Category Archives: Director’s Seat

Reflections from director Elizabeth Miller

metamorphasis

We just had out third performance last night, the first being our dress on Wednesday. It’s going well so far and  I remember the moment Thursday night when I thought, well, we finally have a show.

I had intended to write more throughout the process, but having never written a blog during the rehearsal for a production before, I was surprised to learn that so much of we were experiencing felt too private. I would sit at the laptop late at night after rehearsals and ponder what to share and it all felt too raw and capricious to render concrete with black and white words. There was simply no way to capture what was happening – or how I was feeling about it.

I could have written yet again about how well everything was going – and it was – but that wouldn’t have been the whole truth because so much goes into the crafting of a company, a play, the creation of an ensemble, more than can be accurately expressed to the outside peoples. It should go without saying, I suppose, that there is acute pain to inevitably be suffered as well as all the joy. From as far as I can tell it has been a good experience for all, despite the challenges. And most of those challenges we took head on, together, and it was evident that the power of a cast and crew comes from the collaborations happening among and between them. You never know where the next best idea will come from, or what you’ll discover in the soft center of a moment, or who will suddenly see some brilliant solution tucked away in the gray folds of a mercurial situation.

There are some extremely bright actors in this group. We wouldn’t be here without them.

I can say that even after sprinting through the last few rehearsals at the studios, dealing with last minute rewrites and powering through a single day of what felt like endless tech hours, what may be most difficult for the one in my position, is letting go of the show.

I gave notes after opening and it was interesting – and somewhat painful – to see on the following day which notes the actors employed and which they did not. I contemplated giving them again, but thought, it’s becoming their show. They take the reins from here on out. We watch, we encourage, we bring to light helpful tips based on our prospective – but it’s their show now.

And that is an amazing metamorphosis to witness.

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holes and poles

At the premeeting before our production meeting a few days ago, Angela and Sarah and I had a conversation about the nature of sex in the world of Spark. Not only is there a complete lack of intimacy in this society, there is also a complete disregard for the pleasure and comfort of others. In the most basest of sense – how we’ve come to describe these physical encounters – it’s about holes and poles. These people see orifices and the things they want to do with and to them. That is all.

It’s funny to talk about, but in thinking on it further, it’s further evidence that these are tragic people in a tragic world. I love that. The thespian in me loves that – this dark, funny story about really sad and pathetic people. But there are also those trying to right the world, as there should be, striving to rectify the situation and rise above the inevitable. It’s the reason to get out of bed in the morning when you’ve taken too much of the world into your soul.

The production meeting went well. Lots of great ideas – no surprise there. Most notably we coined a new design concept – “orgasming the stage.” These cool moments will apply to Aphro and her magical mojo. Both the sound and lighting designer got off on this idea, as did the rest of us. If we can pull it off I think it will be amazing.

Rehearsals this week were both incredible and tough. The larger scenes are a challenge – in part due to evening rehearsals after everyone’s work day. It can be hard to concentrate, to keep the group focused, especially when we’re reading and tableworking and getting rewrites and staging all in the same three hours. I almost lost my mind on Thursday; I just couldn’t crack the riddle to a particular scene. Plus, as it happens with new works, I don’t always see exactly eye-to-eye with Angela. Of course I want to serve the play and her vision. I think mostly, we always get there. It just takes some talking through, and that can be hard to do in a group setting. But this happens – it’s all part of the process.

As the rehearsal room emptied and we let actors go, the work improved because I think the focus tightened. We figured out some of the movement for Aphro and Horny Toad, and the stage combat for Cup and Horny Toad. These were major accomplishments. The messy staging can be cleaned up as we go along. Again, such is the process. It’s not all perfect on the first go, as Malcolm said the other night while we cleaned up. True that.

The prior rehearsal went amazing well – as some do. It was a very small group and we had a great time staging scene 5. Micheal and Chelsea have come up with some pretty fun mannerisms for their characters, and Cindy really started to sink into the manic sexiness of Marked. She’s got a great walk – and I can’t wait to see what else she comes up as we continue to work the scene. Plus, we added lollipops – and who doesn’t like a lollipop in a dirty play?

It’s also been hard, I think, because of the month. It was a year ago this month that my dad died. I so wish he were here to know about this show. He always worried about whether or not I could sustain my love of theater, whether or not I could make a living in this world. For most of us, our careers aren’t what we dreamed of, what we thought we wanted, but they are real and multifaceted and amazing and full of challenges and just all around great. We’re in NYC, making theater. We started with nothing but an idea and desire, and we’ll end up with some beautiful and true. What could be more fantastic?

I think that when we travel to dark places, whether by choice or by necessity, it can actually allow us to tap into fresh reserves of empathy, allow us to more deeply understand one another and in turn our characters. I said last night that theater is how I make sense of the world. I can trace back into my childhood when this became true – or rather then I discovered this truth. And no matter the role I play from project to project, I think I will always have this to hold on to.

Today we interview potential stage managers. Wish us luck! We’re growing Team Spark.

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enter the Gods…

Yesterday I worked with Meg (Aphro) and Malcolm (Cup) on their first two scenes. It was a productive rehearsal and I felt great about our work. We got into the text and these two characters, parsing through their history and current states, the moment before and their objectives within the scene and the play. As gods they operate on multiple levels, and we spent a lot of time talking about who they are, what are their abilities, and what is their experience in the human world. Both Meg and Malcolm are extremely talented and well cast (if I may say so!) and it’s great fun watching them discover their chemistry and the meaning of the poetry the gods speak.

There are some challenges to working with the set in our space – I am continuing to see this the more we stage the show. The theater is a long, narrow black box, so there is very little depth, especially since the set is the front wall of an apartment building, the rooms within seen through open windows, and the street in front of the building. With more money – and space – we would have likely put the building on an angle, which would have allowed for more depth, but then the set would have required the building of two walls, rather than just one. Simplifications were made early to all our ideas. Such is producing on a minimal budget. But I feel it’s better to do really well within our means then stretch too far and risk doing more not so well.

Later in the day the rest of the cast arrived. I spent some time with Alex talking about Dalia – we explored ways to raise the stakes for her and to further understand where she’s come from and the state she’s in on the night the play takes place. Then we warmed up and started running the play. We only made it through scene 7. What a hot mess! But there is a lot to be learned by forcing yourself to stumble through the show, staged or not.

I look forward to staging more of the scenes and then taking the time to tighten them as people get off book and more comfortable with their characters, one another and the language of this world. Specifically I think we need to very carefully choreograph the action taking place within the windows so that we can control exactly what the audience sees and doesn’t.

Later today we are having a production meeting. On the subway into rehearsal yesterday Angela and I wrote the agenda for today’s meeting. We have a lot to discuss. There is so much exciting work happening – the arrows, sound, set, costumes – it can be a challenge to track and it certainly keeps me up at night. We’ve got important ground to cover today.

It is both electrifying exciting and terrifying that opening is a month away today.

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photo fun

Some of the cast met up today at TheaterLab for a marketing photo shoot that Angela organized with Sarah’s help. All their studios are white, and we rented for two hours the same studio we used for our reading of Spark this past spring. It was nice to be in that same room where this show first started to take shape.

We saw Ali’s (metal work and lighting designer) arrows for the first time – they are awesome! The points of impact look incredible – like silver splatters of blood. And the arrows themselves are lovely, though a little dangerous as we learned when someone got poked in the forehead and blood was drawn. Makes me nervous, but I feel confident that with rehearsal we can all be perfectly safe.

It was also great to see some of the costumes start to come together. Meg is so lovely as Aphrodite in her long flowey dress and it was great fun to see her in her silver makeup and dramatic eyelashes. Alex too is extremely lovely – her dress, so unlike what I thought would work, seems perfect for Dalia. Her arrow is the most dramatic. It’s hung by chains across her heart and is splattered with red.

I’m not sure Cup’s costume is working yet. A man in drag is always funny, but his current clothes seems to lack the sex appeal that I think should underlie his present deterioration. He is Cupid after all. And it was over lunch with Ali and David (production manager) that I was convinced – Ali is very into fashion as well as jewelry – that perhaps I need to revisit the dress he’s wearing. We went shopping afterward and I found a gold sequined skirt. I’m taking it to rehearsal tomorrow to see if it fits. It’s moments like this when the producer starts fighting with the designer- I’ve already spent my budget for this character, and I’m still spending. But I want what’s right, what’s best. I suppose this is the conflict (especially when you are working in both roles).

In addition to taking shots for publicity, I had the actors pose for some potential poster pics. Looking forward to seeing them and what I can do with them. A big thanks to Eric our photographer for his time and expertise.

Tomorrow I rehearse with Meg and Malcolm and we begin to tackle the complicated roles of Aphro and Cup. Then we’re running the show again. Every third rehearsal we run the show – for continuity and an opportunity to play. It’s Cindy’s (Marked/Susie) first day and I’m excited to see her in the roles for the first time and for her to meet the cast and them her. I also have some stuff planned for Alex…been thinking a lot about Dalia…

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a stone that hopes to float

We had a great first staging rehearsal – what a funny, heartbreaking, and totally dirty play! It’s great watching the actors get comfortable with one another, with their characters – watch them figure out who they are and how they relate, the meaning of each line – always looking for what isn’t said, what isn’t obvious. And with Sarah’s (my assistant) keen help, I feel like I’m learning the play, the undercurrents and through-lines, on a level much deeper and only reachable with the actors’ assistance.

We sketched in scene one, laying out the floor plan in our dance studio with little pink tape-flags so we can envision the placement of the walls – that of the building’s facade and the sculpture walls upstage. Just a few days ago Aimee (set designer) broke the upstage sculpture wall into three sections, allowing for two additional entrances/exits. I love this, and I am glad she thinks she’s found a way to make it work. Once lit, I feel certain the characters will seem to appear and disappear within the building, giving depth and suggesting an abstract structure of what the rest of their apartment building is like, while also creating a beautiful to observe surface of found objects in their junked up, lost and found world.

The play begins with Jones and Mystery gettin’ frisky and then quickly progressing to full blown gettin’ it on, and we laughed our way through the uncomfortable directions of “and now you go down on him – can you say that line when you ‘come up for air?’ ” We all stop and laugh and then move forward seriously, considering how the silhouettes of these two figures will look in the window as we choreograph their pornogaphic movements. All the while poor Dalia confesses her love on the street below to her bad boy Jones, tossing chocolates at his window and twirling in her overly-romantic, too-thin-and-summery dress.

Calder brings a certain earthiness to Jones, a Cheshire slyness that is both sexy and sweet. Chelsea started romantic with Mystery, but by the end of rehearsal she’d begun to ground herself in the power of this woman’s physicality – awesome to watch. And Dalia – played by the lovely and poignant Alex – so desperate in her attempt to execute her plan, so deliciously pathetic, she is like a stone striving valiantly to be light enough to float.

Tomorrow we sketch in scene three with Timothy and The Bearer.

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and we’re off…

We just ended our first rehearsal. I can’t believe it’s started. Been working on this show for months now and the day has finally come. I realize that we still have the holiday to go through before we really get going, but still, today was a big day. I always feel so odd after events such as this. All the time and planning and prep work – and then the moment arrives and you experience it and then it’s over. And it feels like it all occurred in the same breath.

We met at my apartment in Woodside, which worked well in terms in having lots of comfortable space – but I think it was odd for some and getting here was a challenge. Once gathered, it was pleasant, a good atmosphere. It feels like the making of a family. I wish I could have just sat and been a part of it, but of course when you’re hosting, when you are leading, you never really get to relax.

Angela cooked pasta and meatballs in homemade sauce. I made a salad and we had bread and iced tea. I baked carrot cake cupcakes and gingerbread cookies. We talked, introduced ourselves. The designers gave brief presentations on their work. I talked a little about the process. Angela gave out scripts and talked about the marketing plan. Then we had lunch and just visited. It was nice.

The first read thru is always such an interesting experience. It’s the first time I’ve heard the whole thing read by this cast – of course – but in the case of a few it’s the first time I’ve heard them read their character at all. Auditions are so helpful but they only tell you so much. And it’s fascinating to see – even just in the space of a single reading – how an actor changes from the first scene to the last. I already feel like I know them better, more intimately. And I feel like I understand the play better too. Of course. Plays are meant to be heard. They have to be listened too, to be seen, which is what comes next. You can’t read them and know them – not really. And hearing it in their voices – not mine in my head – well, it’s incredible. Feeling the energy in the room. Witnessing the actors who so seamlessly slip into their roles and seeing others feel their way carefully through the text.

And I can pick out the beats more clearly now. I can hear the rhythm, feel the heartbeat of the play coming through…

After we read we had dessert. Angela talked a little about the development of the play, where it came from and how she felt about its process. Then we talked casually about the script, and more so about the world of the play. They commented on the society, the elements within, what makes sense, what they are curious about. All telling, all helpful.

Then then we were done. The hours having flown by so quickly. And the house is quiet again.

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We got Lucky!

Yesterday our Gettin’ Lucky fundraising campaign came to end. We not only met our goal, but surpassed it by hundreds of dollars. Some of our pledged donations are still coming in, so I don’t have an exact total just yet, but we raised around $8,630 dollars. Astounding.

This past Saturday some of us got together to begin assembling the donation perks (thank you gifts). I’ve had the prints printed and we matted them – they look really nice. We mixed together homemade brown sugar scrubs, and pasted and decorated valentine-like thank you cards. We drank mimosas and talked about launching the campaign, coming up with our perk ideas, and starting work on the show. Over the past few months, since we began in June, we’ve really accomplished a lot. Already it feels amazing to see where we began and where we are now.

Aimee’s set design is coming along beautifully. Her model is a site to see:

We’ve been collecting cardboard boxes, random recyclables, and objects and materials of interesting textures. She’s working to keep the design as green as possible, using only found materials. A few weeks ago we had a very successful trip to Build It Green where Aimee and Ali found all sorts of random materials and lighting fixtures. We drove it all home to Aimee’s apartment where she expertly stashed it under her bed for the time being (I have a pile in one corner of my apartment – not the neat Tetris-type that Aimee is known for, but good enough!).

In the realm of costumes I have been unsuccessful in finding someone who is available to work with us. Our solution to this problem – as I am sure will be the solution to many – is that I will do it with the team’s help. I’ve been working on sketches and today one of the actors and I went shopping. We had good luck and I came home with several finds. It was a really fun day and I’m excited to see all the elements come together.

Angela has been working on a marketing plan. We met about it recently and she’s got a lot of great ideas. I’m most excited about our upcoming “Spark Plugs.” You’ll have to wait to find out about these…

We’ve planned our first rehearsal for December 10th. We’re holding it here in Queens at my apartment. Angela is cooking a homemade Italian meal (meatballs and zitti and red sauce, oh my!) and all the designers are coming to talk about their concepts. I’ll present costume ideas and we’ve asked everyone to bring a random object to donate to the set. Then we’re going to read the play and discuss. Our second rehearsal is the following day and I am super excited about this – we’re doing an expert runthru where we run the entire play on its feet unstopped. Only the second rehearsal and we’ll have done the play from start to finish! You always learn amazing things about the cast, working with one another, and of course the play. It’s become one of my favorite exercises.

More to follow…

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