Monday, March 17, 2014

Mother Courage and Her Children, 1989

Mother Courage and Her Children
Text to follow soon.



Thursday, February 27, 2014

Still Busy Doing Theatre

I love writing about the plays I have worked on, but lately I have been very busy still working on plays to write about them.

Currently I am working on a production of Dead Man's Cell Phone at Brockport

The play opens tomorrow and I still have many things to do.

The Avenue Q tour took up time I had hoped to use to catch up on my Blog posts.

Spring Break at the college is coming soon and maybe I will have time to write.

Like many of you we have had a harsh winter here and I can not wait until Spring comes.

The winter has been too long and I am so Thrilled to see more snow outside my window as I write this post.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Avenue Q, 2013 and the 2014 Tour

I have enjoyed writing about all my past plays but I am still working full time and my current work has kept me very busy as of late.
Our musical this year was Avenue Q, you know the dirty Sesame Street style show complete with Muppets.
It was a big, two levels and lots of detailing.
It looks like Sesame Street, three building fronts and many windows.

Most all of the flats and windows had to built special for the show.
I was able to re-use the doors and some masking flats, but all of the flats facing the audience were new.
Luckily I did not have to build the puppets too, the costume designer a two students did most of the work on them.
The scenic designer was from outside Brockport, the same man we used last year on Mauritius.
Bad Idea Bears

I designed the lighting, helped set up the sound, projections and some of the set pieces and props.
The students worked very hard to master working their puppets.
Many hours were spent in front of mirrors in addition to the regular rehearsals.
The director had a good deal of experience working with puppets having spent time touring with a well known puppet theatre group.

Also a workshop was giving to the actors by a real Muppeteer who happened to be a friend of one of the actors.
The play was a hit, played to big audiences and was well reviewed by outside adjudicators.
Just before the last show we found out that we were selected to perform at the regional Kennedy Center, American College Theatre Festival held at  West Chester University in Pennsylvania.
The play was performed at Brockport just before and after Thanksgiving.

When we struck the play we saved it knowing that we would use it again.
Before we took off some time for the Christmas break I had my crew make some changes to the set that I knew we had to do before the tour.
The stage in Pennsylvania was about the same  size as ours, but we would not be allowed to nail or screw into the floor.
Because of the limited set-up time at the festival we had to cut out the platforms used for the second level of the set.
Those platforms had been used to support the walls and now I had to find a way to put up the walls and make them free standing.
Setting up at the Festival
Also, just to make things more fun the stage we were going to use was raked, not too much but enough to mean that the walls might be leaning a bit.
The solution was simple as I used traditional stage braces that were bolted to 2'-0" x 2'-0" plywood squares and each loaded with over 100 pounds of stage weights.
After a four week break everyone came back to have rehearsals and practice put the set up and down and loading in a truck.
Because one of the actresses could not come on the tour another actor had to take over her part.
He did a fine job as did the rest the actors.
So with the truck loaded everyone took off for the 360 mile drive.
Although we did not have much snow to deal with it was very foggy most the  trip there.
There were a few issues but we all got there fine and the set went up without any trouble.
It turned out that they had sent me the wrong patch for the lighting board and all of the 212 lighting cues I had set back in Brockport did not look right.

After a few moments of panic I spent 20 minutes had patching the lighting board.
When that was done my lighting cues looked better.
I ran through as many as I could fixing levels as I went.
I did not have enough time to review every cue as much as I would like and when we ran the show there were a few cues that did not look right but I fixed them the best that I could on the fly.

Sound was a bit of a problem as the wireless mics that we had rented were not available and we had to others which were different and our sound guy had never used that type before.
But even with some issues we just kept moving toward curtain time.

More than two hours before the show theatre students from other schools attending the Festival starting lining up to see the play.
About 800 people filled the theatre and were eager to enjoy the play.
The festival audiences are always great as many already know they show, I even heard some people singing songs from the show as they came in.
 Well no matter problems we may have had, the show went off great, the cast did a fine job and the audience loved it and gave them a standing ovation at the end.

The next morning we came back to strike the set and we got all down and packed into the truck in  the hour and a half time that they gave us.
It was crazy at times and I was not sure how it would go, but I was so happy and relieved that it went well and the drive back home seemed to take only half as long as the drive there.

This was the forth festival we have gone to in the last ten years and it was by far the biggest cast and set that we ever brought.


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Monday, December 30, 2013

Some Christmas Thoughts . . . .

Just before Christmas I watched many movies with Christmas themes with my wife.
One of which was my favorite version of A Christmas Carol from 1951 with Alistair Sim.

It has been several years since I had watched the whole movie and even though it was the "colorized" version I still enjoyed.

Because of the movie I thought back to the several stage versions of the played that I have worked on.
Three years ago I wrote in my Blog about the first the production of A Christmas Carol that I worked on back in December of 1980.
I have also worked on three productions of it since I came to Brockport and will write more about them as I continue my Blog through the years.
In additions to the three traditional productions we also did a spoof version of A Christmas Carol.
Our department had planned to do the show every other year, any even though the show tends to make a lot of money it put too much of a strain on the technical staff.
The play calls for many costumes and sets.
Our original plan called for reusing the same set each year the same way that our local professional theatre does, but with different directors and new script each time it did not work out.
To really do the play right, special effects such as fog, snow and other visual effects are needed.
It got to be too much for us to do and we stopped producing A Christmas Carol.
I will write about these productions as they are coming up soon when I get back to my chronological review of my career.

Have a Happy New Year.
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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hispanic Theatre Festival, 1989

In the spring of 1989 our first production was a Hispanic Theatre Festival which was made up of two one-act plays.
The first play, La Hiel Nuestra de Cada Dia, was performed in Spanish and the second play, Leaves from Hell, was performed in English.
For the first play a simple one room box set was set up in front of the set for the second play and then removed during the intermission.
The Spanish speaking cast was made up of all adult non-students.
Although I asked many times I never got an English translation of the script.
My limited knowledge of French was of no use to help me light this Spanish  play.
I had a native Spanish speaking student who sat with me during a run through of the play whispering to me what was going on.
It was a bit frustrating for me because several time during the play I would ask what is going on and she would say: "Oh it's not important, they're just talking".
Somehow I was able to create the lighting and cues for the play.

The second play was in English so I had a better chance of understanding it.
The entire cast was made up of college students, including our chairperson's daughter.
The play was set in some un-named Latin American country and dealt with a corrupt government, torture and other assorted evils.
The set was a stylized military base with camouflage nets, barbed wire, ammo boxes and real rifles.
Real rifles?
Sure what could go wrong.
We had a student who had several rifles that were kept in a gun locker at the campus police office and brought over for each show.
I do not think that I had worked on a play since high school that used real guns onstage.
Unlike "The King and I" we did not fire any of the rifles but did use a blank gun for one effect.
During one scene a woman is thrown against a wall and shot.
The wall had been prepared with several small holes drilled through it and half of a plastic bowl attached to the back.
As the woman was thrown against the wall and the gun was fired stage blood was poured into the cup.
The effect was very real but the director always wanted the blackout to come too soon and many in the audience never got to see the blood.
After each show the fake blood was washed off the wall.
Looking over the program I was reminded of the number of good students we had at that time and the good job that they did.
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Monday, October 28, 2013

Under Milkwood, 1988

I am sorry that my current duties have kept me away from adding any Blog posts in a while.
We just finished a nice production of Almost, Maine at Brockport.
This past week I had two music concerts and the student production opens this week.
Back to my life in theatre, so where was I when we last spoke:
In December of 1988 we did a production of Dylan Thomas' Under Milkwood.
Our mainstage theatre is a standard proscenium auditorium and seats 400 but for this production the play was done in our smaller intimate black box theatre which seats only 100.
The seating which is flexible was set up in stadium style, with two sections of seats on opposite sides of the theatre, like a small football field.
The set was simple with the floor covered with carpeting the was cut to the shape of Wales.
I am sure that most people did not know it was suppose to be except an irregular shape on the floor.
The only other set pieces were several 20" high sections of logs used as seats.
And as with many other show over my 32 years at Brockport, I think I still have a few of the logs down in our Basement.
We are lucky as we have a large storage area and are able to save many set pieces that we can reuse.

For our current production of Avenue Q we pulled up some large old window frames that had not been used in over 18 years and took them apart and then re-cut them to make new windows.
I call easily tell that the windows were made years ago by the quality of the wood used to build them.
The wood is almost know free and not warped too much.
Sometimes when I rip new wood on the table saw you can see the wood curl as the blade splits it.
The new show has a big set and I am trying to save money by re-using whatever I can.
I have to weigh how much time and work it will take to tear apart an old set piece and if we will get enough good wood to make it worth the effort.
The old windows came apart fairly easily and already have been made into six new window frames.

Back to Under Milkwood.
Written as a radio drama it was adapted for the stage in 1954 and called a play for voices.
We were lucky as we had an actress cats in the play who was Welsh and was very helpful with the Welsh language and terms used in the play.
A small cast, only about half of them were students and the rest were faculty and staff members from various department on campus.

Only about half of the play was acted out while several actors read narration standing at podiums.
The same director would use a similar format when we did a production of John Brown's Body some years later.
The lighting was dark, moody and very effective for Under Milkwood but I never was able to get any good photographs of it, but I will post what I have.
This of course was back when we used film in cameras, digital cameras were still years away.
Under Milkwood was very different from most of the plays we had done and I enjoyed it.

I am sure that most of the students who had to see it for class did not like it because they had to pay attention and really listen to what was being said.
But then again even when we do something lighter many of the students who are required to see the plays do not enjoy them either.
I think we might do better with our next play Avenue Q coming up next month.

The plays we did in the spring of 1989 were both very different from  our normal productions and offered unique challenges.
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Monday, September 9, 2013

Remember the 9/11 Heroes

As we come to the twelfth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 I think it is important to take a moment to remember all the heroes that we lost that day. 

I found out a few years ago that I had once met one of those heroes thirty-seven years ago while I was still in college.

He was the twin brother of one of my friends and I enjoyed a few beers and some laughs with him during a visit to Buffalo.

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Please take a minute to remember him and all of those who we lost on 9/11.

Geoffrey E. Guja

Age: 47

Hometown: Lindenhurst, N.Y., USA

Occupation: Firefighter, New York Fire Department

Location: Ground, World Trade Center

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