by William Bolz, Advisory Company
Essentially, tech is when the magic of theater is created through hours and hours of exacting, repetitive, painstaking work.
As I write this, we are in the thick of a technical rehearsal for the play The Other Place. I'm sure many readers of this blog know this already, but tech is that wonderful time in the rehearsal of a production when the elements of scenery, lights, sound and costumes are brought together with the actors. I generally enjoy the tech process, as an actor. People care less about my acting abilities and more about how I reflect light. Or whether I can even find my light.
For a show like this, tech tends to take a long time. The play is written as a seamless piece, with scenes blending into each other instantaneously, moving through time and space with a thought. These transitions are mostly shown with a change of light, but that has to be coordinated with a cue line, and perhaps another character's entrance, maybe with a sound effect, so it quickly escalates into a sort of four-dimensional Rubik's cube. An actor with more than one costume can end up changing clothes an alarming number of times in one day, or one hour. One soon begins to appreciate the talismanic power of the phrase, "OK, let's reset and try that again."
When you see the show, you won't be watching the changes, of course, no matter how complicated. You may not even really see them happen at all. You'll be caught up in the story. That is what makes the work and repetition of tech work worthwhile, and ultimately satisfying. In the case of The Other Place, all these technical elements combine with the acting and directing to create a very beautiful, intensely moving piece of theater, of which I am proud to be a part. I hope you'll enjoy it, too.
by Georgina McKee, Advisory Company
Photo by Ross Zentner
In trying to write this post, I have come accept the fact that I don’t know how to talk about this play. I don’t want to talk about it actually, I think it’s best to leave things unsaid. I don’t even think I could talk about it in a way that would bring it to life well, it has to be experienced. It is a powerful story that should be shared in that sacred space and time of live performance. My only regret in being part of the cast, is that I won’t get to sit in the audience and watch the story unfold! Which means, that I am envious of the experience our audiences will have. That being said, I will try to share a few thoughts I have had about the process.
When I first read The Other Place over a year ago, I fell in love with it and felt that it was a perfect fit for Forward. We read many plays in search of the right season selection, and we spend a lot of time discussing each one at our monthly meetings. I love few things more than sitting around that table with a group of passionate and articulate people, having deep and touching conversations about plays…what a joy! When it came time to read and discuss The Other Place, I was curious to hear everyone’s opinion. Once we had decided to add it to our season, I was excited to see how we would produce it. When I was cast in the show, I was thrilled to be on the inside of the process. I have been looking forward to starting rehearsals for some time now, and my hopes and expectations have not been disappointed!
As I sat around the table at our first rehearsal, I was reminded of why I am so proud to be part of Forward Theater. That room was full of smart and curious people who are passionate about story telling and community engagement. Whether it is an audience member who stays for the talk back to share an insight, or a member of the Advisory Company bursting at the seams to plan an upcoming event, Forward cultivates relationships that create strong, relevant, dynamic and challenging art. Our upcoming production of The Other Place is no exception. It is everything you want in a play. It is funny, challenging, honest, smart, surprising, touching…it has all the best elements of good story telling. And having been in rehearsal for just under a week, I can attest to our passion and commitment to doing this great script justice.
One of the things I love about this play, and something that makes it unique for a contemporary play, is White’s use of punctuation. He is very specific about each mark, much like Shakespeare. A period is very different than a comma and it is clear on the page that each choice is deliberate and purposeful. Navigating that as an actor is both challenging and comforting. The challenge is in making your choices adhere to his road map, to need and justify the space an ellipses provides as you search for your next word. Yet, in the same breath, the very fact that White has provided such a clear map, creates some ease, a little less ambiguity about his intention in a given moment. Some playwrights fit well in my mouth, that is to say their writing pattern feels natural and similar to my own speech pattern. White doesn’t come naturally necessarily, but by adhering to his punctuation, I am learning who he wrote these characters to be. I try to come back to the page when I get confused or am questioning my intentions in a given moment. I think that will continue to be a large part of my work in this process—using each comma, ellipses and period to inform my choices.
One of my favorite parts of working on a play is table work, discussing the play and reading through it out loud with the cast and director. Sitting around the table for a few days allows us to dissect the story and create some history that may not be on the page. We get to ask questions of each other about our characters’ thoughts and intentions, their experiences beyond what the playwright provides. This isn’t information that you the audience will really ever know, but it helps us to create more robust and authentic people for you to witness. It is a very satisfying creative aspect of working on a play, writing bits of historical fiction to fill out a character or answer any questions that might arise from what the playwright has written. There is so much humanity in this play, so much depth and complexity to these relationships, it is a pleasure to bring them to life.
Because there is so much wonderful mystery in this story, so much that we discover at the same time the audience does, it is helpful for us as actors to have the whole picture while we work. That way we know exactly what we know and when we know it, within the world of the play. It is a tricky occupation, the business of creating a ‘true’ false reality and fabricating authentic and organic experiences…it is truly…a mystery.
I can’t wait to share this story with our audiences and to hear their experiences and thoughts about it . Thank you for the opportunity to be part of this wonderful production and I look Forward to seeing you all in the theater!
by Kathie Nichols, FTC Board President
Thanksgiving is behind us, but the Holiday Season is far from over. And I like to think of this entire period of time as an opportunity to count blessings and to express gratitude for things that enrich my life. High on that list for me is Forward Theater Company. Little did I know six years ago (when I agreed to serve on the company’s first Board of Directors) that this amazing company and this incredible group of people would—quite literally—change my life! I found myself surrounded by gifted theater professionals (of all stripes) and by people who love theater with a passion that nearly knows no bounds. Everyone invested their precious time, energy and financial support to help this newborn theater get off the ground. This energy, dedication and sense of shared purpose propelled us forward (yes, I know; it’s hard not to use that word). And now here we are - a full-fledged, local, professional theater company thriving in Madison, WI!
There is something magical about Forward’s story. Theater is “magic-making” at its best, and Forward has made plenty of magic on the stage in its short history. But Forward’s very existence is magical: a group of grieving theater professionals decided to start a new theater company in the midst of a severe recession. Who thought that was a good idea??? It wasn’t (on the face of it). But you couldn’t tell that to those people gathered around Celia Klehr’s famous kitchen table. They were all about the magic! And the creativity….and the transformative potential of artistic endeavor. So they would not hear “no” or “that’s unrealistic” or “that’s impossible”. They only heard, “Forward!”
So at this magical time of year, I want to wish you blessings and all the best during the holidays and in the New Year. And I’m saying a special word of thanks for the “little theater company that could”. Forward!
by Nicholas Harazin
Nick Harazin and Marcus Truschinski in 'Sons of the Prophet' (photo by Zane Williams)
Musings of a Minnesotan; turned Wisconsinite; living in Chicago:
A home away from home, nestled between the city I originate from and that which I reside in now, Madison marks a place to which I return almost every year.
I only am able to do this because the incredibly talented people at Forward Theater continue to hire me, and allow me to be a small portion of their overall workings to engage the community at large.
Honestly, as an artist I value the work Forward produces. When asked in Chicago about why I travel here to do work, I tell them that the artists are intelligent, talented, and brimming with vitality. I trust the Forward team to choose thought-provoking, subtle, pulsating plays that both tell the story of a community, and also challenge their way of thinking.
This trust comes only from having had the great fortune to work on Farnsworth Invention, Sons of the Prophet, and currently From Up Here. Beginning with time in the rehearsal room, but culminating in what I believe to be the most important and vibrant part of Forward's work in Madison: the dialogue created and completed by having a talkback after EVERY performance.
Nowhere else have I worked with a theater company which actively and continually seeks to engage, listen and in many cases be challenged by their audience in hopes of becoming both better artists and better citizens within the community. By far, this is my favorite part of my time in Madison.
Often times theaters will boast their community outreach, but very rarely do I find they have an accurate idea of how they are reaching that community. But here in Madison, I see more people stay afterwards to ask questions, probe issues, and create a real dialogue that I hope to the gods goes well beyond the walls of the theater.
Nowhere else, do I see this number of people talk back to a theater company and ask questions of 'why?' or ' how can this be fixed?'
I commend Forward Theater for having the idea for these talkbacks, but I am floored and honored to be asked to engage with you as an audience every time the curtain comes down at the end of a show. Its the main reason I change out of costume so fast. To get out and talk with you.
And From Up Here has been no different. Hearing an audience that is consciously aware of young people and violence in schools, bullying and the subtleties thereof, and wondering how they can be better about ' taking care of their own,' meaning not simply their own children, but the youth as a whole within their community is a miraculous thing to behold. And I behold it every night we perform. Every night we speak with you after.
So I guess these musings serve as more of a thank you or love letter to the people of Madison. Forward-thinking people whose hearts and minds are open to being challenged but willing to fight for their own beliefs. A group of avid citizens who strive to be better, both for themselves and their neighbors. And much like the Barrett family in From Up Here, it is a community that when it sees something that needs to be addressed, fixed, illuminated, it circles its wagons, galvanizes itself, and works toward the goal together.
It is the reason I trust Forward Theater when I work here. The reason I love Madison for the short time I live here. It is the reason I feel honored to share a moment in your lives as you generously allow me to tell you a story and then afterward you tell me yours. I take those stories with me through the world, feeding subsequent communities with similar grace, example and generosity as you have fed me.
My many thanks for having me here.
I hope to see you at the theater this weekend. Our final chance to share From Up Here.