30 November 2007

And in non-Juana news ...

There was a time when, as a kid, there were only two shows on television. The Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider.

Knight Rider is coming back. The Hoff will be in it. Details here.

In the meantime, feast your eyes on the new K.I.T.T.:

Oh hell yeah!

About last night ...

We opened last night. As is tradition at Write Act, our first night audience was ... intimate. And rather familiar. Tonight should be a much larger house (it is Friday, after all.)

[I'd like to pass out fliers when the Pantages lets out. Fliers with "FREE PARKING!!!" right above the title of the play. You would not believe what some people pay for parking to see Wicked!]

Juana is episodic to a fault, with some scenes comprising a few brief lines. So there is constant traffic throughout the show. To help this "cinematic" quality along, the show has something like 400 light cues. I wish I were joking. Our lighting designer, Connie Lynn Vilanni is a freaking miracle worker, and I am floored by how good the show looks. We maxed out the board's capacity for light cues, so Connie Lynn made the blackouts and scene change lighting manual (assigned to sliders.)

(To digress for a moment -- Connie Lynn is my kind of theatre person. The kind I try to be: a no-nonsense, fast working, creative problem solver. She's attentive to what the show needs and inventive in making it so. And she's a total professional, no B.S.)

Needless to say, with so many light cues and so much traffic on and off stage, there were a few hiccups. This is to be expected, particularly on a first night.

In all honesty, I experienced the agony of a parent who can't swoop in and save the day for his kid. Maybe the kid is misspelling "chrysanthemum" in a spelling bee, or getting his ass kicked at a karate expo. In this particular case, the kid was trying to juggle puppets, entrances and exits, lines, acting, scene changes, light cues, sound cues, etc. etc. etc. So it was a bit rough.

It was also our first real run-through under performance conditions. This is entirely my fault. I should have scheduled the rehearsal and pre-production process a bit tighter, allowing us another night of dress rehearsal. True confession time: This is by far the largest cast and most complex show I've ever directed. It has been a heck of a learning experience!

I must say that the cast and crew handled themselves with poise and professionalism. They didn't let the timing lag, which is of considerable importance to me. And there were some genuinely sublime moments.

We had press in the audience, and I heard through our company PR guy that they've requested photos. Gulp. Torrid Affaire, my directorial debut in Los Angeles, flew under the critical radar. I'm a bit nervous -- to paraphrase a line from the play -- to have my work splayed upon the butcher's block. But good or bad, I hereby promise to post full details on the review once it's published. In the L.A. Times. This weekend.


29 November 2007


Tonight is the big night for Juana.

For the past few weeks, I've been taking the metro around town. Transmission problems. Last night was the first time it really occurred to me: My show is opening two blocks away from the Pantages and Wicked.

Last night's run was fantastic. I had notes, but they were all super picky. Minor stuff. The technical glitches were minor. Most importantly, I found myself really enjoying the show.

That probably sounds horrible. But what I mean is I was able to be an audience member most of the time, instead of the director. My performers are doing an amazing job. The design elements are in place. My work is done.

All we need is an audience.

(Below are pictures from the first act of the show, taken by Lou Briggs.)

28 November 2007

JUANA - The Windows
And here's how we made the stained glass windows!

My lovely wife did the designs. She rendered the designs on 8 1/2 x 11 paper, transferred the designs to transparencies, and used an overhead projector to transfer the designs to the windows.

The windows are built out of 1 x 2 boards and 3/4 inch plywood (the arches, the rose window.) To the back of the window we staple clear vinyl and bleached muslin. The vinyl is for the paint (gives it a nice, glossy finish) and the muslin helps diffuse the back lighting.

Jenn (standing) and Pamela paint the rose window. (Photo by Lou Briggs.)

The last time I did something like this, I used Rosco Colorine. Noxious stuff, but beautiful. Also very expensive! This time around we used acrylic paint mixed in with a transparent gel medium.

Above you see me adding the leading to one of the windows. (Photo by Lou Briggs.) Black silicon caulking does the trick. This is the step that really sets off the windows, and makes the whole stained glass look work.

Here are the finished windows, unlit:

Above is our "Spain" window. It's lit up whenever we are in Spain, particularly Toledo.

The Austrian window is based on the Hapsburg coat of arms. It's lit up whenever we're in Austria.

Juana's crown. Lit up during her coronation, and at the end of the play.

The Tordesillas window. Tordesillas is where Juana was kept imprisoned. This is my favorite window. It's based on the running of the Bull of La Vega, a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages in Tordesillas. A pretty gruesome affair, you can read about the significance here.

And finally, the "vision" window. There is a mystical aspect to Juana's story that involves remote vision. When Juana is having these visions, we act them out with shadow puppets (via an overhead projector.)

I'll try to remember to grab some shots of the show during tonight's dress rehearsal, so you can see the whole thing put together!
JUANA - The Puppets

We were able to whittle down the puppet count from 68 to 31. That's still a whole bunch of puppets! Here's what we did:

For most of the puppets, we built off of wig forms with paper mache. Facial features were built up with chicken wire and wallpaper tape. Above is Victor, hard at work on Cisneros (the character he is portraying.) for some of the puppets, we mounted masks on the wig forms (and on a few empty one gallon water bottles!) and used the preformed facial features to work off of. You can see an example of this below.

Above you see Duncan (background) and Shawn adding shoulders to the "heads on a stick." We did not build torsos for these guys. They are very "bare bones." We attached a cross member to the central control rod so that we could hang arms off of something, and then attached arched wire hangers to create the illusion of shoulders once the puppets are dressed. Very low-tech.

Above you see a flock of puppet heads and shoulders on our makeshift puppet cart. At the head of the cart is Fernando, on of our "pageant style" puppets. Fernando has a nodding mechanism that allows him to look down at the other puppets. I'll explain how the nodding mechanism works in another posting.

Above and below ... just a couple of shots of the puppets in progress. The faces have been painted white as a sort of base coat.

Above, Darcy is painting a flesh tone onto the neck and face of Beatriz, the character she portrays. One of the cool things about our production is that the actors had the opportunity to work on their own puppets.

Beatriz in progress. Note that we left the eye sockets white. I love this puppet. Paul Eppelston did the initial work on the facial features, and I believe Jenn Scuderi did the hair. What a great silohuette!

Hair is painted on, facial features added. The puppets are really starting to take on some personality!

Milk crates make excellent puppet racks as well. In the above picture, you can see the detail work that Paul Eppelston added in on the faces. Shadows and highlights, just like theatrical make-up. In fact, I'd say that a workable knowledge of theatrical make-up is a huge benefit for this kind of puppet making.

Fernando, all painted up.
Next came bagging the heads and painting the "body" of the puppet black, attaching hands, and dressing the puppets. More pictures later!

21 November 2007

Juana: Concept and Design
pt. 3 of 3


We did a full run of the show last night, with puppets. The puppets are not quite finished (as you can see.)

To the left is (from left to right) a merchant, Fernando, Juana, and Beatriz. This is the first scene of the show, which takes place during the Spanish Inquisition.

Fernando is quite imposing! He's being held a bit higher than he should be, but you get a sense of the imposing nature of this character, and how he towers over our poor princess.

Beatriz (fantastic profile!) and the Merchant haven't been given their arms yet. But you can see how the actors will be performing these characters.

The audience will see the actors' faces. Last night an actor took me aside and asked me "should I watch my puppet, or try to make eye contact with Juana?" It got me to thinking. I told him that the decision to not use the puppet as a proxy, and instead address her as a person (sort of ignoring the puppet for a moment) would be a strong performance choice. Almost as if the facade (the puppet) could easily be eliminated, and the character could show Juana his true face.

There is a lot of symbolic power inherent in puppetry. I feel that we're tapping into that.

Also missing are the stained glass windows. Our vertical space is pretty empty at present, but as soon as that scenic element comes in, the show is going to sprout wings.

The concept of "religious pageant" is beginning to materialize before me, and I have to say I'm excited.

(Please excuse the crappy cell phone pictures. I'll bring my "real" camera to the next rehearsal!)

03 November 2007


Pictures of me as Charles Manson at last Monday's "Dead Poets Society: Fright Night". Thanks to Olga for the pix!

Maybe I'll do a Charles Manson one-man show someday. Maybe when I'm older.

01 November 2007

I haven't had the time to blog in awhile. I only recently wrote a couple of things over at Mad Theatrics, and a couple of days ago tapped away some at MySpace.

I've been quite busy with Write Act Rep over the past few months. First as Robin Starveling in our production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and now as director of Juana. Monday night I read "Helter Skelter" as Charles Manson in our "Dead Beat Poets" fundraiser (sadly, there is no video of this. Hopefully someone snapped some pix!)

I entered into one of those stereotypical "dark moods" that artists have on Sunday. It was after watching Broadway: The Golden Age (a fantastic documentary) as I realized that I am living a far way from New York in the 1950s. The day-in, day-out grind of trying to piece together a career while doing such things as "paying bills" and "sleeping" just kind of collapsed on me. It was a horrible, deep glumness not unlike my "everlasting no" period in college. Only of shorter duration and with less angst.

Tuesday night I took a nice, long walk to the Metro station. I had to catch the Red Line up to Hollywood for a Juana rehearsal. As I neared the station, it hit me: I'm exactly where I want to be right now. I'm in Hollywood, directing a play in a building that Cecil B. DeMille built. And a play with puppets! I was so elated, I took a picture:

They've built an ugly shopping/condo complex around this station. Drab as can be, it looks a little bit like a Jawa transporter from the street. This streamers on the interior stand out in bold contrast, a ragged assortment of colors strung through the air.

On the Metro itself, I found myself surrounded by people conversing, people reading (Gladwell's "The Tipping Point", "Stranger in a Strange Land", a book on musical notation,) people really going somewhere. It's corny, but I filled with happiness. I forget sometimes that I'm not the only person trying to make a better life for himself. Rather, I am joined in this pursuit by people of all shapes and sizes, all colors, all ideologies.

Juana rehearsal went extraordinarily well. The whole show is blocked, and now comes the fun part: breathing life into this monstrosity.

I'll probably be as bad a blogger as ever as the weeks progress, but I'll try to drop in from time to time to tell you how it's going. I joke about the "fourteen people" who read this blog, but I know you're out there, and I know that you read this because you want to know how I'm doing. And I appreciate your care and concern more than you know.