Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist

I never meta-theatre I didn’t like.

Speaking of commentary track, last night I conducted an experiment, with assistance from my colleague Nick Keenan, in opening up the process and production even further by live-tweeting The Man Who Was Thursday from backstage at the Lincoln Park Cultural Center.

Originally the plan was to sit next to the stage manager in the tech booth, but besides the sheer number of bodies in the room making the activity more distracting than desired, it was a more interesting task for me to hear the play through the walls instead of simply talking about things I’d already seen. Additionally, as the play itself spends some time examining the notion of what is face and what is mask, and the disorientation of discovering what lies behind either, this seemed apropos for this show in particular.

Admittedly, this may only have been of interest and comprehension if you’d seen the show, but such is the nature of supplemental material. If you’d like to see the show and then come back to this entry, you have two more weekends–but only five more chances, as Saturday, November 14 is already sold out–to do so.

Collected behind the cut, in part for posterity, are the 140-character observations and trivia tidbits I shared in real time, last night, from the dressing room. Additionally, I have included, interstitially, some of Nick’s auxiliary tweets, which would link throughout the evening to music, images, or miscellaneous media related to what I was observing. Such tweets (in italics) came from both his personal feed, @nickkeenan, and the company feed, @NewLeafTheatre.

If this is your second time seeing these, a little incentive to peruse them again: I will also be including a handful of clarifications or elaborations (in bold) that I either neglected to mention at the time or that wouldn’t have been adequately expressed within the limitations of the form.

In other words…yes, I will be using the blog to comment on the comments I left on Twitter.

– Pre-show tweet: Andy Hager (Friday) just randomly walked into Mello’s Diner, seemingly in search of beer; left abruptly when denied. I checked with Andy later. He didn’t ask for beer, he asked for a copy of the Chicago Reader.

NEW LEAF: @marnikeenan and @marshaharman, prepping the Box Office.

– 10 til places (thank you, 10). SM Amanda has been chased out of theater by actors warming up. Anxious about my family arriving in time.

– Actors discussing conjugations of “tweeting.” Brian Rooney (Wednesday) has never “twat.”

– Will be updating from dressing room. Amanda assures me that usual topics of conversation are poop, porn, and penises. ART!

NEW LEAF: Brian Rooney prepares for his role as the Marquis

– RT @GreyZelda And, can I just SAY to the @newleaftheatre peeps…I thought Joel Ewing was HILARIOUS. He’s my new favorite Storefront actor.

– Nick Mikula (Gregory) promises not to fart onstage tonight. Austin Oie (Goon) makes no such promises.

– Most of the ensemble is now in the lobby. Andy just walked up to me singing about his tiny genitalia.

– Impressive fact: Amanda has to call the first and last scene of this show without watching them, as they take place in a different room. The cast has set up a sort of visual relay system…somebody able to watch the scene signals her when to go/stop. Still, she works admirably under such conditions.

– Sean Fawcett (Sunday) threatened to spend the first 30 minutes of this show staring at me blankly.

– 45 people in, 7 people waiting. It was a push to get 51 in the theater last night, no way will we try for 52.

– Places!

– @mreida In costume, at least. Monica had expressed a fear at the idea of Sean staring for 30 minutes in character.

– Trivia: Gregory’s opening poem does not appear in the story proper; it is an epigraph written by Chesterton that prefaces the narrative.

– I just now discovered that Amanda is also in costume for this play. The hat and shoes she wears are similar to those worn by Sunday. Sunday controls the play, but Amanda, as SM, controls even Sunday.

– Ensemble Costume Change #1: from ordinary London citizens into underground anarchists.

– (Technically, the first change is from citizens to bits of bomb-covered wall on the underground anarchists’ chamber.)

– Tidbit: My iPod today cycled randomly to Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine,” an album that @nickkeenan used all over the place for this show.

– First transition: “Dissolved Girl.”

– I love this first moment I just heard: Austin’s Goon cackling as he Keyser Soze’s his way out of the anarchists’ tavern.

– Just ate one of the prop oranges that was, essentially, disguised “lobster mayonaisse.”

– Mayonnaise. I hate spelling that word.

– Tidbit: the secret knock Gregory uses to access the anarchists’ chamber is that 10-note royalty phrase you always hear to signify “England.” I wish I knew what it was called. If you’re using gibberish to speak it, it approximates to “DUN dun dun dun! dun DUN dun DUN dun DUN!” ETA: Per Marsha, this is the chorus of “Rule, Britannia!”

– First time I heard it, I thought it was the opening beat to the Rose Royce disco classic “Car Wash.”

– This was my first time hearing the anarchists’ approaching rumbles. Caught T. Patrick Halley (Tuesday) say “Time is of the essence!”

– Which is funny to me, because that’s one of the things we @neofuturists always battle-cry to each other during TOO MUCH LIGHT.

– @jesshutchinson short-hand for this underground anarchists’ meeting is “JV (Junior Varsity) Council.”

– The first time I saw this staged was the same week Joe Wilson (R-SC) decided to make an ass of himself yelling “You lie” at the President.

– Thought it was apropos, being a scene featuring the rules of engagement in a Parliamentary setting. And for that matter, being a scene in which everything but “You lie!” is shouted in anger between the two debate opponents.

– The line “Order! Order, anarchists, order!” is one of the funniest lines in the play. And I wish I’d been the one who’d written it.

– Nice work, Joel Ewing and @jesshutchinson.

– As funny as Nick’s delivery of “Do not speak to me, villain,” has been, it is infinitely funnier with him banging his head against the wall.

– End Act One. Nick and Dan informed me that some woman hip-checked Nick during the stalking circle that begins scene two.

– Syme’s self-introduction monologue heavily condenses an entire chapter of Chesterton’s novel.

– Theater of the Word stages that chapter faithfully here.

– More Actors’ Ideas I Wish I’d Written: Gogol’s hook.

– @GreyZelda @jesshutchinson This is a lengthy answer. I’ll get it to you during intermission or after the show. Rebecca has just asked about the thematic use of oranges throughout the play.

– @GreyZelda @jesshutchinson Short answer: no. Not in the book. But getting to oranges was a great process story.

NICK: @GreyZelda @bilald Some early THURSDAY visual research included a lot of Magritte

NEW LEAF: @GreyZelda Oranges were evolved from the green apple for a couple reasons: Better color, More Juicy, More clearly bomb-shaped.

– @GreyZelda Or, y’know, Nick will get the info to you. =)

NICK: @bilald I got your back. 😉 THIS is an interesting process story.

NEW LEAF: What @bilald is seeing: The “Varsity” or Supreme Council of Anarchists.

– Sunday’s monologue about the violinist was probably the single most contentious part of my revision process. Not sore about it. Just saying. Brief version of events…the violinist initially started out as an accordionist, and the monologue had a slightly different tone and syntax. Jacob, our dramaturg, had concerns that Sunday’s monologue as written allowed some of Chesterton’s more distasteful philosophical proclivities–a leaning towards anti-Semitism, in particular–to shine through. After a few passes at the monologue and a brief foray into cutting it altogether, the problem was partially solved when Nick requested the use of violin to underscore that scene instead of accordion.

– I wonder if the lines about Gogol’s Polish accent are funnier because most of the audience is from Chicago.

– Second Massive Attack “Mezzanine” track, during the De Worms/Syme pursuit scene: “Black Milk.”

– (Take it away, @nickkeenan.)

NEW LEAF: See, this album just rocks for spy intrigue.

– Nick Mikula has just texted everybody he knows to reserve tickets for the last two weekends, which are selling out quickly.

– Sean is behind me running all of his lines for the final scene.

– Hi, @marnikeenan! Marni, the production manager and this evening’s box office manager, and Nick’s wife, has just informed me that she has been following this live-tweet alongside set designer Michelle Lilly O’Brien from the front desk while I’ve been backstage.

– Just walked into side hallway and saw Ted Evans (Saturday) rocking from side to side, reciting his lines next to the ghost light. Creepy.

– The actors just “got” Ted. This is something they do a lot of. Indeed, as the rehearsal process went on it seemed that very little time would pass in between one ribald quip on Ted’s manhood and the next, each punctuated with “GOT ‘IM!”

– Third “Mezzanine” track, hunting Dr. Bull–“Angel.” Fourth track from the album I forgot to mention: the titular “Mezzanine,” which was used to underscore the YouTube trailer for this production.

NEW LEAF: Stay tuned and you’ll have the whole soundtrack by the end of the night. (we’ve gotten requests)

– The scene between the constable and Dr. Bull is where I first learned I was misusing the British slang term “wotcher.” It is an evolution of “What are you up to?”…ie, “Wotcher up ta?” that eventually just became “Wotcher!” I didn’t completely misinterpret this, but as written, my use of it was insensible: “What are you up to that you’re looking at, then?”

– The encounter on the Vauxhall Bridge with Dr. Bull is one of the only scenes I made up almost whole-cloth.

– Chesterton’s version involved an entirely silent Bull and a complicated Morse code communication between De Worms and Syme.

– I thought it would be difficult to translate onstage faithfully.

– Meanwhile, Nick Mikula is setting up a lot of very large dominoes in front of the dressing room door.

NEW LEAF: @bilald We were going to ask what Nick Mikula was up to right about now.

– Mikula’s domino setup failed to topple. He did not consider the way the swing of the door would affect the first domino.

Intermission. Sean proclaims “We can talk REALLY LOUD NOW!”

– Amanda just scolded me for Mikula’s failed domino setup.

NEW LEAF: An intermission treat: @JessHutchinson refers to this song and the scene that accompanies it as the…

NEW LEAF: …parade of badassery.

– Places for Act Two. I greatly enjoy the Vitamin String Quartet cover of Radiohead’s “Airbag” that is playing right now.

– Mikula has misplaced his coffee. Meanwhile, onstage, the Marquis proceeds to school a pair of French soldiers at cards. The keen observer will note that the cards are not according to Hoyle, each depicting only the image of a single orange.

– Their exclamation “Merde!” is, like the frequent use of “bloody,” one of those curse words that offend no American audiences.

– It’s a family-friendly show, folks!

– Nate Burger (@nhburger, Monday) just told me a story about a guy back in camp who he just called “Bread Man.” Actually, it was Nate’s friend who referred to one of the camp’s kitchen staff as “Bread Man.” Bread Man would turn back to Nate’s friend and simply reply “Counselor.”

– He told me this story because he might only refer to me as “Playwright” from this moment forward.

– Was just invited to the lobby dance party that apparently occurs immediately after Act Three Scene Two, to Blur’s “Jets.”

– It is glorious.

– Correction: BEFORE Act 3.2.

– Correction: It is SUPREMELY glorious.

– Sigh. Sorry to miss the duel tonight. Seriously, it’s a thriller. (Underscored by more “Think Tank” Blur: “We’ve Got A File On You.”)

NEW LEAF: Nothing like (safe) fight choreography mere inches from your nose. In the marquis’ case, long long nose.

– @fullcircletheat Watch @NewLeafTheatre and @nickkeenan, who are handling the supplemental linking duties. Full Circle had just asked for a music link.

– People I forgot to thank: Pierre Duez & Severine Provenzano, native French speakers who translated the last lines of 3.2 into French for me. The dialogue between the Colonel and the Lieutenant, for non-French speakers, is as follows:

COLONEL: Do you understand what happened?
LIEUTENANT: Less than you, I’m sure.
COLONEL: These English, they are…

NEW LEAF: Right about now, it is necessary for Monday and Tuesday to form an alliance.

NEW LEAF: This is how they do it.

– I recently described @nhburger’s “Monday” voice as being that of the curator of the snootiest art gallery in hell.

– Onstage right now: a problem scene in the original script, saved by the advent of Joel Ewing and Austin Oie’s Goons. As written, and from Chesterton’s novel, Sunday is supposed to be present with the detectives, and escape them by leaping off the balcony of the cafe. For considerations of venue, this was altered into the current form, in which Sunday places one of his Goons as a decoy and speaks to the detectives from a safe distance.

– (What was recently described at the @NewLeafTheatre talkback as “Actors 1, Motors 0.”) That is to say, a problem solved by human ingenuity rather than money and machines.

– Brian just checked in with me for assurance that I considered the Marquis the most badass of the bunch.

– I smiled and nodded, and sent him on his way.

– Listening to @nickkeenan’s recording of Sean’s voice reminds me, happily, of the recording sessions for “Contraption” nearly 2 years ago.

– Hearing the Keystone Kops chase scene from backstage is its own unique brand of comedy.

NEW LEAF: Lyrics get progressively more tongue in cheek as show goes on: THURSDAY is @nickkeenan’s tribute to Baz Luhrman.

– Joel, after having trouble with the picnic blanket tonight: “The Goons are not good at domesticity.”

– Tidbit: One of the lines in the picnic monologues about Sunday is scavenged from a college poem I wrote about a girl who broke my heart. That line would be Brian’s, about “the casual savagery of a cat feeding.”

– Tidbit: The stage direction I wrote at the top of this play’s penultimate scene, is a theatre-geek call-out.

– “A country road. A tree. Evening.” For those less geeky, these are the opening stage directions of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

– A few nights ago, during this scene, was when the hyenas at the nearby zoo started howling. Very “Hound of the Baskervilles.”

– I wish I’d been at rehearsal when Austin first made the decision to start playing the Messenger as the Mouth of Sauron. His first choice was to play the Messenger with a profound stammer, which was revealed to be just another act by the end of his lines. Funny as hell, but it significantly slowed down the conclusion of the scene, and the current incarnation is much more intriguing.

Final scene! Back to Saffron Park.

– And while the climax plays out, I now realize, the rest of the set gets put away. Very efficient.

NEW LEAF: Amanda Frechette, our SM, needs to get cast and audience out the door 15 min after curtain.

NEW LEAF: And this is what it’s like for her to Stage Manage 10 men.

– Two of the lines in this rewritten final scene are deliberate and snarky jabs at Chesterton’s actual ending. I’m a baaaaad boy. The lines, both Sunday’s, are his ultimately sarcastic “I am God,” and his asking Syme if they are all supposed to believe that the events of the play are but a nightmare from which they will all soon awaken. Chesterton’s ending outright states both to be true of the narrative…Sunday is God, and it is just a nightmare.

– Oh @nickkeenan. Your sound design here is horrifying.

NICK: @bilald Wilhelm scream…. GO! Yes, it is in fact the actual Wilhelm Scream.

End of Play. Great job, all.

NEW LEAF: Curtain Call.

NEW LEAF: Many thanks to @bilald for all his insights into THURSDAY. Now, we’re all going here (the bar.)

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This entry was posted on November 8, 2009 by in Theatre, Writing.
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