Stepping into Magic: an actor's journey…

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them" ~William Shakespeare

Archive for the month “December, 2014”

Stave 4: The Last of the Spirits

“The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.”
Charles Dickens, Stave 4, A Christmas Carol.

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Pre-show ritual with a guardian angel...

   There is a sacredness to the theater. A mysterious unknown that requires faith, flexibility and reverence. Working in this medium, I am aware that anything can happen, from mayhem to miracles, and that it is necessary for me to be open to whatever may come my way.
     The time before the stage manager calls “places” contains an electricity, filled with anticipation, ritual and breath. I’ve always carried a traveling altar to set up in my dressing room specifically for this moment.  No matter how many times I open a show I always feel a spark of nervousness, a feeling of being alive, a rush of adrenaline. When the butterflies enter my stomach and my heart begins to dance I gaze upon my trinkets, take a stone in my hand or take a whiff of the many essential oils I carry with me.

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My traveling dressing room altar includes St. Genisis, Buddha, La Guadalupana, stores and other cosas...

     I work in the business of the unknown, and my work demands that I live in the moment. Many times I am living a gypsy life moving from place to place with an uncertainty of where I will go next. What I do know is that each job brings opportunity for learning, growing, reflection and action.
     The Ghost of Christmas yet to come represents consequences, how present actions can effect future outcomes. Scrooge is shown the worst possible future that is a result of his current selfishnes, indifference and lack of concern for his fellow man. As theater artists, or “teatristas,” we don’t always know when the next job will come along. Each day while working on a show is a valuable lesson in gratitude and appreciation for that specific moment in time. We have to make a conscious effort to work productively, creatively and positively with everyone we come across in a show, because we never know when we may work with them again. The way we work on each show directly affects the future opportunities that come our way and can determine if people choose to work with us or not. Our job is to create worlds, to invoke memory, to bring the written word to life. We uphold an ancient practice of storytelling, a sacred responsibility.

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La Guadalupana watching over our rehearsal space...

     At this moment I’m fortunate to have my first experience of closing one show and within a day beginning rehearsals for another. I’m taking the joy and creativity that I experienced in the room for A Christmas Carol and continuing my artistic path in a new room, with new comrades for Culture Clash’s revival of Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles. I walked into the first day of rehearsal was a Virgen de Guadalupe that was draped along the back wall of the rehearsal space. I knew immediately, I am where I am supposed to be…
     “Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate aye reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.”
Charles Dickens, Stave 4, a Christmas Carol

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Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits

“Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Scrooge had no occasion to be told that the bell was again upon the stroke of One. He felt that he was restored to consciousness in the right nick of time, for the especial purpose of holding a conference with the second messenger dispatched to him through Jacob Marley’s intervention. But, finding that he turned uncomfortably cold when he began to wonder which of his curtains this new spectre would draw back, he put them every one aside with his own hands, and lying down again, established a sharp look-out all round the bed. For, he wished to challenge the Spirit on the moment of its appearance, and did not wish to be taken by surprise, and made nervous.”

Charles Dickens, Stave 3, A Christmas Carol

“Waffles” our fantastic Stage Manager for A Christmas Carol

The Ghost of Christmas present represents Charity, Empathy, Happiness, Goodwill and the overall Christmas Spirit. This scene is filled with family celebrations, festivities and a theme of forgiveness. The first family that is shown to Ebenezer Scrooge is The Cratchits. His hardworking employee is celebrating a very meager meal with his wife and children. Despite their poverty, they find joy and happiness in the day. Although Mrs. Cratchit does not wish to toast to the health of Scrooge, the selfish greedy boss of Bob Cratchit, she is convinced by her children especially Tiny Tim that “…It’s Christmas.” and at this time we must be full of love and gratitude. The spirit then takes Scrooge to the home of his nephew where he witnesses some festive games and small talk about himself. This scene is filled with light and celebration and Scrooge is shown that there are those that choose to love him and recognize him, regardless of how poorly he has treated them.
This scene contains some great theater magic! The ghost, played by two young fantastic actresses, get to fly across the stage, hanging upside down and twirling from the fly cables. Each of the children’s roles are double cast, and the two young actress who portray this ghost each bring a unique flavor to their characters. The energy and liveliness of this scene really lift the audience into a joyful and playful space.

This entire show takes a huge community to put on, from the actors to the designers to the crew! One man who takes on a huge responsibility and who takes pride in his work is our stage manager “Waffles.” Talk about joy! This beautiful soul brings warm and loving energy everywhere he goes.

 

Opening night Love!

Opening night Love!

Just one example of the amazing acts of kindness he includes in his stage management duties is “Waffle Day!” On this day Waffles makes waffles for the entire cast and crew. He provides the waffle irons and a variety of batters and toppings. Such a treat to finally have experienced this much loved event at the Dallas Theater Center!

The different flavors available for Waffle Day!

The different flavors available for Waffle Day!

Multiple waffle irons going on!

Multiple waffle irons going on!

The Apple Butter batter called Home for the Holidays!

The Apple Butter batter called Home for the Holidays!

Waffles the Waffle Maker!

Waffles the Waffle Maker!


Another amazing feat that Waffles accomplishes is running the ENTIRE show by looking at monitors. This theater does not have a booth from which to see and call a show, so he is back stage with us watching a number of angles and running the show from there.
His patience and expertise are what make this production what it is. Just like the Ghost of Christmas Present he fills the space with light and excitement. What a pleasure it has been to work with him!

This blog post is dedicated to him and the wonderful experience he helped create during the run of this show. I also want to thank all stage managers for being the Ghosts of Christmas Presents for each and every show, bringing magic, joy and happiness to their productions!

The Screens that Waffles looks at to run the show!

The Screens that Waffles looks at to run the show!

Charles Dickens, Stave 3, A Christmas Carol

“The bell struck twelve.

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming,like a mist along the ground, towards him.”

Charles Dickens, Stave 3, A Christmas Carol

Stave 2: The First of the Three Spirits

“When Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, that looking out of bed, he could scarcely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his chamber. He was endeavouring to pierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chimes of a neighbouring church struck the four quarters. So he listened for the hour…The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.” 

Charles Dickens, Stave 2, A Christmas Carol

Make-up and Wig for A Ghost of Christmas Past

Make-up and Wig for A Ghost of Christmas Past

In Kevin Moriarty’s adaptation of a Christmas Carol, at the Dallas Theater Center, one major element was changed from the original text. The Ghost of Christmas Past is represented by the spirit of Scrooge’s dead mother. Thus, this visitation holds a strong significance not only for Scrooge, but for the ghost as well as she watches her son re-live the snapshots of his memory. Most of these events she was not alive to see, as we decided she died when Scrooge was very young, so she is experiencing them for the first time. Watching her son make choices, which lead to his heart becoming hardened and cold, is painful for them both. However, she must fulfill her duty in order to help guide her son towards his journey of redemption. This visitation is the longest of the three. She shows Scrooge his home town, his younger self alone as a school boy, being rescued by his sister Fan, his first job at Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig’s, his relationship with Jacob Marley and his breakup with his first love, Belle.

My dresser puts final touches on my wig for A Ghost of Christmas Past.

My dresser puts final touches on my wig for A Ghost of Christmas Past.

I have been a fan of this story for many many years. My mother introduced me to the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol and to this day it is my favorite rendition. (A Muppet’s Christmas Carol is fantastic as well!) Of the many moments which stick with me from this film, I remember the snow filled scene where Belle breaks up with a young Scrooge. The look on her face is heartbreaking, and Scrooge is utterly clueless. To watch her release him because of his fascination and focus on wealth and power is painful enough to make you want to yell at the television screen.

Chamblee Ferguson, who plays Scrooge, fills the stage with depth, joy, wonder, innocence and pain. It’s an emotional ride, one that I look forward to each performance.  In one moment he will look at me with the most childlike expressions, laughing with tears in his eyes while clapping along to the songs and dances. Then suddenly his eyes will be brimming with tears of a different quality, as he looks at me with helpless fear and deep regret carved into his features. The richest and most challenging part of this Stave for me is towards the end. In our adaptation it is written that the traditional Song Auld Lang Syne be sung in between dialogue. The two scenes that are accompanied with this music are when Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge strong arm Mr. Fezziwig into selling his business to them, and then the song is heard again during the break-up scene between a young Scrooge and Belle. The director, Lee Trull, decided that the Ghost of Christmas Past should sing this song and with the help of the musical director Shawn Magill, of the local Dallas band “Home By Hovercraft,” we created a hauntingly slow and melancholy rendition of the song that is accompanied beautifully on guitar by Johnny Sequenzia.

I find that when I sing I have to take care not to let the emotion interrupt the clarity of my voice and to do that I have to really support my singing with intention and strength from my diaphragm. I try to use the need to communicate with my son to help drive the words out of me, so rather than try and stop the emotions I feel in that moment I release them into the music. This is not the first time I have sung solo on stage, but every night I am filled with excitement, emotion and an overall full body experience as I provide the soundtrack to a very sorrowful section of this stave.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Lyrics of Auld Lang Syne: “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot and days of Auld Lang Syne. For Auld Lang Syne? For Auld Lang Syne… For Auld Lang Syne… Should old aquaintance be forgot…and days of Auld Lang Syne. We two have sported in the brook, from morning sun til dine. But the seas between us have roared and swelled for Auld Lang Syne.”

In our version of this story Mr. Fezziwig faces the possibility of having to take his wife to a debtor’s prison if he doesn’t sell his business to Marley and Scrooge to relieve his debt. Charles Dickens’ father Joseph faced the same dilemma. Charles Dickens was sent to work at a blacking warehouse, that manufactured soot into a black pigment used in boot polish, matches and fertilizer, at the age of 11 to try and help earn money to alleviate his father’s debt. Two days after Charles’ 12th birthday Joseph Dicken’s and his family were sent to live in a cell at a debtor’s prison. Eventually his father and family were released from prision and Charles was able to leave the factory and return to school. He went on to become a law clerk, then a court reporter and finally one of the most prolific novelists of the 19th century who depicted the social classes, morals and values of the times with characters that were reflections from his past.

I believe the seeds of many of his novels came from this traumatic experience in his formative years. As he became a well know writer he noticed that working conditions had not changed in Victorian Britain. He noticed a new industrial working class struggling to survive in the shadows of the Industrial Revolution. Thousands of people fled their country homes, attracted to work in the industrial cities that harbored factories, machinery, steam and railroads. These poor hardworking men, women and children were used and abused by those that controlled the wealth and businesses at that time. Disease and crime was rampant and these people, especially children, were perishing. Dickens’ past haunted him and he saw that the working conditions had not changed. He felt a need to write a story that contained a message about responsibility for one’s fellow man and the problems that can arise from greed, selfishness and indifference. That story became A Christmas Carol.

“Spirit!” said Scrooge in a broken voice, “remove me from this place.”

“I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!”

“Remove me!” Scrooge exclaimed, “I cannot bear it!”

He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon him with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of all the faces it had shown him, wrestled with it.

“Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!”

Charles Dickens, Stave 2, A Christmas Carol

 

 

 

 

 

Stave 1: Marley’s Ghost

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Communing with the stage.

“Marley was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” Charles Dickens, Stave 1,
A Christmas Carol

     We have a couple of hours of tech rehearsal left before officially opening A Christmas Carol at the Dallas Theater Center! The technical demands and process have been impressive. The focus and attention it takes for all the crew members, the creative team and the actors is monumental. All of this time, energy and work pays off each night when we see, feel and hear the audience react during the play and when we walk out on stage for the finale and curtain call.

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A view from the backstage right wing.

      The transition between the rehearsal hall and the stage is one that always comes with a sense of excitement as well as challenge. As all transformations require, one must leave something behind in order to move forward. In theater when the change happens between rehearsal and performance the actors and crew take responsibility and ownership to reproduce, night after night, the vision and message our directors and creative team envision. It’s the end of the beginning, the next step, the next page, the next chapter, or in our case the next Stave…
     The book of A Christmas Carol is divided into five parts. Rather than labeling them chapters Dickens choose the word “Stave.” This is a term in reference to the musical staff and was also an old english term for chapter. In our adaptation of this story each scene in the script is labeled Stave One, Stave Two, Stave Three, etc.
   For this production I have the privilege of facilitating an event before each performance called “Come Early.” An hour before curtain, audience members can gather in the theater and hear a short presentation about the play, the process and our production.
I share with them tidbits of information regarding the story of A Christmas Carol, the life of Charles Dickens, insight into my personal experience and the vision of our production.
     So here we go, the beginning of the run, Stave One, a holiday tradition for many Dallas families and for some folks their first theatrical experience. I’m beyond thrilled to be a part of this show. Not only because of the beautiful production value and the immensely talented cast and crew, but also because of the spirit of this story. Dickens wrote this story as a condemnation of greed and a call to action for charitable giving during the holiday season. He saw firsthand the deplorable conditions of the industrial working class during his lifetime in Victorian Britain where the gap between the wealthy and the poor was enormous. (Sound familiar?) This story was Dickens’ response which became a phenomenon in 1843 and to this day A Christmas Carol lives on. Here at Dallas Theater Center they have partnered with North Texas Food Bank to fundraise for families facing hunger during the holiday season. Over the past 6 years DTC patrons of a Christmas Carol have donated over $250,000! This year in our first 7 previews we have raised over $11,000. We can only hope and imagine that Charles Dickens is looking down with pride to know that the intent of his story lives on!

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Happy Opening to the cast and crew of the Dallas Theater Center’s 2014 production of A Christmas Carol!

“Scrooge closed the window, and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. He tried to say “Humbug!” But stopped at the first syllable. And being, from the emotion he had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or his glimpse of the Invisible World, or the dull conversation of the Ghost, or the lateness of the hour, much in need of repose; went straight to bed, without undressing, and fell asleep upon the instant.”
Charles Dickens, Stave 1,
A Christmas Carol

Staves 2-5 are yet to come! Stay tuned…

  

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