Friday, October 10, 2008

Doomsday Review (10/2/08)

Think the United States’ financial institutions and mortgage meltdowns of the last few weeks are bad? What if the world as you knew it was imploding around you with riots, destruction, fires, and violence? How would you survive or make sense of it? Could you stay positive and find hope?

First Light Players’ fine presentation of “Doomsday" features moving acting and intelligent writing to focus on how people face personal and societal apocalypse, finding faith in a better tomorrow.Frank (Greg Beastrom), owner of a downtown bar, and his employee Gigi (Trista Robinson) late one night find themselves inundated with people fleeing riots, fires, loss of power, and violence enflaming their city. Each has suffered tragic loss and searches for answers about how to move on. Can they help each other survive the night and their neuroses as well?Writer Beastrom keeps the dialogue extremely realistic with heated and coarse language. His story reveals its spiritual message in an understated, natural way.Director Cathy Holbrook makes fine use of the facility’s lack of backstage space by running the action down the center aisle, bringing a dynamic and realistic aspect to the piece. She draws fine work from the production staff, whose down-to-earth bar is spot on.A thoughtful, visceral story about what it means to spread love and forgiveness to yourself and others, “Doomsday” reveals that one can find hope in tragic circumstances by helping others and keeping the faith.

Doomsday! Closing Weekend

So it's Friday after closing weekend. I'm just now getting back to normal. Seriously, it takes a few days to decompress and get your head back into a good place.

Last weekend was awesome. We had a weak show Friday night. OK weak for this cast, which means it was still a great show! Saturday night rocked! Then came Sunday afternoon. North Hollywood was holding it's Arts Festival during the day Sunday. That meant we had to open our doors and allow the community in for free, those who had gotten free tickets from the booth up a few block on Lankershim. North Hollywood has a theater district there along with various art galleries and what not. So during the Arts Festival everyone opens their doors to promote the arts in the area.

So we were a bit concerned whether we were going to have an audience or not. Cathy and I got to the ticket booth early at around 10:30 AM and started handing out fliers as people gathered to get their tickets. There were others there doing the same. The line grew until it was down the street. OK. So we kept at it until we were out of fliers. There was a big board at the booth listing all the shows, maybe 15 or 20, one of which had a big SOLD OUT written on it. I wondered if we could "sell out" as well. So we decided to head back to the theater and check out the shows that were on stage before ours. There was an improv group that did a good job. They were funny. Then we got a bite to eat across the street but missed the next show because it took FOREVER to get our sandwiches. By then Trista (Gigi in the play) had joined us, so we had a leisurely lunch and got back to the theater just in time to set up for our show.

About 30 minutes before we were to open our doors, Brendan (Pete in the play) arrived having just come from the ticket booth. He indicated they had written "SOLD OUT" on our show on the big board, so we were going to have a full house! An audience that wasn't generally made up of family and friends. I was very curious. Could we play to the general community the same way we play to those that generally know us. Yes, we had been reviewed from opening night. And the review was an awesome one! One of our best ever. But I still wasn't sure.

So the house was full. The show began and, again, it rocked! The audience was laughing in all the right spots. They seemed to just eat it up! Great show! And great response! Everything went really well. So I was very excited. Here was a show that was so different from anything we've done, and people were loving it. Sunday night's show was good as well, but I think everyone was a bit tired. So it seemed a little slow. Again, with this cast, it was still a great show. All in all, a wonderful weekend!

So what now. Well, Friday night after the show, Diana and I sat down with Kayla (Tru in the play) and had a great discussion about the possibility of turning Doomsday into a film. Kayla has worked in the industry for many years in varying capacities including filmmaking. As I shared with her my desire to turn the play into a film, she got very excited and told me she saw the play as a film the first time she read it. At that point the ideas seemed to flow and I walked away from the conversation with a sense of direction. My next step is turning the script into a screenplay. Then Kayla and I will go over the script and do a "polish" which is industry-speak for tightening the script and making it fit into a reasonable budget. Then we'll formulate a workable budget and start the process of getting financial backing. Hopefully by the time the movie comes out, the world won't actually be facing Doomsday and the show will still be timely.

So the story continues. Next up? Our Christmas show which is 4 One Act Plays presented on one stage. Yikes!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Doomsday! Opening Weekend!

What a bizarre experience! In a good way. I wrote the play in 6 days. We landed a cast in record time. Rehearsals completely shot by. And now we've just gotten through our opening weekend. Time has gone sooo fast on this production, it's like I don't quite know how to process it. Opening night went GREAT. Good thing too. We had the press there, so we were being reviewed. Review comes out Thursday, so I'll keep you posted.

But regardless of the review, I am just thankful for an awesome cast that did everything possible to bring my story to life. It's amazing to me to see something that was just in my head only a few short months ago actually be presented on stage and make sense! With exception of a few minor technical constraints, and some opening night jitters, the pacing flowed, the acting was superb and the story seemed to be compelling. Trista (who plays Gigi) had her husband, Josh, in the audience. He said after the play was over, we took our bows and walked off stage. The audience (about 30), just sat there talking about it. To hear that as a writer does wonders to boost your confidence!

The play kinda freaked me out too. I had written it about 3 months ago. Friday night as I was waiting to go on stage, I was listening to the news clips that play over the speakers at the begining (which I wrote). One clip talked about how the economy was spiraling out of control and the Fed Chairman was talking about the possibility of another Great Depression !!!! Again, I wrote that months ago. Housing was starting to take a nosedive at the time, but the economy was still okay. Only last week did I hear the word "depression" start being bandied about! I don't know about you, but that creeped me out. Mainly because in the play, there's been a huge earthquake in Chicago, and a potential war between China and India that could suck in the entire world. DOH!

Audience response has been incredible. Really enthusiastic. And I've already been approached twice by two different producers interested in turning the play into a movie! How bizarre is that???!! Anyway, we'll see. So allow me to plug for just a sec:

Doomsday is an intense, fast-paced story taking place in the near future after the economy has tanked and tensions abroad have escalated to the point of a possible world war. Taking place in an indescriminate metropolitan city experiencing a blackout and full scale riot, several individuals with very different backgrounds have taken refuge in a dive bar deep in the city. As they try to protect themselves from the chaos outside, they also find themselves dealing with their own private chaos in their search to find hope and meaning in their lives. There are a few laughs along the way and some twists and turns that will surprise you. It really is a rollercoaster of emotion and raw energy that, I believe, will leave you thinking about the state of the world and maybe the state of your own life.

Come on out and see the show! At the Actor's Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Next weekend: Friday, 10/3 and Saturday, 10/4 at 8 PM and Sunday, 10/5 at 7 PM. Tickets are $18 reserve and $25 at the door each. But if you respond to this blog, we'll knock $3 off the reserve price making it $15 each! Just tell me what night and how many!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Doomsday - Rehearsals #2

The horror! The horror!

Yep, it's that time in rehearsals where everyone is trying to get their lines down and, as the writer, you see the actors struggling with the lines and think "my god, this is gonna suck!" It happens with every show I've written. To watch some of the longer passages drag, to hear some dialogue not make sense, to be approached by an actor questioning if his character would say what you've written, to have the director pull you aside and ask you to cut down or change dialogue -- you really cannot have an ego during this process, otherwise you'll end up in a fetal position popping cocktails of Prosac and Xanax with chasers of Jack.

The thing is, it's all part of the process. This being the 6th play I've written for the First Light Players, the most important thing I've learned is how important the "team" factor is in making an enjoyable production. The director, the writer, the actors, the stage crew -- we're all there to make the show as good as it can be. So to stiffen up, to be inflexible, to not listen to or heed the advice of others -- can hurt an otherwise great production.

So rehearsals for the last week have been a lot of that. A brutal drag in some ways. Really inspiring in others. Until you get to the point of a breakthrough where, at last, you catch a glimpse of where the show will end up. And that's what happened last night. The rehearsal started out painful. Everybody, for the most part, is off book. But still struggling with their lines. So it was just a mess at first. However, little by little, Cathy started molding us into the picture of what you will see on stage. And there it was, right at the end of the night. A momentary glimpse of the real show. The intensity. The urgent pace. The danger. It started to click. And that's when I got excited. Yayyy!!! The show won't suck!

Last blog, I told you about Liv, who plays Alice, Rollin who plays Ace, Brendan, who's Pete and Trista, our Gigi. Herve Ambwa, a first timer for the First Light Players is playing Jay. Jay's character reflects the streets. Those people whose circumstances and experience have been so detrimental, they can't see a light at the end of the tunnel. Herve's a quiet guy. He's not one to speak up or readily share his thoughts right off the bat. He was one of the first to be off book and get into character. I've mentioned what a powerful presence this guy has on stage -- and boy, he really does. I know Herve's going to stand out. Just the way he carries himself on stage is outstanding. He gets the character and, as a writer, it's exciting to see.

Kay Dease is playing Rose. Kay is such a great character actress. She has been with the FLP since the beginning and has had great success with characters such as Josephine the plummer, Fingers the pickpocket, Leviathan, the evil mob leader from the 6th Trumpet and whole host of other memorable roles. However, I believe this to be the first rather normal role she's gotten to play. I know she was struggling at first how to get ahold of Rose. Rose' character is that of a one time socialite who has experienced tremendous tragedy, yet survived. At first, she wanted to base Rose on the late Ann Richards, the governor of Texas. But the Texas accent seemed to much of a characiture. Now she has moved Rose into a more refined personality, and it works. She's got hold of Rose and you can tell. It's just real.

For the character of Tru, the female cop, seargent and squad leader of the riot squad, we needed an actress who could be a dude, yet convey a touch of femininity. Kayla Thames auditioned for the role and we knew right off, she was our Tru. Kayla is an amazing person. Very well-educated. She has worked in the entertainment industry both in front of the camera and behind as a location scout. She's also worked for the State of California in economic development and currently does so with the State of Oregon. Weird how she would end up as part of our cast, but we are really honored to have her. She is able to capture Tru's power as a leader, yet her vulnerability as a woman.

Ross Araujo, who plays Joe in the play, has worked with the FLP before as the lead in "O Little Town of (I forget what, buns, donuts ???)". He's a local dentist who works a lot of community theater. Hails from Brazil. A funny interesting guy. I thought his accent may be a detriment, because it is a bit heavy. But during the audition, Ross hit a note with the character of Joe that was extremely moving. Last night, he was really getting into character. The anger and sarcasm, that masks Joe's pain. He was nailing it! The accent seemed so minor in comparison. I realized, Ross is a really good actor. And he's a character just in and of himself.

Finally, Marisa Mlynarek plays Mo, the real estate tycoon heiress. Her first time on stage since high school. Marisa has a great presence. Such a powerful personality when she walks into a room. There's a lot of confidence there. Plus she's like a Rennaissance woman. A really gifted photographer (amazing!), and a writer -- she's written a pilot epsiode for a web series she created -- kind of an I Love Lucy for nowadays. It's really funny! In fact, once I read the script I was thinking she should take it further. It would make a great screenplay! Marisa is slowly getting her stride as the character of Mo.

I'm just amazed at how God puts together a cast! And I'm excited at the prospect of this show! This is going to be a good one! So you better get your tickets now!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Doomsday - Rehearsals #1

So this is the 14th production the First Light Players has staged since they began in 2003. Pretty amazing accomplishment, I think. Of those, this will be the 6th that I've written for them (not counting the fact we've staged "The 6th Trumpet" twice). And it is the 10th time I've been on stage with them. Generally, rehearsals can be a gruelling process. But I've got to say, rehearsals for Doomsday have been anything but. Seriously. I am completely amazed!

Every single production I've been a part of has each had their own "personality" about it. From the first production we did, "A Neighborhood Noel" with it's communal, almost church atmosphere about it -- to the last production, "Cotton Alley", that was entirely visceral, a true actor's dream -- when you begin the rehearsal process, it's like the first day of school. Who are these actors you'll be sharing the stage with? Will you get along with them? Who's the diva and will try to direct the director? Oh, let me tell you the stories. Cathy cracks me up in her ability to "handle" divas. She has a gift. Truly.

But as we've gotten through blocking, the technical aspect of rehearsals (showing the actors where they are to move on stage for you novices), and we move into developing our characters, rehearsals ahev gone so fast and so well! Plus, this group is a lot of fun. Usually it takes until about the 3rd week before the cast starts to feel comfortable with each other, but this group seems like old friends already. Regulars among us are Trista (4th production), Olivia (9th production, and she wrote 2 and directed the last one), Kay (13th) and Ross (3rd). Newbies are Herve, Rollin, Marisa, Kayla and Brendan. But it's like we all stepped into this like it was a regular occurrence. And that just makes it a fun process.

So some initial notables. Well, first off, Trista likes to hit. She's a hitter. I first noticed it when we did The 6th Trumpet. A slap on the head, a sock in the arm -- and not a playful tap, no -- SOCK in the arm. Okay, I'm a big guy. I can take it. The pain's motivation for me. I keep the tears within. But I am thinking some anger management training for her may be in order. I'm wondering if the First Light's liability insurance covers that. But kidding aside, T really fun to watch as she develops her character. She has some great comedic timing and will quite literally have us in stitches with her delivery.

Then there's Olivia. Liv is all over the map. She's all emotion. It takes awhile for her to connect with a character, but when she does, she nails it. Her getting there however, is hysterical. She doesn't seem to be in her head at all, rather just dives into the deep end and thrashes around until she starts to float. Does that make sense? I don't think you ever get the same performance out of her until show time -- and even then. I don't think I can even adequately describe her. You just have to experience it. What blows me away is for all she goes through with her acting, she becomes this powerful, explosive force in her writing. I always say, I write these little dog and pony shows, Liv writes true literature. She's amazing.

Brendan is one of our newbies. He is a friend of Cy Hutcherson who was amazing as Ginger in Cotton Alley, our last production. Cy had Brendan come audition for this show. He initially auditioned as Ace, the hot-headed riot squad cop. He was good. But we had him audition as Pete, the wounded riot squad cop, and MAN! He nailed it! He was able to bring warmth and humor to a character who is basically confessing his sins through the whole show. There's something almost Kramer-esque about him. And he's so intent on finding his motivation. Even when he's groaning and writhing in pain. Actors just crack me up. What's funny is that he's already the character. It's like the motivation's already there. Just be you!

And Rollin, another newbie. He's our Ace, our hot-head. I've got to say, even I was a little intimidated the first few rehearsals. Talk about intense! The dude is scary intense. And maintains it throughout the play! Yikes! You almost feel like, watch what you say -- he may go off on you. But then he makes these little comments, like side notes on what the other actors or their characters are doing that are really funny. I think he just needed to relax a bit, but last night he seemed like he was having a lot of fun. So then, when you have an intense guy having fun, the rest of us are able to breathe a little easier ourselves. So weird how that happens.

Just a fantastic cast! I'll get into the rest of them in my next blog. I hope to get some pics up too. I believe it'll be a great show, but the rehearsals are going to be a lot of fun! Until next time!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Doomsday - Getting A Clue

Okay, I'm not one of the brightest bulbs in the pack. You know, a couple cans short of a six-pack. A couple floats short of a parade. So sometimes it takes me a bit to actually get clued in to what's going on. It started with rehearsals last week. I had a couple of actors that came up to me saying how the play seems to mirror what's going on in the world right now. Aside from the references to the economy tanking, the play also refers to an impending war between China and India that could escalate into a world war. Of course, the whole thing going on between Russia and Georgia this last week seemed to perk some people up, not that the situation could ever escalate that much, but you never know.

Now before I go on about the prophetic nature of the play, let me just say how amazing our cast is. Just wonderful! Trista is playing my sidekick, Gigi, and I'm so glad. She's a really great actress with a wonderful sensibility and great comedic timing. Ross and Olivia are playing Alice and Joe, a couple in the city looking to adopt after having lost their only child. They do so well capturing the pain of this couple. Really something to behold. Marisa does an outstanding Mo, heiress to a real estate mogul, pretentious but she brings some real heart to the role. Kay plays Rose, the ex-socialite maven who has had enough loss in her life. Kay is always the professional and a joy to have in any cast. First time she's playing more of a real person and not a character role. I'm excited to see what she does with this. Herve is playing Jay. I said this last time, this young man has a real presence. You just have to see him. Then our cops, Kayla is a tough yet heartfelt Tru, Brendan is hilarious as Pete and Rollin as Ace -- quite intense, the cast is already scared of him. So we have a really great cast and Cathy is doing outstanding directing all of us. You must come see!

Now about the story. I wrote the play because I thought it would be an interesting story. As I was thinking about it the other day and from what some of the actors mentioned to me their feelings, I had this little voice in the back of my head saying, "Dude, this story is bigger than you think it is". Okay. First, why does the voice in my head call me "dude"? Second, bigger in what way?

So back in the day when I was about 12 (maybe 10 or 15 years ago -- you believe me, right?), there was this huge movement in the church dealing with the end times. This writer, Hal Lindsay, wrote a book "The Late Great Planet Earth" that tried to define the book of Revelation and put the imagery from the book into context in light of world events. I was hooked. I consumed every book or article about the end times. I saw "The Omen" series. I listened to various speakers on the subject. I mean, I was a walking encyclopedia (or wikipedia to you kids) on the subject. The Rapture. The Tribulation. The Great White Throne. The Four Horsemen. Bowls and Trumpets and Scrolls -- Oh My! All the arguments having to do with a Post-Trib, Pre-Trib or Mid-Trib Rapture. I knew it all! Had the timeline of the end times down pat. It wasn't until years later when it dawned on me. Every single author/speaker had a different interpretation on when, how and what was going to happen. In other words, nobody really knew, other than it would happen -- some time!

And so I wrote Doomsday, not as a scenario as to what the end times will be like. NOT as a chapter from the Left Behind series (yeesh!). I wrote it as a commentary on mankind having to deal with fear and loss in light of the possible end of the world. Is there any way to find hope in the midst of the world coming unhinged. And by world, I mean the world at large AND our own personal worlds. Each of the characters in the play deal with the unknown danger that is beyond the front door of the bar they find themselves in as well as dealing with their own personal loss or fears in their own lives. I find that interesting, that we have to deal with our humanity regardless of whether the world falls apart.

But on a bigger note, I recall a prophetic friend of mine, Jean Darnall, making a statement back in the year 2000, that this century will be one marked by tragedy. I have never forgotten that. I'm not saying we're living in the last days. I would be an idiot if I did. But I do believe that things will most probably get worse before they get better. The ecnomy. The middle east. The ferocity of disasters that seems to grow. Golbal warming. Crime. Darfur. AIDS. The list goes on. Is there a way to find hope in the midst of all this? I believe there is -- because I believe we're not alone. I believe in Someone who cares about the state of the world AND cares about each and every one of us in the world. The end is coming. I believe that. When, I don't know. But what I do know is that the end is not something to fear.

So as I think about the play, it always amazes me how I sit down and write something and never consider the weight of what I'm writing until afterwards. The whole prophetic nature of it is really fascinating. It is prophetic, but not from the standpoint of WHAT will happen, but how we as human beings need to come to terms with ourselves. I hope that makes sense.

Now if I can only do something about those long freakin' monologues, the audience may stick around long enough to actaully SEE the play.

Peace out!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Doomsday Episode 2 - "Auditions"

So we've been in the process of auditions for the last couple of weeks. Whenever we get ready for the audition process, Cathy throws out a blanket e-mail to our regulars (those that have acted in our shows in the past) and I'll set up an announcement on Nowcasting. Between the two, we usually are able to fill most the roles. Lately, however, because of gas prices (I surmise), I haven't got a lot of submissions from Nowcasting. A lot of actors that use that service are located in the L.A. area and, because rehearsals are held in Agoura, it's quite a drive for people out there. One of these days we need to move our operation to NoHo, or maybe Hollywood itself, but money is tight, and The Christian Church of the Hills is gracious enough to give us a break on rehearsal space, so Agoura it is.

Our last show, Cotton Alley, written by Olivia Gowan has just wrapped. An amazing show! My buddy Josh Latzer played one of the leads, JT for most of the run but was cast in a game show, Millionaire Password, this last weekend so I had the privilege of standing in for him. What a blast! The character is a guy who was engaged to a woman 20 years before who had an affair with another guy and got pregnant. Her daughter, Avery, is the main character of the story. JT, though not her father by blood or law, took Avery under his wing and, really, was her true father. The role always makes me emotional because it reflects my relationship with Lainee, our daughter of 4 years now. Weird how God works, but that little girl is every bit my little girl and we can't imagine our lives without her. So I really bonded with that role and am so thankful Livy trusted me to stand in for Josh to play JT. But I digress.

So we went through auditions for Doomsday. Not a lot of actors auditioned, but what we did have were quite amazing and it was very difficult to settle on a final cast. And, there were some actors I would have LOVED to have arm-twisted into the show, but I know it's a huge commitment and I know they are quite busy with other commitments (nudge, nudge -- Derek, Lainee, Ang, Cy -- I will get you for Christmas however!). Again, though, we did have some wonderful actors audition. Of those we have decided on for sure: Kay Dease for the part of Rose (always a great actress -- has done character stuff and comedy relief in the past, but now has a good emotional role to sink her teeth into), Olivia for the part of Alice (she does it all, write, direct AND act, and she's really great at all three), Trista Robinson for the part of Gigi (after the lead in Cotton Alley where she had to bring on the emotion every night, I think the part of Gigi, our little dancing muse, will be a nice change of pace for her), Liv's friend Kayla for the part of Tru ( she auditioned feeling ill, and I don't know if that helped, but her read for the tough woman cop who carries herself like a dude was spot on!), Cy's (who played Ginger in Cotton Alley) friend Brendan for the part of Pete ( the cop who is injured, thinking he is about to die and confessing all of his sins throughout the show much to everyone's annoyance -- he was the only one who got the comedy of the character), and Herve Ambwa for the part of Jay (a Nowcasting submission and, wow! what a presence this young man has -- he's going to be a stand out in many ways). Of course, the part of Frank will be played by yours truly. I know what you're thinking. Does he just write plays so he can act in them? Well -- yes. I have to work somehow, dammit! But I did tell Cathy I don't mind taking a backseat if she wanted someone else in the part. She quickly dismissed the idea, which convinced me she's on crack.

The parts of Joe, Ace & Mo are still being deliberated, although we have a pretty good idea who will play those parts. Now comes the big test. Finishing the 2nd draft of the script! Yep, still working on it. And we start rehearsals on Thursday! Okay, granted I always seem to do this. I come up with an idea for a story, pitch it to Cathy, she likes it and immediately enters it onto the schedule for the First Light Players season, she reserves the play dates and rehearsal times, we audition the roles and -- then I have to write the script. What's wrong with this picture? I AM a procrastinator, yes, I get that. But how loose is the screw in my head that leads me to put this HUGE pressure on myself to write a 2 hour play AFTER we actually schedule to show it????

My new rule of thumb? Keep my BIG MOUTH shut, until I have a solid 1st draft. But then, would I even write anything if I didn't have that kind of pressure. I look back on all twelve plays I've penned, and I don't think there was one that I didn't have that kind of deadline on. Crap! I guess it's my lot in life.

And finally, in my previous blog, I may have inferred that I was upset with Cathy's criticism of the 1st draft of the script. That is absolutely NOT the case. True, I think she was having difficulty envisioning the story and some of the characters. But I didn't have a problem with that. Cathy is a "big picture" director, so when she communicates, for the most part it's in generalities. She's looking at the big picture and how that wull play to an audience. The problem with writers and with actors is they look at the specifics and nuances of the story or the character. To say to a writer "you have just scratched the surface with these characters, you need to go deeper" says to them "the script is good but needs a helluva lot more work before we can stage it". So my frustration with the criticism stemmed from that. What was good, was getting Cathy and others to be specific, because then I had a handle on what parts of the story or the characters needed work. And now I don't feel all is lost.

Let me say something about Cathy, however. Apart from my wife and my mom, I have never had someone in my life who so believed in my talent and abilities that she was willing to spend money, spend time and spend her talent in bringing something I wrote to life. I owe a WHOLE lot to Cathy because she didn't just do that for me once, she's done it for me 12 times! Cathy (& Bill) is family. She's my sister in every sense of the word. She's that close to my heart and will ALWAYS be. I can be frustrated with her only because I want to please her because she means the world to me. I just want to be clear on that. I hope she knows I believe in her just as much as she believes in me -- and that's A LOT!

So the saga continues. I hope this is remotely interesting to you. But even if it isn't, I'm going to keep writing. Very cathartic. Take care, guys. Until next time!