One of the cool things about Atlanta is all the local playwrights, and the opportunity to perform their work with the playwright in the audience. That was the case with Evelyn In Purgatory by Topher Payne. Mr. Payne is a good friend of Becca Parker, the artistic director of the theatre, and he showed up for a matinee.
But I get ahead of myself.
Evelyn In Purgatory is the story of Evelyn Reid, a New York City school teacher who finds herself awaiting a disciplinary hearing with a bunch of other castoffs from the public school system. The play was staged by Live Arts Theatre, directed by Becca Parker and D Norris, and featuring (among others) me as Lila Wadkins, an erstwhile hippie-turned-art-teacher awaiting her own hearing for, ahem, insubordination.
I was a little apprehensive about doing another show at Live Arts after the hell that was Virginia Woolf, but this production suffered none of the setbacks and roadblocks that plagued that show. Thank the theatre gods for small mercies. (Incidentally, that production of Woolf has now entered local theatre lore. I can’t even count how many actors/techies I’ve met since the show closed who, once they find out I was in it, come back with “Oooooooh! I heard about that…” But I digress.)
Evelyn‘s rehearsals ran smoothly and efficiently, direction and notes were clear and straightforward, and the directors were able to accommodate my conflicts because I was rehearsing and performing the Tapas festival at the same time. The best thing, though, is my character was a knitter. I spent the majority of my on-stage time with knitting needles in my hand. It was fabulous.
Once we opened, we had great audiences, and even sold out a couple of performances. We got this glowing review from a local director, and we were nominated for several awards.
Last Saturday was the Live Arts Theatre awards ceremony, also known as “The Livelys.” Much to our surprise, we won! A lot! Five awards went to our production:
Best Supporting Actor: Rodney L. Johnson Best Actress in a Leading Role: Cat Roche Best Director: Becca Parker and D Norris Best Ensemble: Evelyn in Purgatory Favorite Production: Evelyn in Purgatory
All in all, a much better experience than my last at Live Arts. I’ll go back there again. Assuming they’ll have me.
Yes, I know. But I did another play — well, two more plays — since Old Love closed in February.
First, I went to Unified Auditions, a metro Atlanta cattle call held in March. That was an experience! I was fine waiting in the green room for my turn on the big stage. I went out there, did my thing, and then… well, I was going to let the video tell the story, but I still have a free WordPress account and it doesn’t support video. Essentially, I nearly cried when I got off stage after my monologues because the nervousness hit me all at once. But I plan on applying for Unified again next year.
Anyway, shortly afterwards, I got a callback from Academy Theatre, one of the companies in attendance at Unified, to read for Tapas, their series of short plays. I was subsequently cast in a ten-minute short called “For the Love of Noodles.” In this piece, a couple in their 50s who pride themselves on their open-mindedness and progressive politics come face to face with their adult daughter’s new love interest…and let’s just say it doesn’t go well. I wish I had some decent production photos, but all I can find are two rather blurry rehearsal photos:
Tapas ran in June. In the middle of that show, I was cast in another show, a full-length production called Evelyn in Purgatory, which ran in July. That blog entry will have to wait until I get hold of the production photos, currently in the hands of the theatre’s artistic director who is editing them.
In between all this stagework, I’ve been reading and knitting and acquiring more yarn. Blog entries on those subjects will be forthcoming.
After Virginia Woolf closed, I moped around the house for days. I really really missed that show and that cast. After about a week, I decided the best cure for a show hangover was another show, and so I auditioned for and was cast in Staged Right Theatre‘s production of Old Love by Norm Foster.
Old Love is the story of Molly Graham and Bud Mitchell, two mature adults who find themselves navigating love and loss and relationships at an unexpected time of their lives. Molly is recently widowed; Bud is long divorced. Bud met and became infatuated with Molly many years ago, and now that her husband (his former boss) is deceased, he thinks the time is right to make his move. But Molly has no memory of ever meeting Bud, and certainly is not prepared for him to ask her out to dinner while standing at her husband’s graveside.
Yep, it’s a comedy. And a pretty funny one, once you get past the stalking angle. Much of the story is told in flashback, with two other actors playing the younger versions of Bud and Molly.
The road of this production from rehearsal to performance wasn’t nearly as rocky as Virginia Woolf‘s had been, but we had some challenges. First of all, the weather. It was fucking FREEZING in our rehearsal space, which is only to be expected because it was below freezing outside. We got hit with a couple of snowstorms; in Atlanta, that means everything comes to a dead stop. So we missed a couple of rehearsals due to weather. And our director got the flu, so we missed a couple of rehearsals because he was down for the count.
Generally speaking, though, it was a relatively drama-free production. We even got a really nice review. As mentioned in that review, though, we had to change venues in the middle of the run. Apparently the church that lent us their performance space forgot to write down that we needed it for two weekends, and booked over us on the second weekend of the run. So, while we were in the middle of opening weekend, the artistic director and the producers were frantically searching for another venue that could let us in at the last minute so we could continue performances for the second weekend. They found one, thank goodness, and my family and friends who had tickets for that weekend were able to see the show after all.
Remember I said “relatively drama-free”? Aside from the mid-run venue change, the chief drama happened on our Saturday performance at the new venue. We lost power near the end of Act 2. Instant pitch dark. Nick and Ilene were onstage in the middle of a big scene and were utterly frozen. They couldn’t even see enough to move off the set. Amazingly, our audience came to the rescue by pulling out their cellphones and using the flashlight function to light the stage. We finished the rest of the show by cellphone light. And we even made the news because of it!
Here are few more performance shots from the show. I hope you like them!
The other day I mentioned I’d been absent from this blog for the same reason as the last several times I went AWOL for a few months: I was cast in a play, and what a play it was: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee. As Martha. My dream role.
That was last August. Our performances were in late October, early November. What a rocky road this production had!
I was the second actor cast as Martha, because the first actor backed out after the initial read-through, telling the director she wasn’t “comfortable” with the subject matter. Who the hell auditions for and ACCEPTS a role in a play without knowing what the play is about? And a world-famous play at that? Apparently this woman did. So the director called me and I leaped at the chance. I had been waiting until I was old enough to play Martha since I first read the play sometime in the 1980s. I had big footsteps to fill.
I was not the only cast member change, however. The original Nick didn’t like the original Martha, and he backed out. The original Honey also left because her parents’ home had been destroyed in the Houston flooding after Hurricane Harvey, and she needed to go down there to help them sort out their lives. Only the original George was left standing.
While our director auditioned for a new Nick and Honey, Edwin (playing George) and I began rehearsals. A few days later, Jamie (Honey) and Josh (Nick) joined us. And we were complete.
Then the real trouble began. Our director gave us strange line readings and odd blocking. He had us wandering randomly all over the stage with no real reason for the movement. He cut rehearsal short and left promptly at 9:30 or earlier every evening, often in the middle of a scene. And then would want to start the scene exactly where we left off when we returned the following evening, instead of at the beginning so we could build the emotion and energy again.
As actors, we became increasingly frustrated at these artificial restrictions and interruptions to our flow. I mean, it wouldn’t kill anyone if we stayed an extra 10 minutes or so past the scheduled end of rehearsal to finish out a scene, would it? And thus, the inevitable happened.
Woolf War I — the Bergen incident
One night, I arrived at rehearsal a little early. Edwin and our director were already there, deep into a disagreement over the pronunciation of a word. In the show, George delivers a monologue about his time in prep school when he went out with a group of young men, and one of the young men mishears the word “bourbon” and orders a “bergen” instead. Edwin pronounced it with a hard G. The director corrected him and said it should be a soft G instead. Edwin disagreed and explained his reasoning (with the hard G, it sounds more like “bourbon” than with a soft G, and besides, everyone who’s ever done this play, including the original Broadway production, pronounced it with the hard G). The director insisted. I don’t know who raised his voice first, but voices were raised, and both men lost their tempers. Much yelling ensued. I bailed out the rehearsal room and literally hid in a corner until the argument was over.
Sometime later, we were off book. For those of you unfamiliar with the process, “off book” means we deliver lines from memory instead of reading from the script. The first few days off book are always rough, and actors generally “call” for a line with some frequency — that means we’re asking the stage manager to give us our next line because we can’t come up with it on our own.
That’s the whole point, though: we ask for the line. On purpose. Unless you had our director. At every pause, however minute, he jumped in and gave us our line, whether we asked for it or not. We asked him repeatedly to let us struggle for it and call for it as needed. He ignored us. And thus occurred…
Woolf War II — Don’t give me a fucking line until I ask for it
Edwin, bless his heart, lost it one night after one too many unrequested lines given. All four of us were fed up; Edwin was just the most vocal about it. If I thought Woolf War I was bad, then this was bad times 10, because the director escalated it unnecessarily, yelling and screaming and tossing the script on the floor. At one point, Edwin walked out and we all followed him down the hall as one of the producers was on the phone to the theatre’s artistic director about the argument. I overheard him say, “Oh great, now the whole cast is leaving…”
We didn’t leave. We stopped at the end of the hall; we all took a few deep breaths; we talked to the producer for a little while who then mediated a conversation with the director; and then we went back to rehearsal. We finished out the night, the director left, and the cast went out for a drink.
That was the first time we had got together outside rehearsal: our first time to be able to talk as a group about our hopes and dreams and ideas and thoughts about this production without a member of the theatre staff within earshot. It was an excellent bonding experience.
The next night our director didn’t show up. We rehearsed anyway. He didn’t show the rest of the week. We rehearsed anyway. A full week after Woolf War II, the artistic director told us the director wouldn’t be coming back and she would take over directing the show.
Well, that didn’t happen, exactly. The artistic director came to a few rehearsals and gave us a few notes, but she was in the middle of auditioning, casting, and directing the show that would immediately follow ours, so we ended up directing ourselves for the most part. Thank the theatre gods for Edwin and his extensive theatre training and background, not to mention his contacts throughout the Atlanta theatre community. Several of his friends came to our rehearsals and provided guidance and direction and suggestions for improvement. We fixed the weird blocking and changed the odd line readings. On a personal level, I am especially grateful to Edwin’s friend Esther, who gave me invaluable advice and helped me through a few difficult spots with Martha’s character.
All this turmoil, unfortunately, resulted in the theatre’s decision to delay our opening by one week because we just weren’t ready. Josh had gotten physically ill a couple of nights — we later discovered the water we had been drinking throughout every scene was, um, not good. So he missed a couple of rehearsals due to illness. It’s a miracle the rest of us didn’t become ill. Lines were still rough; the set wasn’t completely built and dressed; our costumes hadn’t been settled; the sound and light design was barely sketched out. We did two previews to accommodate family and friends who were coming from out of town to view the show on its original opening weekend. Those previews went really well and gave us hope for the following weekend and our actual opening.
And then we went on
Opening weekend was almost anti-climactic after all the drama that preceded it. We had very small houses, unfortunately, but we played our heart out every night. You can read a review of our show here.
I’m not ashamed to say I think it’s the best work I’ve ever done. My Martha was deeply deeply sad; she hurt people because she was hurt. It was a challenge and a privilege to bring that out and present it to the audience. I gave our patrons two acts that made them hate her, and one act that broke their heart.
The Sunday after our final performance, the cast went to the theatre one last time to strike the set, and then we went out to dinner. I cried when we parted afterward. I don’t usually get misty when a show ends, but this show was different. My life is irrevocably altered; Jamie, Joshua, and Edwin are forever a part of me.
Goodbye, Martha, you poor misunderstood little girl. Playing you was an experience I’ll never forget. Maybe someday I’ll get to be you again. I’m willing if the universe is.