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.

“snowed-under” day

Posted in NYMF, Writing on September 8, 2010 by darylfazio

I had a Sophie’s choice (what? too soon?) today where it was either rehearsal or play catch-up with the real world. I chose the latter, since I’ve been footing some of the bill for this show myself, and folks gotta get paid. However, I also did some rewrites that give me a sense of satisfaction. Most notably the end speeches by Dr. Bore and a streamlining of Kitty and Toni-O’s first meeting. Jeez, I can be long-winded. I don’t mean now, I mean…in…the…script. And…maybe now.

The report from heir director is that the first day of staging went off like firecrackers. DJ, our choreographer, made I BLEND IN into a sort of physical ode to the ordinary, so that Kitty could, well, blend in. I hear things about brushing teeth and walking dogs. And some choreo that was so enthusiastic, it had the women worried about a wardrobe malfunction. Costume designer, the incomparable David Zyla, texted from Los Angeles (and, one presumes, the set of the soap opera he costumes; note my tone as I try unsuccessfully to avoid sounding star-struck; the fact that he got Armani Exchange to donate all the duds for the art students might also have something to do with it) and gently put those concerns to rest. I’ll get to see all this movement for myself on Sunday when they do a stumble-through of that scene plus the other four they’ll stage over the next few days.

On to SMELLS LIKE ART tomorrow, starting off with a “character chat” with Zach Clause, our Toni-O. I love chats.

You know what rhymes with chat? Rat. And I saw one running up and down the exterior window frame of a restaurant I was dining in on 9th Ave. Now THAT smells like art.

Read it and weep.

Posted in NYMF, Writing on September 7, 2010 by darylfazio

We read it. The whole thing. Sang it too. No weeping. From start to finish.

The entire cast was in the same room today. Reading and singing and not weeping. It was a beautiful thing. Not the show yet, since this was the first time reading the thing at all for a few of our cast, and there’s a helluva lot happening in this musical at all times. But the promise it holds makes me feel like I’m running through a field of daisies. And perhaps being pursued by a human-sized copy of the libretto with little feet sticking out from the bottom of the plastic black binder.

So, yeah, mixed feelings. Great ones about the cast, chosen by me and Chad and Aaron and DJ (our choreographer) with such care and thought, so we could watch talent and fearlessness oozing from their pores. Tim Warmen, you’re a beast. Josh Powell, holy smokes. Zach Clause, you break my heart and bust my gut simultaneously. Cyrilla Baer, there are no words. Marla Mindelle, if I were drinking milk while you were singing, it would be coming out of my nose. I could go on and on and on and on. But won’t just yet.

The new Act II opener is a winner (guttural “uh”s make anything good, don’t they?), for sure, though. And the whole piece is feeling sleek and trim.

The flip-side of my feelings aren’t bad ones, just questions. We have some work to do on those art gangs (did I mention there are gangs in POPart who worship Michelangelo, Rothko and O’Keeffe and use that as a reason to confront and rumble with each other? does that give you pause, dear reader?) to get them to fit more snugly into the proceedings. And I’m wondering also about the epilogues.

The work is the point, of course. The actors are clearly ready to bring everything they’ve got. It humbles me, and it makes me damn-well responsible for ensuring the libretto can take it over the next three weeks and six performances.

And if there’s any weeping (and maybe a little peeing), let’s hope it’s the kind that’s squeezed out by way too much laughing.

Don’t feed the actors.

Posted in NYMF on September 3, 2010 by darylfazio

Today, with my little digital camera poised gleefully at the rehearsal scene, I was informed that Actors’ Equity won’t let me take photos of their union members. Even though when I saw our Kitty, Edward and Toni-O sitting in a row together for the first time, it was like witnessing the planets align. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Since this is a show about art, I’m contemplating some court reporter-style drawings. Perhaps one during each rehearsal.

None today though.

I was too busy enjoying a discussion with Jason Michael Snow (and director Chad and MD Andrew) about exactly what IS on Edward’s mind during WATCH THE BIRDY. Jason’s crystalline tenor soars and explores the depths at the same time. Perfect for Edward’s light-meets-dark approach to life. Bring on the revelations! I expect a few over the coming weeks (which is why a printer will be present in every rehearsal, so I can crank out rewrites if the revelations reveal the presence of crappiness).

Many other songs were learned and sung, as Jason was joined by Jillian and Zach, then the ensemble. They sat within the taped-out lines of our staging area, while the real set materialized (in panels of urban faux-brick on one side and vivid artwork on the other) over in a corner of the room. Yep, the set was delivered today, just as Chad said it always would be, so that the actors can learn to play nicely with it, shaping spaces by shifting them on casters.

We start staging on Tuesday. That’s when the pedal hits the metal, as Kitty would say. That’s when it’s not just words anymore, it’s action.

Minus the camera.

A first day

Posted in Uncategorized on September 2, 2010 by darylfazio

Today it began. Talented, interesting human beings we chose to play fake but interesting characters gathered in a room on West 48th Street, between 8th and 9th Ave., and learned songs from POPart so they can, in three weeks time, open a show.

Thank you for your work today, Holly, Jamaal, Amanda, Rachel, Josh, Justin, Jose, Marla, Zach, Jason and Jillian, led by musical director, Andrew. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching people do what they do best.

Tomorrow more music. A quick break for Labor Day and Hurricane Earl. Then Tuesday we’ll strap on our water wings and move onto the on-your-feet stuff, scene work, character work, and putting the whole mish-mash together.

I’ve been in New York since Sunday (today being Thursday). I’ve pseudo-mastered the subway and obscuring my yokel-ness. I’ve seen the MoMA (the POPart and Contemporary floor was closed for renovations; yes, the entire floor) and the Guggenheim. I’ve seen a 70-year old sinewy bald man carrying a Yorkshire terrier in a pink snuggly on his chest. And I’ve just seen my libretto take its first breath as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

Life. Is. Being. Alive.