  For any newbies, I will explain.  Tech week (or technical week), known by another name for older kids, is meant to be the week where all of the technical stuff – sound, lights, etc. – are used for the first time and all the kinks are worked out.  In an ideal world, the show itself is pretty much ready when this happens and the adjustment has more to do with the actors working with the tech for the first time, and adjusting blocking and choreography for the set and stage, as this is the first time that the actors have the stage to work with as it will be in the show.  Generally speaking, at this point all major props and costumes would have already been a part of the rehearsal process and shoes would have been worn by actors at all rehearsals starting on day 1.  Tech week, therefore, is more for the crew than it is for the actors in a lot of ways.  However, in telling you all this, I am telling you how tech week works at a higher, more professional level. 

At NDW, tech week is a little different.  Some things are the same.  For example, we have the set for the first time and our actors have to adjust to that.  We also have crew figuring out the flow of the show, and we add in lights and sound.  But our tech week is more for the actors than for the crew.  Our crew of parent and alumni volunteers work around us, making it much easier for us to get our actors ready.

The biggest thing about tech week is that we hit the floor running.  We are up on the stage adjusting blocking as needed, figuring out spacing things or difficult blocking that requires timing based on the Wilson auditorium (like our protest scene in this show).  Dances get fixed and practiced over and over, and for singing, we bring in other band members for the actors to work with during their musical numbers (this is a feature of all musical tech weeks, as well).  There can be a lot of down time, as we focus on just one thing here and one thing there, but the kids have to be ready to jump up at a moment’s notice when their scenes/dances/musical numbers come up. 

Generally speaking, we try to divide and conquer when we’re not just running the show from start to finish.  For example, this week you might see Lisa working with kids up on stage (with Chris there as well), while Cindy will take some kids into the hallway to run a scene and I take other kids into another hallway to run another scene.  And, while all this is going on Chris is practicing the music with our pit band while Cindy and I field questions about scene changes, props, costumes, and more.  When at Wilson, I even design lights and help to train our light board person.

For the Friends of NDW board, they do so much during tech week I don’t even know everything they do.  Some are helping with the set and with stage crew.  Some are taking care of ticket sales.  Some help with costumes.  Some make sure that everything is ready for concessions.  Everyone is there to support everyone else. 

And really – that’s what tech week at NDW is all about: support.  We have volunteers who come every night to help all of us get ready for the show.  The staff helps the actors be the best they can possible be during tech week (assuming they listen to us).  The actors help each other, and more importantly, they bond with one another.  Tech week is a time when everyone bonds.  Actors, parents, staff.  This is the time that we all get to know one another because we spend every day together!

And so, as we get ready for this fun and fast-paced week, please remember to stay healthy.  Eat right, not junk.  Stay hydrated.  Do your homework before rehearsal so that you can go to bed a reasonable hour (and get enough sleep).  And most importantly – get ready to work hard and have a ton of fun!

See you Saturday,

Debbi

Rehearsal 3/11

It seems so odd to me to think that two weeks from now we will be in tech.  I mean, on one hand, we’ve had a good amount of time to rehearse and are in good shape (especially considering that we still have 2 Saturdays to go), but on the other hand – yikes!

So, what should you do to prepare for how quickly tech week is coming up?  First of all, get some tissues ready for the 8th graders, cuz you never know when that bunch will start tearing up (just like all 8th grade groups before them).  Then, start getting your head in the game – practice, practice, practice.  And finally, enjoy every single second because, before you know it, the show will be over and you will have a long summer to wait for the next NDW show to begin in the fall.

Things to enjoy:

1)      Warm ups with Chris.  Even as an adult I have fond memories of warming up before diving into music with Jane Raithel, who was musical director not only back in my day, but in Chris’s day, too!  Sometimes I even warm up with you guys from the table because I miss it so much.

2)      Watch rehearsals now because soon you won’t be able to.  This is important for a few reasons.  I mean, you can’t be in a show and watch it at the same time – so now’s your chance!  More importantly, it will help you get the flow of the show.  We’ve run Act 1 a couple of times now, but if you haven’t actually taken the time to watch it, you have missed something that leads into something else that will affect your character.  And, on top of all that… if you’re busy watching rehearsal, you’ll be too busy to talk and annoy the staff and your fellow actors (definitely a bonus for me)!

3)      Enjoy being at Cole.  Let me tell you a story… Once upon a time there was a little girl named Debbi who went to Cole Elementary School.  She loved it there.  In kindergarten she even had a school assembly in the gym where her entire class sang, “We Are the World,” which used to be a really well known and popular song.  When she went to her Natick Park & Rec theater programs as a child, she went to the old, red, wooden, Murphy School building.  And then one day the town decided to tear down the old Murphy School and put the park & rec programs at Cole.  Now Debbi had to go to a school further away.  And although she loved Brown School as well, Cole was still her favorite school.  When she got to 4th grade and started NDW, she got to go back to Cole and spent all her time in the gym there and then she was happy again.  So, in honor of that amazingly awesome little girl – love and appreciate Cole School!  And, in all seriousness, Cole is where you make most of your NDW memories so don’t forget to appreciate the place along with those memories.

4)      Listen to the music for our show as often as you can.  Yes, it’s true, you should be listening to the music in preparation for our performances, but listen to it for fun, too.  In less than a month the show will be over, so spend as much time as possible soaking in how fun this music is before you move on to other things.

5)      Enjoy your friends – but not to the detriment of the show.  Look, NDW is a great place to make and hang out with friends.  But if you spend the whole rehearsal talking you miss out on #2 on this list.  And you annoy the staff.  And you’re being disrespectful.  So here’s how you enjoy your friends: bask in their talent.  Each one of our actors is unique, special, and awesome.  Watch them act, sing, and dance.  Appreciate the acting talents they have and give them high fives after a job well done.  Then, during break, chat away about everything else.  The more you appreciate your friends’ talents (and the more they appreciate yours) the richer your friendships will get.  Most of my friends are people I’ve done theater with from high school friends to college friends to community theater friends.  They are all talented and I love watching them do their thing.  As a result, I want to be their friend and learn from them, and bask in their awesomeness.  And based on the fact that friendship is a 2-way street, I’m pretty sure they feel the same way about me.  Mutual awesomeness and stuff in common leads to the foundation for years of wonderful friendships.  But my friends and I also know when to be quiet!  (Sorry – I had to slip that last line in there….)

Follow these simple guidelines and you will be happier and far less sad when NDW comes to an end on April 2nd because you would have spent the time to appreciate NDW and all that it has to offer.  NDW is an amazing program, but can you truly appreciate it if you only pay attention to what you want to pay attention to sometimes?

See you Saturday, when I will be appreciating all of you!

-Debbi

PS: That little girl named Debbi has more Cole stories.  For example – what was the NDW office when Cole was a school?  To find out you have to ask!

Rehearsal 3/4

This week at NDW we talked about community.  We had a guest come in from the Natick Service Council who explained what the NSC does and how NDW can, has, and will help.  NDW, over the past few years in particular, has really put itself out there as a community organization.  By extension, anyone connected to NDW is now connected to the community in a way that goes beyond a home address.

I talk a lot about what the ‘community’ in community theater means and how Natick Drama Workshop is like the ultimate community theater program for kids (as well as parents!), but this is a different kind of community.  Usually, I discuss the bond that our members form and how we are our own little community.  With our food drive and annual telethon appearance we are more than just a community of people.  Rather, we are a group of people within a community.  And, more importantly, we are a group of people who help the community that supports NDW.  It’s all very full-circle!

We have been doing a food drive, at least once a year, since longer than my adult tenure at NDW.  When I rejoined Natick Drama Workshop as a staff member we did a Super Bowl themed food drive once a year through our then musical director’s church.  I’m not sure how long that had been going on before I got back to NDW.  I certainly don’t remember doing it as a kid, but maybe we did and I just forgot about it.  At some point, we stopped doing that and started collecting food and other items for the Natick Service Council once per show.  That is also when we started doing things by mentor group.

At first it was mentor group versus mentor group in a way that ended up not being fair to everyone, but ended up with great results.  Instead of putting all the donation items together in one big pile, the kids would add the items they brought to individual mentor group piles.  The group that brought in the most items won.  This extra competition always brought us a ton of donation items.  However, there were two problems with this competition: not everyone was able to bring in more than a couple items and siblings would have to split donations.  Some mentor groups would have a couple kids that wouldn’t be able to bring in a lot, or would have a couple of kids who brought in over 50 items each.  It wasn’t fair and it created a competition that, although spirited, was not in the NDW spirit.

Now, as many of you know, our competition starts everyone off at the same place.  All donations are put together and each mentor group guesses how many items are in the big pile.  You know, like the jelly beans in a jar contest.  The only disadvantage to this is that we’ve been getting fewer and fewer items the past couple of years.  It is a shame that a competition that brings out the worst in people got us better results in helping out our fellow community members, but I digress.

Whichever mentor group wins, gets to eat first at our breakfast buffet, and can choose to get a sneak peek at the set.  I like to think that everyone wins though.  First of all, we now have a breakfast buffet!  (Granted, it is at snack time…) Second, and really, more important than the first, everyone contributes to the community.  There’s a really nice feeling that comes from helping out your fellow man.

So, as we get closer to our show dates, remember that not only is NDW a community, but we are also part of a larger community.  One that helps us as much as we hope to help them.

See you Saturday,

Debbi

Rehearsal 2/25

I love it when we get to run an entire act – and that’s what we did this week!  Act 1, although not perfect, is done and that bodes well for us.  This week also saw the start of working on Act 2 and I can tell you that everyone is putting in a lot of hard work for this show.  I would like to remind everyone that you have to keep going over lines, lyrics, and all movement (blocking and choreography) or you will start forgetting and all your hard work will be for naught!

This past week, during school vacation, I had a really great experience with several NDW people.  I ran a 36-hour musical program at Cole, in which we had 3 days from auditions to performance to get everything done.  Of the 13 kids who signed up for the program, 12 were NDW kids (some current, some alumni).  The one non-NDW kid was a sibling of an NDW alum, so he sort of counts as an NDW kid.  This program wasn’t set up as a workshop, but it was clear to me that NDW had trained these actors well, and things went very smoothly.

During the 2 ½ day rehearsal period my actors went between learning music or choreography with me, going over lines by themselves, working with Kiva or myself to figure out costuming, and going through the blocking of the entire show.  When nothing specific was assigned for the actors to do they were instructed to review.  The kids took it upon themselves to go to another room and work on a dance or practice a song.  Several times I loaned out the vocal score to aid in reviewing music.  All of this happened because these kids knew what it takes to put on a musical.  They understand the amount of work and dedication needed to have a good performance and they took it seriously.  Was there silliness that needed to be reined in?  Of course!  But overall, these kids worked hard.  And what impressed me most was that they went home and practiced.  After spending an 8 hour day with me learning the play, they went home, practiced, and came back for another 8 hour day more prepared than when they left.  Now that’s dedication!

At this point you’re probably thinking – wow, those are some rare kids! To which I reply, of course – they’re NDW kids!  You are probably also thinking, “If they spent 8 hour days with you it’s not like they had other commitments during the week, of course they went home and practiced.”  And that’s a valid point.  It is hard to expect kids to spend a lot of time studying a script when they have homework, extra-curriculars, and family expectations.  However, doesn’t it make more sense for actors with 1 rehearsal a week to do some work on the side to help them remember what is given to them every Saturday than for actors with rehearsals every day to do extra work in the few hours they have between rehearsals?

The 36-hour musical program was reinvigorating for me on so many different levels.  The thing that I am taking away from it right now though, is what happens when a group of dedicated people with one common goal can achieve when they put effort in above and beyond what is expected.  There are always NDW kids who skate by in our program, never downloading music, never doing anything other than what they are told to do while physically in rehearsal.  These kids are doing our program wrong.  They are doing theater wrong.  And they are missing out on the fun and the high that come from a job well done.  Be part of the team and do your part.  Listen to the music and sing along.  Dance along.  Know all the lines that surround your own.  Make sure you review your blocking.  Surely, when you know what’s going on you can enjoy it more.  That is what some actors have taken away from this program.  It is what I took away from this program 20 years ago, and I know that some kids will still be taking this away in another 20 years.

See you all Saturday,

Debbi

Rehearsal 2/11

This week at NDW we did a lot of scene work.  We touched almost every scene in Act 1 – yay!  This is great, especially considering that we are off-book for Act 1 this week.

What is off-book you ask?  Simple, it means that we are no longer using our “book” or the script for Act 1 – which means every actor must know their lines, music, blocking and choreography.  Of course, if some thing hasn’t been learned yet, actors are allowed to have their scripts in hand, but should still know all lines and music by heart.

During the rehearsal process, after actors are off-book, they are allowed to mess up (that’s why we have rehearsals – to practice).  In fact, in theater there is a tradition of saying “line” when you forget a line.  When you say that magic word, the stage manager will respond with the line, which the actor then repeats and the rehearsal can continue.  Of course, once we get to tech week, this all changes.  At some point, actors can no longer say “line” and will have to figure out how to get out of jams onstage with help only from fellow actors within the context of the play.

This brings me to Adele.  Yes, you read that correctly – Adele.  When you do a live performance there is a chance that you will mess up: forget a line, not enter at the right spot, skip a line, or something similar.  However, during a performance you must keep going.  Never, have I seen a play start over because someone messed up.  Adele, for this same reason, did something extremely unprofessional at the Grammy’s the other night.  A few years ago, in the middle of performing at the Grammy’s, Christina Aguilera fell onstage.  No one stopped the performance to ask if she was okay.  She didn’t ask to start over so she could watch her step.  Yet, Adele stopped everything, apologized, and started over.

We do not do this in theater.  Anyone who does this in the professional world (other than Adele, apparently, and maybe Beyonce) would not have a job in the future.  Have you ever heard the phrase; “The show must go on”?  This applies to so many things, one of them being messing up onstage during a performance – in front of an audience.  At NDW, we want our actors to learn theater the right way, and I fear that anyone who saw Adele’s tribute to George Michael, did not learn how to perform correctly. 

So, as you learn your lines, and continue practicing them, understand that you will mess up and be okay.  But under no circumstances should you follow Adele’s lead and start over.  During rehearsal, one of the directors may decide that we all need to start over, but that is at the discretion of Cindy, Lisa, Chris, and myself.  During a performance if you mess up, you do not start over.  You continue –as that is the mark of true performer and professional.  Our actors may not be in high school yet, but when the curtain goes up on March 31st they are professionals in the audience’s eyes and should act as such.  They always have in the past, and I know they will continue to do so in the future.

See you Saturday,

Debbi

 

 

Rehearsal 2/4

We’re off to a rip snortin’ start at NDW (although sometimes rehearsals can feel a bit more wild and woolly)!  All the music has been taught and now it’s up to our actors to practice their songs at home.  Choreography has started and the kids are looking good.  They now have to master dancing AND singing at the same time!  And as if all of this wasn’t enough, we have started blocking.

In honor of the Super Bowl this past Sunday I wanted to write something about the “Super Bowl of musical theater,” but what is that anyway?  Is it the Tony Awards?  That seems like the obvious answer, but maybe that’s too obvious.  There are lots of high schools and youth theater groups that compete, so maybe that has something to do with the “Super Bowl of musical theater,” but that doesn’t feel right because not everyone knows about that.

Here’s what I’ve landed on – the performances themselves.  As artists we are constantly competing against ourselves, striving for each performance to be better than the next and doing what we can to sell out shows and get the community involved.  Here at NDW, this is especially true.  If you saw one of our Saturday or Sunday shows this fall, you know that there were little kids dressed up as pirates who were invited onstage at the end of the show.  We performed not only for ourselves, but for those kids as well.  That’s the community piece of it.

Our tech week is like playoff season.  While we aren’t competing for a spot in the “big game” we are working towards the “big game” all week long.  We work hard, we’re finding our strengths and improving upon our weaknesses.  Come opening night our “Super Bowl” has begun.  From the minute the lights go down and the performance starts, our actors are doing what any football team does best on any given Sunday.  We’ve prepared, we’ve reviewed our playbook, and now it’s time to put all that hard work to the test.  And more than that – we do it as a team.

A lot of people forget that theater requires just as much teamwork as any sport (more in fact as we don’t have a 2ndstring waiting in the wings as an understudy).  I probably write something to this effect in this blog every week, but it’s an important point to stress and I’d be remiss for not mentioning it while comparing theater to the Super Bowl.  While I’d like to tell you that every performance is perfect - every kids knows all of his lines and when to speak, comes on at just the right moment, and never gets sick show weekend – that is just not the case.  Without the team that our cast becomes, we would never get through a show.  When a line is missed, another team member finds a way to continue the play, which could mean skipping the missed line, but it could also mean saying something that’s not in the script in order to help jog her fellow actor’s memory.  What happens at least once a year, though, is that someone misses an entrance and other cast members have to cover.  Sometimes they are able to say all the lines that would be missed, sometimes they have to stall for time by creating new lines.  Either way, this is only possible because our cast is a team.  Okay, practice also has a lot to do with it!

When you get to the Super Bowl, or World Series, or whatever, you want your team to be at its best.  You’ve been working together towards this common goal all season and it’s finally here – so you’re more than prepared for it.  All the long hours of reviewing tape and plays works for people in sports, just as all the time spent reviewing lines, blocking, choreography, and music works for us in theater.  Even some of the worst tech weeks get us to a great opening night (and unlike in sports, if we mess up we still get to perform)!

The other thing to keep in mind is that we’re not done after we open.  We still have 3 shows left to go.  None of our actors think, “Okay, I got through Friday night, now I can take it easy and not care as much.”  Rather, our actors continue to improve upon what they started.  Sometimes this is an internal thing, sometimes directors are asked for help and guidance.  No one wants to let down their teammates, their family, here at NDW and no one wants to be the one messing up on stage during “the Big Game” performance weekend.

So as you think about the Super Bowl and the Pats incredible win this week, keep in mind that our personal theater super bowl is right around the corner and time to lay the foundation for our great performance weekend is now.

See you Saturday,

Debbi

Rehearsal 2/28

What is one of the hardest things to do in life?  Smile – even when you’re not feeling it.  This is one of those life skills that some people never quite master, myself included.  However, whenever I’m on stage smiling suddenly becomes really easy.  Why?  Perhaps it is because I love acting and the chance to be another person for a little while.  Perhaps it is just the magic of the stage – that elusive special thing that all theater recognize as truth, but can’t quite explain to an outsider.

But that’s me.  I’ve found over the years that the magic that pushes me to smile has worn off on NDW kids.  Whenever they get onstage (whether at Cole or at one of the middle school) and sing and dance in a group number it looks like a funeral.  It’s weird.  It seems like the most natural thing in the world to smile in this situation, yet it doesn’t happen.  At this stage in rehearsals I know that part of the problem stems from concentration.  Kids are learning the dance, trying to remember the choreography, and on top of that, trying to do the choreography while remembering the words and the tune, but still… no smile?

I know that our kids have fun at rehearsals and enjoy being at NDW, so where’s the smile?  It’s out in the hallway, in the costume room, backstage, but nowhere to be found onstage.  I hope that whatever prevents our kids from forcing a smile doesn’t prevent them from pretending to be happy in life.  While there will always be people in your corner, you can’t always show your true feelings to everyone in every situation, and as sad as that can be, a smile can not only help you get through something quickly without people knowing about your inner turmoil, but can also actually make you happier.  Truly.  If you’re in a bad mood try smiling.  You might not be cured, but you’ll feel slightly better at least.

Maybe we can all work together this show to encourage kids to smile until their faces hurt.  What do you think?  If anyone knows the answer, let me in on your secret.  In the meantime, think happy thoughts and watch these videos:

https://youtu.be/I_CE7GqqrvY

https://youtu.be/I3Xd34w5F7s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NI8WJ85EVw

 

Rehearsal 1/21

When I explain NDW to someone who doesn’t know anything about the program, I usually tell them that it is a musical community theater group for kids. Then I’ll go on to explain the workshop piece of it. Theater is a huge community. Anywhere you go in life you will find a community theater and you will find people that you instantly feel comfortable around because they are theater people. NDW at its core is part of this special community.

Inside NDW there are different groups of people that come together to put on a show. There are people from Kennedy, Wilson, Ursuline, McAuliffe, and many other schools. There are families that are new to town and families from town that go back centuries. There are actors who are triple threats, actors who excel at comedy, actors who excel at dancing or singing. Beyond that we have incredible volunteers who form their own community while building the sets or making costumes. NDW is special.

Everyone knows that we are special, and you could say this about many different groups. One thing that adds to our community is our mentor group program. For those unfamiliar, we mix the kids up and then split them into several groups. Each group has kids from each grade and is led by the older kids. When our actors and alumni say that NDW is like a family they mean it because we force them to be together and get to know one another. If an actor is in our program for 8 shows (the max possible – unless of course you repeat a grade) she will meet so many different people and actually get to know them all because of our mentor groups. If an actor only does one show with us, his mentor group during this show gives him a new set of friends that he can hang out with and learn the ropes from.

This week we assigned mentor groups and had each group work together to come up with a name. Each group had a chance to talk, to learn each other’s names, and to “become” a human knot. The foundation has been laid for our actors to chat with different people and get to know some of our newer members.

These mentor groups are helpful in a few ways. For the staff it makes it easier to take attendance, but we don’t have mentor groups for us! As I mentioned, kids get to know different kids. But that’s not all. These mentor groups serve as a way to get information about the program. Any questions an actor has about the way things work can be directed to other members of his or her group. Now, of course an actor can still come to a staff member or go to one of our wonderful FNDW Board parents, but isn’t it nice to go to a peer? Another reason for the mentor groups is to help problem solve. If one of our actors has a problem sometimes it’s hard to go to an adult (or maybe the problem is with an adult). With mentor groups, actors are encouraged to talk to them if they don’t feel comfortable coming to us (the staff). I don’t know how often this happens, but we have very few problems at NDW – perhaps that’s because NDW is such an awesome group and mostly problem-free, but perhaps it is because the kids go each other and problems are solved without our knowledge.

NDW has just started and there is still plenty of time for our actors to chat*, get to know one another, and hang out. At least now, with mentor groups, we know that even the shyest person will get to enjoy this part of NDW – truly making us a community.

See you Saturday,

Debbi

*When I say “chat” I obviously do not mean during rehearsal. We love that our actors love each other, but we do expect them to use non-rehearsal time to be chit-chatty.