Just give me a minute…

Posted in NYMF on October 5, 2010 by darylfazio

In the moment. All the gurus—and my dogs—say to live in the moment. And apparently I was doing that so much over the past ten days that I couldn’t even manage a post of reflection on what I was living.

Now that I’ve had a minute (which also involved leaving NYC after the first three performances to return to the South, reclaim my dogs and cats, release my house-sitter and return to “the grid” I fell off of for five weeks) and some distance, I think I can talk about what just happened.

First of all, we opened a show. We hit a wall of exhaustion at the end of the third week of rehearsal, then entered the euphoria of the last few practice run-throughs with costumes and crew before entering our space for the first time to tech and “raise the curtain” (there was no actual curtain) on opening night (Thursday, September 30 at 8 pm).

That last run, the tech run, we got to see the whole thing put together with stops and starts: lights, sound, video projections, orchestrations, the ghetto-ized space that is the American Theatre of Actors on 54th Street.

And, at that point, I couldn’t touch the words anymore. It was going to be what it was going to be. It’s hard to let go when you know the show has more heights in can reach, more clarity it can zing, more character it can shine. But that’s for the next draft. For now, we clap for our accomplishments over three guerilla-style weeks, for our cast who has, collectively and individually, traveled thousands of developmental miles in mere days, for our director and choreographer who made a physical thing out of words and notes, for our stage manager who maintained calm and humor amidst a sea of the usual troubles, for our general manager who kept the peace and the order and made sure people got paid, for our crew and ass-kicking band who dropped in from the air at the end of the whole thing to make sure there was a fully fleshed-out costumed, spotlighted, sound-opped, rockin’ show to watch and hear.

The fun thing that happened in those first few shows was character discovery continuing to be made by our cast. Now that they could really be IN the show from start to finish, they understood who they were and what they were doing. And they were making stuff happen. It was joyful.

And though I can’t read minds, I think they were having fun.

I was having fun too, seeing what was tight or funny or telling a story, while also seeing what could change or morph or be chiseled out in more detail.

As for the audiences during all three of the shows I saw, well, I still can’t read minds. And they weren’t laughing from start to finish. Though they were being plenty catty during the intermission (yes, I’m talking to you four-men-who-should-wait-until-you’re-outside-to-talk-that-loud-because-you-never-know-who’s-sitting-in-front-of-you). I’m in New York. We ain’t in Kansas anymore. And all of that comes with the territory. New York audiences expect to be impressed. Arms crossed. Critical brain antennas fully engaged. Laser eyes of opinion aimed at the stage. You hope, as a writer, you can make them forget all those things and just enjoy themselves. A big goal. But not impossible.

All I can say for sure is that the overall process, while challenging and hard and full of emotional ups and downs, was driven by mutual respect, a love of collaboration, and many, many discoveries. We can’t control audience opinion. We can only make something we’re proud to call ours. And we can live in the moment of making it.

Time and continued development will tell whether POPart has a future life (every audience member who has been or is currently in an art or theatre school LOVED the show and found it to be a joy-filled, spectacularly fun representation of that experience).

For now, it has a current life for three more performances in the ATA in NYC. And it’s living, baby. It’s living.

Killing ’em softly…

Posted in NYMF on September 26, 2010 by darylfazio

How do you know when you’ve officially baked your cast after a long week of work? When there’s random flashing of breasts and giddy giggle attacks alternating with glazed-over blank stares.

Some of Jason Snow’s (Edward) giddiness might have had to do with the fact that he was eating icing out of the tube (that’s how the thea-tuh pulls off someone eating “paint” onstage; and we just cross our fingers that Mr. Snow isn’t diabetic by October 12) and on a red number 5 sugar high. Regardless, he’s a riot (with a lot of nuance starting to develop) and, as Rosie O’Donnell would say, a “cutie-patootie” and will charm the skinny jeans off the audience.

Jillian continues to ride the runaway locomotive that is the role of “Kitty” with grace and determination. She hardly gets to leave the stage, has to have meltdowns, breakthroughs and goofball moments galore, all in the span of a couple of hours. Not to mention singing two huge solos. Jeez. It’s enough to make a writer feel a little guilty for putting an actress through all that. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Ms. Louis, and it’s very rewarding to see her start to have some Kitty-like breakthroughs of her own. And maybe even have some fun. Hint, hint

Monday’s our day “off.” Chad and I, along with cast member’s Holly Hylton and Josh Powell, will begin it at 6:45 am on the Good Morning America set. It’s NYMF day apparently. Tune in. We’ll be there holding signs and acting a fool.

Tuesday is a run-through with costumes. Oh, God, I can’t wait for that. Emmy-winner David Zyla plays a big part in making the fabric (pun intended) of the POPart world fully-woven and realized. And I anticipate it will amp up everyone’s performances, which are already zooming on nitro.

Crawling, walking, running…

Posted in NYMF on September 24, 2010 by darylfazio

My goodness, what a difference a week makes. Last Friday, we were still searching for the thematic and story-oriented core of songs, for why there was so much sex, for when students were gangs and when gangs were students and when the ensemble was homeless or medicated or inspired or downright schizo gangs or students or suburbanites or gangs. Whew.

Now we do our first entire run-through of the show tomorrow, following several rehearsals of crystal-clear-clarity and utterly jubilant celebration of humor and wit and fun. And not nearly as much sex. Now the only sex is…well…innocent. Because this place POPart lives is ultimately a very safe, very crazy, but very safe place where no one experiences any permanent harm and emotional baggage is expressed through unruly make-up application or eating paint, that in a “normal” world, would cause liver damage and brain bleeds.

And we’re ALL starting to get that now. This is fun. We’re having it. The cast is realizing they can really plumb the depths of the crazy without losing their minds or their hearts. Brilliant, they are. Proud, I am. And there’s Yoda again.

A special shout has to go out to Rachel Cantor this week for discovering what a freakin’ riot Veronica is and bringing the house down with every brief appearance. Another one goes out to Zach Clause (Toni-O) who is just effortless in his facility with arch quirk that never calls attention to itself. As we dove into Act Two, Cyrilla Baer finally got to explore Dr. Bore’s multiple layers and delivers every line as though savoring a comedic gem inside a chocolate bon-bon shaped like a vagina. And the teachers have really come into their own as Neva, Josh and Marla have uncovered the human being underneath the gimmick.

In other news, on Thursday, I helped load-in all the lighting and A/V equipment into the ATA Theatre (general manager, Gretchen, and I were the official POPart representatives), and once my muscles stopped barkin’, I noticed that place has 140 seats, about half of which resemble an upholstered roller coaster, and should probably be declared a chiropractic hazard.

Bought your ticket yet??

All’s well that Rock’s well…

Posted in NYMF on September 22, 2010 by darylfazio

Today we had a press event. Only it didn’t involve the new television show The Event, nor were there any press there. So I take issue with the title. But its purpose was to professionally shoot (courtesy of NYMF crews) a couple of numbers from our show so that we can spread the POPart gospel through viral video.

It took place in front of a giant NYMF banner that obscured the “Avenue Q” set on the New World Stages…uh…stage.

Our trio launched the filming with their rendition of WITHOUT US. Sweet and lovely. Then Marla Mindelle rocked everyone’s world with her ensemble back-up on ART IS YOUR ROCK.

Look for video links to come soon!

Honesty. Trust. And other nutritional requirements.

Posted in NYMF on September 17, 2010 by darylfazio

We all have a voice. Writers, directors, stage managers, actors. All of us. And today we used them.

To speak the truth.

Even if that truth is: “what the heck am I supposed to be acting in this scene and why?” (and I’m forced to take a hard look at what’s on the page and either be able to stand behind it and tell the actors why or admit I have no idea; thankfully, in this instance, I DID have an idea)

Once you do that, it’s all out in the open. And trust and discovery are the result. On all sides. We stand together, we lie down together (well…uh…not literally), we breathe together. That’s theatre.

Thus, we forge ahead as a group to clarify and polish and shape the provocative work we’ve done so far (and all the sweat that’s been sweated) with even more mind given to a couple of key moments (trying specifically to crystallize the distinction between the teachers and how the students absorb them) and a character’s purpose for singing or gyrating or just simply going from point A to point B.

That’s why you hire smart actors and a smart team. And that’s why I didn’t want to hand them a script until it was smart too.

Our director, Chad Larabee, is that magic combination of type-A-get-it-done taskmaster and sensitive enabler of character/story/theme. He steers the ship, and we’re all better-off for it. ART IS YOUR ROCK, which was worked the past two days, has me in stitches and gives me chills, alternately. And today, he staged CRIT THIS in record time, leaving plenty of ripe opportunities for our talented character actors to cut loose.

On a side note, in addition to the truth and honesty helpings today, I also gorged on laughing. Now I have to go unbutton my jeans.

Hot for Teacher

Posted in NYMF on September 15, 2010 by darylfazio

Staging day seven saw us getting BE FREE re-railed (as opposed to derailed) with a lot more teacher/student interaction and some side-splitting choreo for our Ms. Hamm as she demonstrates how to let go of all self-judgment and inhibition (apparently, in her case, that involves flitting and leaping about the stage in quick, ballerina-like bursts–something you don’t expect from a mature British school marm). Thanks to Neva Rae Powers for being game for all that silliness.

On day eight, when we should have rested, we instead forged ahead with AH, OUI scene and song. Josh Powell twirls, molests, preaches, postures and mispronounces memorably. It’s like a Tom Jones Vegas act joining an Andy Warhol sex party.

I have no idea why so much of this show has ended up being about sex. Perhaps it’s all the cathartic moments inherent in art relating so nicely to movement and song-related release. Perhaps it’s because, throughout history, so much of art has been either about sex and sexuality or the repression of them (see the Romans and all those ridiculous fig leaves).

Or perhaps we’re just having fun being dirty.

I have a feeling Chad, DJ and I are going to be hearing from the ensemble members’ mothers. And it won’t be in the form of a Hallmark card.

Hitting the wall.

Posted in NYMF on September 13, 2010 by darylfazio

30 hours, director Chad Larabee tells me. “We’ve gotten a lot done in 30 hours of rehearsal.”

60% of the way staged through Act I and the biggest, most complex production numbers out of the way, I can say it didn’t feel like 30 hours at all. But I wasn’t learning choreography, developing a character, or realizing a directorial vision of this complex comedy. I was just drinking it all in.

On Sunday, there was choreo of BE FREE with the delightful Neva Rae Powers added in as mother hen and drawing teacher, Ms. Hamm. With a “nude” model at its center, a lot of careful and creative staging has to happen to constantly obscure his…um…yes…from the audience. At some point, we might have lost the song’s emotional and storytelling core, though, which is about a teacher inspiring her scared, suspicious and hesitant class. We think we know at precisely what beat that happens, so the creatives at the helm have already devised a path, which is also going to inform the other two teacher numbers. I expect clear sailing. And lots of fun.

After a quick birthday celebration for Jason Michael Snow (there were cupcakes), the rest of the day was spent with full-cast running the first five scenes–everything staged up to that point. For the first time ever in one continuous string. With a guest accompanist. That’s where the wall showed up. Mostly erected by sheer burnt-outedness, mentally and physically, of our leads and ensemble, choreographer and director (I don’t count myself; I sit at a table; you can’t get burnt out sitting at a table and getting to watch people do stuff you wrote down on a page).

There was an audible smack as the “lets see what we have!” excitement of doing all those scenes and songs in one fell swoop ran into a solid brick structure with the giant words: “Take a break now. You need it. There is much work yet still to do.” Yeah, it’s a wordy, kind of annoying wall with a Yoda complex.

We’ll all come back Tuesday revived, refreshed and toting rock-busting pick-axes.

I love all this. Have I mentioned that?

An Education…

Posted in NYMF, Writing on September 11, 2010 by darylfazio

I write stuff down. I hear it in my head. Sometimes I even read it aloud. If I keep it in the script, it means it sounds good. To me. Because I know where I’m coming from.

The actors and director who don’t live inside my brain don’t have the benefit–or curse–of knowing where I’m coming from. And, thus, they expose the cracks in the wall, the chinks in the armor, and the out-and-out holes.

And that’s a good thing.

Shine, Kitty, Shine in rehearsal...fear and isolation...

Because if it ain’t honest, they can’t do it. Not well. And these are professionals. And they insist on doing it well. Thank God.

Today, we worked on scenes and, in the process, character (here’s a drawing of Jillian in SHINE, KITTY, SHINE; the red neon glow is imaginary at this stage). Kitty, Toni-O and Edward showed me the delightful nuances of their getting to know each other. They made me look good, because they took the lines on the page that were just words trying to be funny or advance a story, and they gave them a soul (which reminded me again why I write plays and not fiction–because I love that moment when it’s a collaboration to make a person whole). Some things I realized when I was writing the scene; others the director, with the actors under his watchful eye, SHOWED me. Goosebumps? Yes, please.

A sketch by Adinah...

Added into the mix were Adinah Alexander (who made this completely surreal drawing of a cat-person while working the subway scene) and Tim Warmen, as mother/homeless woman and father/homeless man respectively.

The homeless couple took on layers today that I never anticipated–in addition to us deciding that Kitty is the only one who hears them, Tim also suggested (and so it was played with in the scene work) that the three of them become this distorted but oddly close family unit.

The script was quite fluid during that work. A lot of little edits happened today, either out of improvisation in the moment, or out of discussion. It was easy to rewrite, because it was honest. And motivated. And rich, rich stuff.

And to avoid getting too touchy-feely or overly precious and self-congratulatory, I thought I’d mention that at the end of the day, the ensemble, when told during SMELLS LIKE ART to be dangerous and pull focus, improvised a crack-filled orgy that also involved hair-braiding, and it’s forever seared into my retinas.

Director, Chad, had a response something like this: “Uh. I’m not too sure about the hair-braiding.”

Ah. Collaboration.

Good things always come in threes…

Posted in NYMF on September 10, 2010 by darylfazio

Today we (see how I put myself in there, like I was actually dancing and choreographing?) worked three dance numbers (I BLEND IN, SMELLS LIKE ART and a new one: BE FREE).

Featuring our three ridiculously good leads. Good? No, splendid. Three quirky individuals with hearts and atom-splitting comic timing, that Jillian, Zach and Jason are. I can’t get enough of watching them work off each other, bond, and become. Today, Jillian and Jason also had their character chats, and that, as always, was as enlightening for me as for them—Edward in particular is a challenging creation, but Jason came to some really nice conclusions about how to get at his contradictions; and Jillian is completely inhabiting Kitty’s un-hipness.

Then there are our three female and three male preposterously committed and funny ensemble members. Jose, you slay me. Yes, that’s right, I pulled the term “slay” out of the 1980s vault and used it. There it is. Deal with it. Holly, unconscious prostitutes have never made such an impression. Jamaal, my god, you as nude model, Hugo, should be illegal in six states. Don’t ever change.

Amanda, Justin and Rachel, how do you dance like demons for six hours, have to “act” like ten different characters simultaneously, and not even break a sweat? You’re masterful.

BE FREE was a thrill to watch take shape, as a multitude of possible ways to cover up the nude model’s nether-regions with a sketchbook were explored. And how many times can that nude model inappropriately wink at and solicit the students? I wish art school HAD really been like this.

Tomorrow we get to dig into some scene work.

In the meantime, since I didn’t accomplish a drawing of my own worth posting, here’s one by Cy Twombly (look him up; he takes childlike spontaneity to a new level). Jillian as Kitty made many fake sketches today when she was supposed to be drawing the piece that gets her into art school. They actually looked a lot like this. Perhaps Jillian can add art to her list of “special skills”?

What smells?

Posted in NYMF on September 9, 2010 by darylfazio

Choreography. And it smells damn good. As DJ brought movement to the ghetto today, a comment wafted through the room from director, Chad Larabee: “Ensemble, it’s like you’re the Solid Gold dancers if they came back after 30 years, homeless and deranged.” Solid Gold, indeed.

The "Smells Like Art" Dancers, in action...

The dance is a “salsa-disco”, as we’re fond of calling it. And DJ does it up right, with touches of tango accented by punching, rump-slapping and the occasional grind (our ensemble, Holly, Amanda, Rachel, Jamaal, Justin and Jose were certainly up to it; aren’t they sweet?). For Kitty’s first introduction to what’s outside of the suburbs, SMELLS LIKE ART is delivering danger, oddity and just the right amount of lascivious inspiration. I did my best to capture a few moves with some quick gesture drawings. This version is PG-rated.

Before the gyrating began, Zach, Chad and I talked about Toni-O and where he comes from. Zach is lovely—funny and kind, gentle but not afraid to get dirty—and has some strong instincts about why Toni-O paints, how school makes him feel and the nature of his burgeoning relationships with Kitty and Edward. He also had ideas about where Toni-O comes from, both literally and emotionally, and how that affects his accent, which perhaps isn’t the least bit genuine, but more of an outfit he’s trying on. I’ve had that feeling too, and I look forward to the unfolding of Zach’s Toni-O before my very eyes.