Thursday, April 17, 2008

Edward Albee's Occupant: First Rehearsal

Posted by Evan T. Cummings, Artistic Intern, 17 April 2008

Maybe I’m biased, but it seems to me that the theatre is the only place where a wildly diverse and eclectic grouping of people – all with their own specialties, skills, and singular roles – can come together in service to a common goal, a specific event: that is, a story being told on a stage – presented with affection and fierce commitment to anyone, everyone, who is willing to listen. Especially unique to the theatre is that the first step towards achieving this goal happens in one room, at one time, with all collaborators present – and usually with a mood of anticipation, apprehension, excitement, and possibility in the air.

At least this is how it happens at Signature Theatre.

Case in point, the recent first rehearsal for Edward Albee’s Occupant – the fourth, and final, production of Signature’s 2007-2008 season.

A part of Signature’s Legacy series, this play is an intimate, funny and fascinating portrait of the artist Louise Nevelson, written by a playwright whose own legacy to the form is, now, after a decades-long career, well established – with, hopefully, many more plays to come from his ever-working 80-year-old imagination. I speak of course of Mr. Albee, in attendance at these opening festivities, where he, like the rest of us, got stuck in a strange dance for the half-hour before the work began: To meet, or not to meet. To greet, or not to greet.

As always on first rehearsal days, all Signature staff, members of the production team, designers and their assistants, the cast and any other participants-to-be are asked to gather in the cavernous (…by New York standards) rehearsal room on 43rd street and mix and mingle over frosted pastries and cups of coffee. We were, truly, no better than junior high-schoolers at a chaperoned dance, though. Some, it seemed, (and here I can’t let myself off the hook) were branded to wallflower status, stalled by our “talent-crushes” – the high degree of respect and admiration we had for some members involved in the production. This included Mr. Albee to be sure, but also Larry Bryggman, a long-time veteran of the New York stage and, of course, the incomparable Mercedes Ruehl, a force to be reckoned with any time she graces a stage or screen. For those of us in the room who felt lower on the totem pole it was hard to reconcile these personalities with the true people behind them.

Yet, ironically, when the rehearsal formally began, any fake hierarchies or false divisions seemed to break down. We were all sharing in this process together. When the play’s set and costume designers presented their vision for the look of the play, most of us – intern and actor alike – were seeing and hearing these ideas for the first time. More importantly, for a play with a cast of two who have only each other and the audience to play off of, the rest of us had the distinguished honor of being that very first audience to hear these actors read this play. In the moments where “Louise” talks directly to the audience, we were there – agreeing, or not; laughing, or not; but following every word, the first of many audiences to come.

And amidst all this, with each of us playing our roles, big or small, the playwright himself was there to play his. Looking distinguished, but also weathered from a life of telling challenging stories, he settled in quietly for a time, taking in the remarks presented by the director, designers, actors and Signature’s Artistic Director Jim Houghton. When the floor fell to Edward, though, he gathered himself and stood with a gravitas that hadn’t been apparent previously. He spoke very briefly of his friendship with Louise Nevelson and her influence on the play, then took his seat again. It was clear, in his opinion, his part had been completed when he got the words on the page right. He was now ready to watch the play along with the rest of us, ready to follow along with the process, ready to see what would, what could, happen next.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Paradise Park: Closing Night

Posted by Elaine Wong, Production Intern, 14 April 2008

Hello everyone, this is Elaine Wong, part-time Production Management intern for
Signature. A little about me, I am an undergraduate of the University of Reading
in the UK, currently in my 3rd year studying BA Fine Art and Theatre Studies.
Signature is my first taster of Off-Broadway theatre and my oh my,
it’s been one hell of an experience. I get to intern in New York City
it really doesn't get much better than this. This is my first blog for the
website, and sadly my last! My internship is almost over
... but not just yet ;)
Right, enough babble about myself.

This past Sunday was the last ever performance of Paradise Park.
So this is it for resident playwright Chuck Mee this season.
I for one can honestly say I am sad to see the end of Paradise Park!
My first day as an intern was the first rehearsal of the play so I have\
been there right from the start. I have witnessed all the drama (and
I am talking about what goes on BEHIND the scenes and not
onstage!), the FIRST and LAST ever Superman drop /
fruitcake toss / inflating of the bouncy castle, all the problems
that come with staging such a prop heavy show and other issues
we won’t even get into. Let’s just say it was not a smooth ride.

So I arrive at the theatre just before 2pm on the day of the final
performance just in time to see our Founding Artistic Director
Jim slip into the Peter Norton space. I decided not to sit in on
the last performance as I have lost count of the times I have
seen the show. That and I was a little tired, irritable and hungry.

Anyways, I watched the play from the screen in the lobby instead
and it was weird thinking that this was it forever. So the play
finally wrapped up at 4pm, the cast got a great applause at the
end and many of the audience members got to take home
Superman dolls. There was a catch with that, the dolls have
been made fire retardant. It makes them especially unsuitable
for children so Signature staff had to ensure the patrons took
home miniature ones that hadn't been treated... The result of
touching the dolls? Rather tingly hands, like a burning sensation.
Where was I?

Pizza time! With the final performance out of the way it was time
for everyone involved with the production to see it out with a bang.
We had a lobby full of pizzas and beer. Good times. At the closing
party I spotted Chuck Mee and his lovely wife, Daniel Fish
(director), Kaye Voyce (costume designer), Peter Pucci
(choreographer) and Joshua Thorson (video designer)
to name a few as well as some old faces from Queens
. I got into a conversation with actor Alan Semok
(who played Edgar) over a bottle of beer to ask about the
fate of dear Mortimer (the dummy for those of you who
weren't paying attention during the show). Just so that we
are clear, the dummy lives in Alan's front room with his cat
who likes to sleep in Mortimer's lap apparently. So now we
know. Oh and the head comes off the body. Yes kiddies,
the dummy is not real and he can be decapitated. I also
found out at this point that Alan is alumni of the college
that I am studying at currently and his house is only down
the road from mine, only after say three months of working
together. A small world indeed.
Moving on, with the pizza
and beer gone Paradise Park was officially over.

Everyone said all the goodbyes that needed to be said and before
I knew it, time had come for us to clear out. I noticed cast
member Satya had managed to take away a number of
rollerskates that were show props – damnit, I wanted to
take a pair home too! So for all the hours I have spent
at the theatre working on the show, for all the broken
window blinds, all the unused fluffy toys hiding backstage
and the entirety of Manhattan I have scoured on the search
for the many props used in the show... Paradise Park really
has been a very rewarding show to work on for me and a
real learning curve. Everyone involved in the show has
been so dedicated and worked so bloody hard and I
really admire how much effort everyone has put it,
Paradise Park could not have turned out any better.
With that I say adieu. Thanks for reading this.