Monday, April 8, 2013

The Trained Army vs. the Untrained Army

We're now less than a month from SHOWTIME! Last Tuesday we were back for the first rehearsal after Easter break, and we had a special guest, a friend I've known for some time but never before in his capacity as "Battle Coordinator/Combat Instructor/Weapons Expert" (he said, "My title gets better everytime I'm introduced!"). All of Tuesday's rehearsal was devoted to teaching the kids how to LOOK like they were fighting WITHOUT hurting each other. My own path to the stage was along the lines of learning skits and stand-up routines from records, and I'm still far more comfortable with any kind of acting more focused on vocal ability than on anything physical. The majority of my directing has been small skits involving 3-5 people standing or sitting on folding chairs (and more recently, doing puppet plays). So, I'm not the best at "choreographing" ANYTHING, much less battle sequences, and I was VERY grateful to have this friend on hand to teach this aspect of acting to the kids.

The unfortunate thing is, though most of the principle actors were on hand, none of the "extras" I've been promised from the tech crew showed up. We are doing a rather involved sequence to portray "The Battle of Five Armies" near the end of "The Hobbit," but because our cast has been so small, we need to create our army of Goblins that attack from the tech crew and anyone else available, as nearly the entire cast is needed to defend the gates of Erebor. This became obvious when our Battle Instructor said, "Okay, now everyone get with a person you will actually be fighting in the play." Most of the attackers were not present. And though, ultimately, Bilbo's friends WIN the battle, the point at which lights go down on the battle, they are losing rather badly. So, what we're going to have to do is make it appear that the army that has been through the most training in stage combat, will lose to an army that at this point has had no training at all...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Character Intensive

Between Volleyball, the "Battle of the Books," and illness, I only had four actors show up for practice... Fortunately two of them were Gandalf and Thorin, and I had intended to work on their scenes together (it would have been nice to have Bilbo, but I'm generally feeling good about how our lead is reading his lines at this point). To shake things up a a bit, I had them read the scene in very different ways--first as if they were all on the verge of tears, then as if they couldn't stop laughing, and finally as if they each wanted to kill the other two. I was impressed with the range they showed, and I think it helped in distinguishing the characters. I found that each character in that particular scene needs to move towards two of those emotions--Bilbo needs to move in the direction of both humor and sadness (or somberness) as he wrestles with the Baggins and Took side of his personality. Thorin needs to move in the direction of both anger and sadness (as he recalls the fall of Erebor and how the dragon killed many of his people). Gandalf needs to move in the direction of both anger (which helped the actor to achieve a sense of authority he'd been lacking) and humor (as he is playing a great joke on both Thorin--passing Bilbo off as a professional burglar, and Bilbo--tricking him into hosting this Unexpected Party and join in the adventure). I'm not sure the ACTORS were able to see the benefit of the exercise, but it helped me to see what they are capable of, and know what I can bring out of them in their performance. A day well-spent!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Goblin faces

I re-watched the Rankin/Bass animated version of "The Hobbit" last night (on an old faded VHS copy). I'd love to manage some goblin costumes in that style (with the huge gaping mouths), but, given our budget and talent pool, we'll be lucky to find some simple masks and armor for our goblins. More importantly, I'm realizing I have a goblin shortage as we reach the Battle of Five Armies. Earlier, when the goblins grab the dwarfs seeking shelter from the storm, I can actually spare six or seven actors to put on goblin costumes, but at the end of the play, when Erebor is overwhelmed by goblin hordes, I only have TWO actors who aren't supposed to be other characters! So, we're trying to recruit some extras to put on the masks and attack the King under the Mountain. But that gets back to the issue that we need to find or make the masks...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Although my Smaug will largely be covered by piles of treasure, I felt I needed to get some idea of the overall size and shape he should be. Since he is often referred to by Tolkien as a "worm," it seemed he needed to be more serpentine, that is, more long and thin than many dragons I've seen (and certainly not the squat, bug-shaped lizards of "How to Train Your Dragon"). So, here are my early sketches, including the most important "curled up" sleeping pose. He will be reclining through most of the scene, with only his head and neck extending out as he speaks with Bilbo; but at the end of the scene, he needs to rouse himself and "exit" to go take out his wrath on Laketown. And if we can get the one wing to look like he's getting ready to take off, all the better!

Monday, March 4, 2013

I was hoping for a larger dragon, but I had to "scale back"...

I designed a pretty cool-looking 40' Smaug for our production of "The Hobbit," but then realized there was not enough room on stage for him to curl up. So we're down to 30'.

And at rehearsal today, I found out that two of our actors have backed out of the production. One came to me to break the news that he has family commitments out of town the weekend of the show. The other didn't show up and hasn't said anything to me or the producer, but he apparently told all of his cast-mates he couldn't do it.

So, back to the drawing board for THAT as well...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Hobbit is Cast!

Well, it took a good chunk of last night, and makes quite a intricate web of people and parts, but I got the play cast and was able to announce parts at rehearsal today. If anyone is dissatisfied, I haven't heard yet, so I take that as a good sign. Four of the actors have one part each, while the majority have a number of parts to play (with one person with as many as five!). Costume changes will be interesting!

I was glad to be able to add in several non-speaking roles which were not in the script. Though I certainly appreciate Edward Mast's job of shortening the novel to a tolerable length for the stage, he dropped a lot of characters (and races of creatures) that are important to Tolkien's world, and though they won't have much to do, I am glad we will be able to at least visually allude to them in our production. So, though there are no spiders, wolves, eagles or elves (!) mentioned in the script, I had a enough spare actors to work in walk-on roles for each to be represented in our production.

I've been soliciting ideas from a number of friends for the biggest technical challenge of the play--how to portray Smaug the dragon on stage (with little space and budget). This will put my puppet-making skills to the ultimate test!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Let Me Try This Again...

Obviously, I had this idea last year, and failed to follow through with it. The idea is, "Wouldn't it be neat to blog through my experience of directing a play?" Well, yes, it would... assuming I actually did so. I've been contracted to direct the Spring play at Rhema Christian School again this year, and this time we ARE doing "The Hobbit." Auditions were today, and I was quite pleased by the amount of talent I saw. My biggest concern is that only 13 students showed up. Last year we had 20 kids try out for an original play I wrote which no one had heard of; I was expecting a bit more excitement and a larger turn out when this title was announced. So, somewhat surprised... This script (adaptation by Edward Mast) has 29 parts, but with doubling (and tripling) of characters, it says it can be pulled off by as few as 10 actors. So, we'll be closer to the original production than I'd expected. More of an ensemble piece. And my problem last year was coming up with enough parts for the actors who showed up! This should be interesting...