One week of performances


Here’s a shot of me as Mark Rothko in #RedSJTC #RedTNB – March 20 – 22 at Imperial Theatre in Saint John & 27-29 at The Fredericton Playhouse (photo: Matt Carter)


Well – I had hoped to make some posts earlier than this but the process has been so intense that the whirlwind of activity has made it almost impossible to get my head screwed on straight enough to string words together….unless they happened to be written in John Logan’s script for RED.

I still want to get into some thoughts about the process of emotion on stage – and humour – and several other issues that crossed my mind during the rehearsal process…but for now…with two performances on-line for today…I think I only have the bandwidth to share some observations from the last week or so. After today – I have two days off from the show. I hope to find the time to offer some more in-depth observations.

Some of these thoughts will be old-hat to practiced theatre-makers – but for those less proficient, I hope they have some resonance

1) Two-Handers are an surprisingly solitary process. One would think that there would be a real buddy-mentality that would set in, but that has not been my experience. This is the fourth two-person play that I have been in (Mass Appeal – Oleanna – The Guys – and now Red). There is little of the comradery or activity of a larger production. Not a lot of post-rehearsal drinks and laughs. The process is intense. The rehearsals are relentless. The homework required is overwhelming at times. Unlike larger shows, the requirement of being on-stage the entire time also means that one is rehearsing the entire time. After an 8 hour rehearsal of this kind I find that I am exhausted mentally and emotionally. After one particular day of rehearsal that involved two full run-throughs – plus a lot of working notes – I found that I spent the entire evening constantly on the verge of tears. Look at my kids – get misty eyed…a sad scene on tv – reach for the kleenex…..cello music – forget about it.

Even now that we are in the theatre and have gone through several performances, I’m still amazed at how quiet it is. There is almost no activity back-stage. I never see Caleb (who plays Ken) until he walks on-stage for our first meeting in the play. After curtain call – it takes me so long to get all the paint off me that I am usually the last one out of the theatre – so I have no contact with the company at that point either.

None of this is a complaint. The process is what it is. I am just observing.

2) There is no substitute for homework and knowing the text cold: Early in my work as a younger actor, I had a director rant at me saying, “I cannot rehearse this fucking play until you learn your fucking lines”. It’s very true. There is a lot that can be accomplished – perhaps some staging and table discussion…. But the real work of bringing a play to life cannot begin until the ‘text’ is a given. I have directed and worked with actors who seem incapable of learning lines until the last minute. First – they seem to have no concept of the growth potential that they lose out on by not having more rehearsals that are free of text issues. Second – it is incredibly selfish to hold the rest of the cast hostage to your shortcomings. The other actors need something concrete to respond to in order to facilitate their growth. They don’t have too much to work with if what they are looking at is an actor struggling to recall his lines.

Luckily – that was not in any way an issue with this current production. One of the reasons rehearsals could be so intensive was that the text was fairly secure from day 1.

3) Standing alone on a stage at the opening of a long tech rehearsal takes balls. I deal with many young actors who want the title roles. they want to be ‘the guy’ on stage. It’s not as easy as it looks. I’ve learned over the years that it takes a lot more than talent to carry a show. I have known untalented actors who could carry a show and I’ve known talented ones who couldn’t. It hits home for me at those times when – alone on stage – I realize that everyone is looking to me….expecting me to hit my mark…to remember countless adjustments being offered on the fly….to take it all in without question or comment. Playing a role in a play like this is a huge responsibility. It isn’t about the fun of it. It is about mastering a huge challenge. It takes just the right amount of ego to feel confident in mastering that challenge – yet feeling humble enough to submit willingly to the process and submit to the script, the director, the other actors, the designers and crew. It’s a fine balancing act. It also requires a certain leadership. Not the kind of leadership that involves telling others what to do. Rather it is the kind of leadership that involves being prepared and setting a tone.

4) For me: of all the skills – maintaining focus is the most important and the most challenging: A show like this requires 100% intense focus from curtain to curtain. For 90 minutes there are absolutely no breaks – not one opportunity to stop for breath. Even the scene changes are extremely choreographed ballets in which I need to complete several steps and am literally just hitting my mark as the next scene begins. Over the years I have noted that those times when actors get lost on stage – forgetting a line or missing an entrance or key piece of business – it isn’t that they have “forgotten”. It is that they lost focus. Some nagging thought crept in and for a split second they are not on stage in the moment. They are re-living a moment from earlier in the day. They are considering some other aspect of the production. They are wondering what that noise was back-stage – or questioning an audience response or lack of response. 

I will admit – even in this production – there have been brief (and terrifying moments) when I have realized that my mind is elsewhere on stage. Or more specifically – my mind is not 100% focused on what is happening between me and Ken at that specific moment. I have caught myself wondering briefly about an upcoming costume change…or questioning the placement of a prop that I need to use shortly. The feeling is almost one of ‘waking up’ on stage. I am momentarily lost in a random thought and then – with a start – I have this feeling of “holy shit –  what is happening? have I missed something?” It has never led to a problem as (fortunately) the mind can move at lightning speed in such circumstances and my lapse of attention may have only been for a fraction of a second. However – I will say it again – maintaining absolute 100% focus – being 100% in the moment – is the most challenging aspect of what I have to do in this production.

5) the best on-stage experiences are like jazz – it’s all improv within a strict structure: I recall being told that good acting is just talking and listening. Sounds simple – but it takes a lot of time and homework to get to that point. The biggest leap that I have watched young actors make is when they realize that acting is not about what they see themselves as doing. It is about paying close attention to what the others are doing on-stage and reacting honestly to that. Since what everyone else is doing will vary slightly from evening to evening – the responses will also vary slightly from evening to evening. The moments on-stage that I enjoy the most are those times when all the homework is secure…all the text is rock solid…every word and movement is connected to a specific thought and reaction. These are the times when I can just sit back into it and listen….and respond. No thought of what came before. No thought of what is to come. Everything happens within the framework of the script, the blocking, the interpretations set out by the director – but it is fresh and brand new every time……like good jazz.

6) I’m running out of time and need to go review my script for the upcoming matinee so here are a few specific and quick ones:

     -Getting paint in your eye on stage is a pain in the ass

     -Buttoning a shirt and putting on a belt – in the dark – in a hurry – is a very very difficult thing to do

     -As a practical point – eating rice on stage  is terrifying. Every night I have a split-second image of myself lying on-stage choking     and turning blue in front of several hundred people

     -Audiences laugh at the strangest things and it is extremely difficult to predict what they will find amusing – particularly in an intense production

     -No one will give you an honest opinion in a theatre-lobby – but post-show social media can be the most uplifting or the most depressing

     -No matter what people say about you after the show. No matter how much your ego swells….there is nothing quite like being left the job of plunging the toliet in the morning to bring one back down to earth. Being left with laundry to fold also is helpful on this point.


OK – now off the review my script before the matinee.

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Distractions – One week out


Production poster for the Saint John portion of the production schedule

So – one week from today we have the preview performance of RED. I’m extremely impressed at how smoothly the process has run up until now. Tomorrow we will run the play twice with notes and it feels like we are ready to be doing that.

It occurs to me right about now that I am envious of those who work on projects and only have to consider their personal work on that project. I have really never had that luxury. As the Executive Director of the SJTC, I am responsible for all aspects of the company activities. Practically speaking: that means that I am constantly being pulled in multiple directions. I have, over the years, learned to focus on rehearsal while there. While in the rehearsal hall I am 100% there in the moment – which is the way it needs to be. However – every coffee break…every lunch break…..I’m answering staff questions, dealing with marketing and production issues for RED and three other projects that are currently in development, dealing with e-mails, proofing programs and various print materials, fund-raising issues, next season planning, etc etc. In fairness: I sense the same multi-tasking issues pulling at our production director, Caleb Marshall, as he is the Artistic Producer of his company, TNB. He, too, seems to have mastered the skill of putting that all aside while in the rehearsal hall.  Anyone who thinks that is easy….please think again.

I bring all this up, I guess, to illustrate my envy at those who have the luxury of simply learning their lines, doing their homework, and showing up for rehearsal. How stress-free that would feel by comparison. I hope to have that experience again someday. The last time I had such an experience was playing the role of Lloyd in a KV Players production of Noises Off – over 20 years ago.

That being said – I am having a blast. The rehearsals are hard and exhausting…….mentally exhausting….and emotionally draining. But the experience is well worth it.

Tomorrow – if I have any head space for it after two run-throughs – I’d like to chat about emotion on-stage. There are a couple of fairly deep dark personal moments for me in this production and it has given me reason to think quite a bit about how my emotional life on-stage has changed over the years. However – for now – I have e-mails to answer and more homework to do in order to be ready for tomorrow.

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One week of Red rehearsals

So – as promised – here is a bit of an update on how things have been going for me.

To recap – I am playing the role of Mark Rothko in a production of RED by John Logan. Getting here has been a roughly two-year process that I recounted in a previous blog post. the play is a co-production between Theatre New Brunswick and the Saint John Theatre Company. It is the first such partnership between the two larger English Language theatre companies in our province and it has been a long time coming. The Production Director is Caleb Marshall (Artistic Producer of TNB) and I (playing Rothko) am the Executive Director of the SJTC.

So – how is it going?

In one word – it’s really tough. Yes – that’s more than one word – but one word can’t really describe the process for those who haven’t been through it.

I had promised that I wouldn’t get into making too many comments about the team or what may transpire in rehearsals beyond my own personal impressions. I really didn’t want to get into anything that would resemble rehearsal gossip or leave any negative impressions. Yes – I have had moments of frustration – but that frustration has been with me and my grasp of the material. I’ve been down this road before and that is a normal part of the process for me. Progress is not measured in a steady upward slope. It is a bit of a jagged graph full of ups and downs yet constantly edging upwards (hopefully) I’ve learned to embrace personal frustration as it tends to come shortly before breakthroughs.

However – in spite of my promise not to – I will make a couple of observations about the team. General impression – simply put: everyone on the team is really good. Caleb Cosman – who is playing Ken is a formidable actor and I feel a lot of pressure to keep up with him. His daily progress is amazing and it is motivating me to keep pushing hard into the text to continue to work for discoveries and nuances. It also forces me to contend with a huge amount of new information every rehearsal as he continues to bring in new things for me to react to.  Caleb Marshall, the director, is every bit as good as I had expected him to be. Very subtle and unintrusive – yet very keen in his insights. He is extremely helpful and is clearly and ‘actor’s director’. I’m glad to be working with both of our Caleb’s on this project. I’m also really impressed with the design and production teams.   All – in all everyone has been a joy to work with.

But back to the rehearsals.

I am very glad that I had put in the extra time in advance of rehearsals starting. the process is fast and intense. If I didn’t arrive feeling very on top of the material – I’d be lost and would find myself unable to catch up. Homework is never wasted.

After five rehearsals we were able to run the entire play off-book and fully staged. While that feels like an accomplishment to me – I can’t imagine that we would be able to take any longer to get to that point.

I have made some major discoveries in rehearsal. In spite of the intense amount of work I had done with the script leading up to the first reading – there is nothing that compares to standing alongside a flesh-and-blood ‘Ken’ as opposed to the imaginary ken that I was rehearsing with for several weeks. His approach has forced me to re-think a number of moments. Without giving too much away – I was able to fully re-conceive the end of scene 2 creating an entirely new approach from what I had considered in advance of rehearsals.
Creation is an exciting process.

Tomorrow – we have a visual artists coming in to offer guidance and coaching on the scene 3  painting sequence. The idea of actually laying into some serious painting live on-stage is kind of exciting. It’s the kind of physical action that one rarely gets a chance to do on-stage.

My biggest concern at this point: my voice. The play runs roughly 90 minutes and I likely have around 60 minutes of the text. I’ve had a day off so I’m feeling fine – but I could feel the strain after a few days of rehearsals. I’m making sure to do good warm-ups in the morning. I’m also working to find more nuances for the scenes of conflict. Continually raising my voice in anger will become boring to listen to for the audience. It’s up to me to find vocal variety (the 3 P’s – Pitch Pace Power – as my vocal coach used to drill into me). Finding more vocal variety will not only make things more interesting to listen to – but it will reduce any potential vocal strain

Week 2 looms ahead and we will be getting into much more detailed work on the story. I’m looking forward to another inspiring week.

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First Day

Short but sweet:

If ever there comes a time when I feel comfortable at this moment…..a time when I’m not wondering if I have done enough homework…..if I am ready…If I’ll be able to keep up……. If that day ever comes and that anxiety isn’t there – it will be time for me to quit.

First reading for RED begins within the hour. By end of day today the expectation will be past and the process will begin.


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Homework for Red…always homework for Red

Well Blog Buddies – the first rehearsals are fast approaching and I’m starting to feel the crunch. In spite of working on this script for some months – I still feel like I have piles of work to do before the first read.

I feel like the lines are coming along and will be well in hand before starting rehearsals. But that can be risky. I often caution younger actors not to worry too much about learning lines too early. There is always a concern that they will become trapped into line readings that become entrenched hindering the give-and-take required to bring a script to life. However – in this particular rehearsal process – we will have only slightly longer than two weeks to get the show together. The challenge for me will be to be fully comfortable with the text – while still maintaining the openness to listen and respond. I do this – and here is the hard part – not by learning the lines, but by learning the thoughts that flow beneath the lines.

Text – to me – is a symptom of thought. Only by penetrating beneath the text and making informed personal judgements about the thoughts and connections that lead to the actual words, am I able to incorporate the text and deliver it by rote. Usually – if I can’t recall a line – it is usually because I have not fully conceived of the thoughts that flow behind that line.

In a work of complete fiction – it can requires substantial imagination and acrobatic leaps of faith to reconcile my personal experiences with the given circumstances of a story. In Red – however – there are a great many details about actual people, places, things and events. So – beyond the lines and the motivations – and the subtext – and moments before – beyond all of that: is a lot of basic homework to gain an understanding of the historical facts of the material.

I’ve said before that research is one of the aspects of producing, directing, or acting that I enjoy the most. I love doing homework on a new period in history. John Logan’s Red is chock full of references to artists, artworks, and places – many of which I had never heard of before reading the play. That is now changing. At this point I have read several books about Rothko and about art history in general. I’ve watched numerous documentaries. I’ve looked up countless references.

Red is – among other things – a mentor/student story. In the play, Rothko spends considerable time schooling his assistant Ken an various aspects of art and art history. As result of this constant tutelage within the text: exploring the play – for me – has also meant exploring a number of  artworks – some of which I never knew existed. There are five major works that are discussed at some length in the production of red. I would like to share a few thoughts on them.


Some of Rothko’s Seagram Murals at the Tate Modern in London


The Seagram’s Murals: The process of executing the commission of these works for the Four Seasons Restaurant shapes the central narrative of the play. Rothko engages a new assistant, Ken, to help him with the grunt work of creating as many as thirty or forty large canvases for the series of murals. These murals were commissioned by architect Philip Johnson for the restaurant that was to be in the new Seagram Building on Park Avenue. Historically – Rothko received the commission, which was one of the largest modern commissions ever. Then – after completing the murals – he refused to deliver the paintings and returned the money. There has been much written and discussed as to why he changed hi mind, but no definitive version of events seems to exist. Rothko’s journey  from celebration to disillusionment is – for me – a central through-line of the play.

As I have previously written, I was in London when I randomly purchased this script two years ago. Had I read it during the trip I would have had the chance to some of the Seagram Murals first hand. Seeing these – and the other artworks discussed in the play – has now become a bucket-list item for me.


The Santa Maria Del Popolo in Rome

The Conversion of Saul: One of the first major references discussed is in a story that Rothko tells about visiting The Santa Maria del Popolo which is the home of Caravaggio’s ‘Conversion of Saul’

This discussion is in the context of Rothko explaining his aversion to painting outdoors because “the light’s no good” . He defends this ideal by explaining the ‘inner luminosity” that


Caravaggio’s Conversion of Saul

Caravaggio achieved in his painting. “…the painting glowed. With a sort of a rapture it glowed.” This – in spite of the fact that the painting was created for a  dark corner of a dark church with no natural light.

It offers an interesting insight into the artistic aesthetic of Rothko  who created powerful, multi-layered images that seem to glow and pulsate and move on the canvas.

I find it interesting also as Rothko’s telling of the story has a lot of humour imbedded within it. This was a bit of a clue to me in terms of Rothko’s journey through the play. This story comes fairly early on and while the tone of Caravaggio’s artwork is dark – the telling of the story is one of the lighter moments in the story. Michael Shurtleff (again Shurtleff…I know) would often lament about American ‘method’ actors having a complete lack of humour in their approach to the work and would often miss entire aspects of a performance because they would allow their character no sense of humour. This would, in his opinion and in mine, reduce the the sense of truth and humanity presented on stage. In my reading of John Logan’s Red – I find a great deal of humour in Rothko – particularly in the early scenes.


The Red Studio by Matisse

The Red Studio by Matisse: at another point in the story, Rothko tries to give his assistant Ken an insight into what drives him. He starts the story by discussing in detail his visceral reaction to seeing Matisse’s painting: The Red Studio. Rothko describes an early incident in his career of seeing the picture at the  Modern when it was first installed. “…it swallowed me…” ” Such plains of red he made. Such energetic blocks of color. Such emotion” “…everything I do you could trace the bloodlines back to that painting…”

The point of the story, however, is one that compares his youthful enthusiasm with his current mid-life obsession with mortality.  The story illustrates a major theme in the Rothko of John Logan’s play: the conflict between the Red and the Black – Emotion and Intellect – Life and Death.




Belshazzar’s Feast by Rembrandt

Belshazzar’s Feast by Rembrandt:

In a further  – and slightly darker – discussion on the concept of “Black” Rothko gives a brief description of the painting as a way of explaining a hostile reaction to his assistants “adolescent” views on art. Rothko describes the painting and then translates the Hebrew words “You have been weighed in the balance, and been found wanting”. This message is in the form of a warning from God, via an angel, to a blaspheming Belshazzar.

To me – the reference speaks to a growing sense of dread within Rothko at this particular point in the play. The Seagram’s Murals have been ongoing for some time and the process is very slow. Rothko speaks often in the play of mid-life angst. Specifically that he may be slowing down or losing his edge. (“as you get older, the palette fades and we race to catch it before it is gone”) To me – the discussion of the painting in the context of this particular moment in the play is a confession of a deep seated fear on Rothko’s part….an insecurity that is very related to the project at hand.

Having read up on it, I see that this is a fairly large canvas (roughly 6 ft x 7 ft). I have seen larger works of Rembrandt in the past but never this one. I certainly hope to see this picture some time soon.


the staircase at the Medici Library in Florence

The Staircase in the Medici Library in Florence: Another place that I have never been to and hope to visit soon. Rothko describes for Ken how he was inspired to create the images for the Seagram Murals by relating his experience of visiting Michelangelo’s architectural marvel. He describes the staircase as being a “…tiny vestibule. Like a vault it’s so cramped.” I had seen images of this staircase before but I never equated the image with Rothko’s description in the play. Once I started to research the reference I quickly recognized this famous staircase from having previously read about Michelangelo.

In the play, Rothko tells of how the false rectangular doors and windows inspired him as they “…make the viewer feel he is trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up…” This sense of claustrophobia led to his conceiving the rectangular panels of the Seagram’s Murals

Technically called The Laurentian Library it was commissioned in 1523 and work continued until it’s opening in 1871. According to my reading, it is considered to be one of Michelangelo’s most important architectural achievements. The photos show this to be an amazing feat of design, engineering and construction. I can’t wait to visit this place and see it for myself.

Next up I’d like to share some of my impressions of the many artists that are discussed in John Logan’s Red. I’m getting very pumped to begin rehearsals. Hard to believe – after all this time – we are less than three weeks away from beginning.







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How do you remember all those lines?

How many times have actors heard that? How many of you have said that in a theatre lobby? “How do they remember all those lines?”…………as if the real skill and technique of an actor could be summed up so easily.

It has always struck me that the same people who ask this question would never once ask, “How do those musicians remember all those notes?” or “How do those dancers remember all those steps?”Image So – why is it that people intuitively understand the inherent difficulties and training involved in dance and music – yet fail to recognize acting as a learn-able craft made better with training and experience.

Is it because theatre is such a language based art-form and (unlike sheet-music or choreography notations) the average person can read a script? Possibly. Is it because skilled performers develop an effortless delivery that belies the massive amount of work that it takes to make it look easy? Maybe. The reasons may be multifarious – but the phenomenon is real.

In asking this question, people fail to grasp that acting is a learnable  and teachable craft. There are regimens of vocal and physical training. There is training in various techniques and methodologies for script analysis. There are exercises and routines which can help free the imagination and facilitate  the link between the actor and the material. The point is that none of this even begins to speak to “natural talent”. Yes – some people will be predisposed to excel, but I have really never seen anyone succeed in the long term while relying solely on their talent. Like any other art-form – or any skill set for that matter – training and practical experience are vitally important.

I use the term ‘training’ in a looser sense however. Keep in mind, the craft of acting has been around for roughly 2500 years. The widely accepted norm of going to a formal “theatre school” is a phenomenon that has only existed for maybe 50 years. Beyond the machinery of university programs and acting academies, there has always existed a system of apprenticeships and coaching in which young actors would essentially ‘work their way up’ through whatever system existed in their particular community. The idea that becoming a working actor is all about graduating from theatre school and joining a union…..this is actually a very new and radical departure from hundreds of years of theatre practice. However – whatever the system – training and development are vitally important to the success of a performer in theatre.

Of all the things that actors learn – regardless of their method of training – the ability to do homework is absolutely the most important. Preparing for a role…preparing for a rehearsal…preparing for performance.

In my 25 years of coaching young actors I have noted three main reasons for their failure to perform well – and all of them relate to their homework.

1) Know your lines: Yes – it is true – leaning lines is important…as is learning musical notes or dance steps…so not knowing them can prove to be a serious hurdle to aggressively tackling a role.

2) Knowing the intimate details of the script: Another reason for failing in a scene or a role is a failure to understand the facts of a scene. Sometimes it is the simple given circumstances such as the details of time and place. Beyond that are more complicated issues of what is actually happening: what are the events and discoveries that a character makes within a scene.  What are the relationships with the other characters and when do they change? Why do they change? Interestingly – I have found that even the most inexperienced actors can answer these questions when asked. In answering these questions, they typically will stumble upon actionable information that will improve their performance. The difference with more experienced performers is that they have learned which questions to ask of the material in order to gain the most valuable intelligence as it relates to their performance.

3) Know your back story: The final of the three reasons becomes a bit more complicated to grasp. It is tied up in what Michael Shurtleff refers to as “The Moment Before”. The “Moment Before” encompasses all of the character history leading up to the moment of entrance into a scene. The idea being that every entrance into the play is an exit from somewhere else. In some plays the information might be fairly simple and straight forward. However in a play such as August Osage County – or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – understanding the Moment Before might require deep thinking into years worth of character history.

Interesting anecdote that illustrates the power of The Moment Before: several years ago I was playing the role of John in Oleanna. We were nearing the end of the rehearsal process so the show was fairly solid. I was still, however, really struggling with the third and final scene which begins with john on the phone to his wife and ends with him in a murderous rage at the student who has ruined his life. Shane MacMillan was directing and the amazingly talented Michelle Winters was playing Carol, the student. Although we were solid with the text and were navigating the scene well it was absolutely flat and I could barely manage the impetus to violently threaten her life at the end of the 25 minute scene. After several runs that weren’t working, Shane and I chatted about why it wasn’t working and we decided that the scene was not ending well because the beginning was weak. We re-concevied the moment before so that – rather than being discovered in the midst of a reasonable and calm conversation on the phone – we would add a more tension and discord to that moment. This increased tension and stress at the opening of the scene meant that the entire scene was played out at a substantially more intense level. At final confrontation, I unleashed on Carol and really felt, for that moment, like bashing her with the upraised office chair. At the end of the scene, I went to the next room and actually broke down with the extreme emotional response that the scene provoked. We did the scene a couple of more times so I could gain control of the emotional line and from there on in…the scene worked and we had a good strong ending to the production. All that from a simple adjustment in thinking about the details of a phone call that opened the scene.


As I enter the final few weeks before beginning rehearsals for Red, I am entering a period of enhanced and detailed homework for the production. Mark Rothko is a historical figure, so there is a lot of information available about who he was and what he did. That can be a bit of a trap however as I am not playing the documentary version of Mark Rothko – I am playing the version of Mark Rothko that exists in John Logan’s script. At some point, I need to be clear on the facts of the script which will support the telling of the story. But – like any historically based story – the play is chock full of references to real people places and events that I need to understand. Failure to bring these things to life in my mind and develop my own opinion of those facts – will create flat lifeless references.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to review some of the many references included in the play. For those who are knowledgeable in the History of Art, it will be old hat. For me – it has been a series of amazing revelations about a world that I have had very little knowledge of.

And – yes – I will continue to learn my lines.

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Getting started

So Blog Buddies – as I sit here: I am roughly four weeks away from the start of rehearsals for Red: a play that has occupied a lot of my thinking for the past two years. Pressure…excitement…anticipation….the occasional moments of doubt and panic. This is as good as it gets.

Why does a play resonate? Why one project as opposed to others? We see it in film all the time. Why – in a particular year – do a number of independent film companies release a submarine film….or a certain kind of survival film…or an outer space film? We take it for granted and assume that there is a certain amount of imitation going on….but sometimes it just happens. Sometimes certain stories just make sense.

I remember a number of theatre seasons ago that a huge fuss was being made over the fact that five major theatre companies in America all independently decided to mount a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles….a play that is almost ever done. What is in the air at any given time that makes the message of a particular play touch a broad range of artists and audiences in a variety of markets? It’s easy to dismiss this concept in the framework of the modern viral world we live in. A world in which thought can travel the globe instantly in 140 characters or less. But the resonance of stories – the simultaneous and unconnected outbreaks of interest in an idea – is a concept that predates viral connectivity.

I don’t pretend to understand why this is – but i certainly recognize it as a fact….and have long-ago learned to  act upon it when I see it.

So again – why Red? Who knows. It moved me from first reading and that, sometimes, is enough for me.

I recall an odd Artistic Director notes from another theatre which stated ( and I paraphrase – and will be vague so as not to implicate anyone ) “When I first read this play, it didn’t interest me at all. After reading it a couple of more times it started to feel like it might work”. Guess what? – the play didn’t interest the audience any more than it interested the Artistic Director when he first read it. 

I was fortunate to have a teacher in early days who drilled into me the concept that I needed to pay very close attention to first impressions. The things that leap out at me on first reading of a script are very likely the same things that will leap out at an audience upon first first viewing the production of that script. If it bores me at first-read…that isn’t a good sign. John Logan’s Red did not bore me upon first read. In my multiple readings of the play it became clear to me that this was an extremely worthwhile script and should be performed. It has always been important to me to explore new material, new scripts, new production methods. It has been important to me to find interesting new stories and bring them to our audience. Red fit the bill. period.

I was highly interested in bringing this play to my audience. But how? Putting together a theatre season can be a difficult task. Where would it fit? What would be the hook that would pique the interest of an audience? Remember – I knew nothing about it and picked the script, literally, at random for the first reading. How would we get an audience to choose to see this work that has a limited  legacy.

I was considering these questions when – in late 2011, I was having one of my regular discussions with fellow Artistic Director, Caleb Marshall from TNB. As our companies are geographically close, we have long ago learned to discuss programming so as to eliminate needless duplication. Coincidentally – he was also interested in the script and we were each considering ways to include it in the 2012-2013 season. It didn’t take much discussion from there to come up with the seed of an idea for a co-production. In general terms – we decided to cooperate equally in the development of the project and then each organization would present the play to our own audience.

While this is an idea that generated a lot of excitement fairly quickly – unfortunately we came up with the plan a little too late in the game to allow a sufficient developmental period so as to be ready for the 2012-2013 season. So we decided to wait until this season to offer the production to our audiences.

While I will touch on many subjects – this co-production of Red will be the main source of my musings over the next two months.

To be clear: as a courtesy to our organizations and to my fellow artists on the project, I will offer very few insights into overall production issues. Nor will I offer any insights into the rehearsal hall….unless they are specifically about me and my process. I won’t be offering a tell-all. Nor will I share any rehearsal hall gossip. Just like Vegas…if it happens there – it stays there. The focus of Red from now on will be strictly related to the process as I see it. How am I personally getting from here to there as an actor and a theatre artist. I hope, Buddies of the Blog, that there will be some of you who will find some interest in that.

Next – I guess I’ll muse about some of the homework I have been compelled to do in order to feel ready for the start of rehearsal.

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