Monday morning; tech week. After a weekend of running around trying to tie up last minute details for Thursday’s first performance of the musical, I came home last night, took care of the last bit of business I had, and spent the remaining few hours of the evening foolishly believing I had everything handled. I delivered my production report to the board, I sent off the press release, I wrote today’s blog, then I turned off my phone and sat and enjoyed the last hours of peace I will know until after Christmas.
Silly mortal. As if life is ever that simple. When I checked my phone this morning, I was surprised to see a bunch of frantic messages from a couple people. Apparently nothing I sent last night went through. I was thinking it was an internet/email error, but then…I couldn’t find ANY of the things I’d written on my computer. It’s like they never existed. I spent the last hour downloading all this crap that will clean my pc and stop errors. Don’t know if it will work, but after searching for hours of work (and I mean HOURS, what with the extra projects I’d taken on) I decided not to take chances. I’m three days away from opening, I still have a hundred things to do, I should be freaking out. And I am. A little. But…this is pretty much what I signed up for.
Bob Mizel wrote a blog for the AM awhile back entitled “When Directors Eat Their Young” and a more honest look at the weeks leading up to a performance is hard to find. I encourage you to go back and read it if you have not already. If not for the information that will help you to understand what I’m talking about, than read it to hide the fact that my blog this week was written in haste, and in a mild freak out, and might be somewhat lacking. But mostly for the information.
Yesterday was a day I should be thrilled with. I have an amazingly dedicated cast who has shown up on weekends for five hour rehearsals, not to mention the four times a night we rehearse during the week. My set looks amazing thanks to our incredibly talented Set Artists and an amazing carpenter. My stage manager Claire is a Godsend, without her knowledge and experience this play wouldn’t be half of what it is. The musicians are great, the costumes are coming together, all is well.
Except I still need to clean the theater. And get food service lined out. Check and double check the programs, go on the radio Tuesday and Thursday of this week, order shirts for the band, rewrite the press release and hope to god it gets put in by Thursday, find a few more props, stage a few more “special effects,” make sure my stage hands are lined up with what needs done and what they’re doing…the list goes on.
And that’s just the list that has to do with production. I also have a life. Sort of.
So, since this is what I signed up for…when a morning like this occurs and I spend hours redoing what I’ve already done, what do I do? I smile and adapt.
First there’s cussing. A lot of cussing.
“The Great American Trailer Park Musical” opens this Thursday, so get ready for some interviews with the cast! In our first interview we speak with veteran Actors’ Mission member Jasmine Weaver:
Aaron: As a long standing member of the Actors’ Mission, what is it like to witness the first musical production of the Actors’ Mission?
Jasmine: It’s nerve-wracking and exciting. I haven’t been in a musical since high school and the prep involved is more intense, at least to me.
Aaron: Tell us about your past experience with theater and the Actors’ Mission.
Jasmine: I was involved in high school and this is my 15th production with the Actors’ Mission. I couldn’t even figure that out by myself—I had to go check the poster wall at the Elks. As far as my experience with AM, it’s hard to believe that I’ve been involved for so long. If I stick with it, the only parts I’m gonna get are ‘the mother’ roles, which I’m totally okay with.
Aaron: What role are you playing in this show? Is the role very different from others you’ve played in the past?
Jasmine: I’m playing Bad Ass Betty. The last few roles I’ve played my characters have been a bit…how do I say this delicately…not too bright? With this role, I’m practically the smartest person in the room.
Aaron: What is the number one reason people should come see this show?
Jasmine: It’s our first musical EVER! This is Actors’ Mission history in the making! Who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?
Please join us for Actors’ Mission’s 43rd production, the light musical comedy “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” by David Nehls and Betsy Kelso. You’ll have plenty of chances to see this great show, as we’ll be having an unprecedented eight performances, including two Sunday matinees. Performances will be held at our theater in the Elk’s Lodge on C street in Rock Springs at the following dates and times:
December 12th, 13th and 14th at 7:00 PM
December 15th at 2:00 PM
December 19th, 20th and 21st at 7:00 PM
December 22nd at 2:00 PM
As always, a complimentary meal will be served one hour prior to each performance. Curious what the show’s about? Check out this blurb from the Current Production page:
Frustrated tollbooth collector Norbert lives in Armadillo Acres with his wife, the agoraphobic Jeannie who has not been outside for 20 years. While Jeannie secretly takes steps to finally leave the house in time for a milestone anniversary, a fed-up Norbert falls into the arms of Pippi, a stripper on the run from marker-sniffing boyfriend Duke. Found out by Jeannie, his home ravaged by a sudden hurricane, Norbert must find a way to save his marriage and rescue Armadillo Acres from Pippi’s strangely familiar, gun toting ex.
You’re not going to want to miss this production, so be sure to share this page on facebook and bring a friend with you to the show!
This show is not suitable for children
Hello fans and friends of Actors’ Mission,
Actors’ Mission is proud to announce its 43rd production and its final performance of our 2013 Season.
“The Great American Trailer Park Musical” is a light musical comedy with music and lyrics by David Nehls and book by Betsy Kelso. It will be performed over two weeks for an unprecedented eight performances: December 12, 13, 14 and 15, and December 19, 20, 21, and 22. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances start at 7 PM. For this production, there will be two Sunday matinees, which will start at 2 PM. As always, both the show and the delicious meal we provide an hour prior to performances are free of charge.
Kirsten Mundschenk, pioneer Actors’ Mission director and actress, is directing our first ever musical. She is assisted by Production Coordinator Claire Elizabeth Schaefer, Musical Coordinator Amy Rasdall, and Choreographer Elise Farr. An outstanding cast of veterans and newcomers will perform songs and dance to live music provided by an energetic, on-stage band.
“The Great American Trailer Park Musical” relates the travails and antics of a raucous group of trailer park personalities. Frustrated tollbooth collector Norbert lives in Armadillo Acres with his wife, the agoraphobic Jeannie who has not been outside for 20 years. While Jeannie secretly takes steps to finally leave the house in time for a milestone anniversary, a fed-up Norbert falls into the arms of Pippi, a stripper on the run from marker-sniffing boyfriend Duke. Found out by Jeannie, his home ravaged by a sudden hurricane, Norbert must find a way to save his marriage and rescue Armadillo Acres from Pippi’s strangely familiar, gun toting ex.
Parents, please be advised that this particular musical is not suitable for children.
Please check the attached poster art for dates and performance times. Jasmine Weaver, who is also performing in the play, designed the poster artwork.
Thank you for your continued support of Actors’ Mission. Obviously, you do not want to miss Actors’ Mission’s first venture into the lively world of musical comedy.
Dave Gutierrez, Actors’ Mission President
Rehearsal photos. We take them almost every show, mostly to share with the cast so they can look back on the good time they had with fondness, but also to post to Facebook to help promote the show. Though I am an amateur photographer long out of practice, for this production I have decided to undertake some of this photo taking (in part because I bought a new camera that I’m really eager to put through its paces). In the short time I’ve been doing it I’ve discovered a number of things. Some of these are technical like “flash is not your friend when photographing a lighted stage”. Others have to do with the subject being photographed, namely the actors.
For example, there are some actors (who shall remain nameless, but are pictured below) who seem to be under the highly mistaken impression that any and all photos taken of them are awful. Regardless of how good they might actually look in a photo, they are unflinching in their devotion to the “I look bad in pictures” mantra. Getting a shot of them can be difficult when one is trying to, say, shoot candid shots of the cast at a table read, when conveniently at hand scripts quickly rise into place and block their face the instant a lens is turned on them.
Unfortunately, such action on their part is a mistake when I am the photographer. I don’t know why, but for whatever reason blocking one’s face from my lens only makes me that much more determined to get a good photo of them. I am like Captain Ahab when it comes to this. Or rather I am like the sexy, shadowy, sniper version of Captain Ahab, with a camera. I once camped out behind a one-foot section of curtain for thirty minutes with my camera covertly trained on a friend of mine, arms growing increasingly tired due to the lack of a tripod, waiting for the person in question to face that direction so I could get a clean shot of them. Because a joke had just been told, they were even smiling. The shot turned out beautiful. Victory was mine. But I digress.
What really makes photographing actors difficult, I’ve discovered, is trying to simultaneously stop motion while capturing the sense of movement and emotion that comes with the scene being portrayed. Capturing a sense of movement is relatively easy if you don’t mind having everything blurry. Emotion isn’t that hard either, so long as you don’t mind shots where eyes are closed, mouths of characters not speaking are mysteriously open, or eyebrows are twisted into unusual shapes. But capturing both, simultaneously and well? That proves to be quite the challenge.
As I was looking through my rehearsal shots the other day, pondering the above and marveling at how minute changes can make all the difference between a bad or mediocre photograph and one that’s actually worth doing something with, a thought struck me. Photographing a play is, in some respects, much like acting in one, or directing it. The major difference being that when you are acting or directing, it is your job to project movement and emotion in a powerful yet fleeting experience. When you are photographing, it is your job to pluck one instant of movement and emotion out of the air and attempt to immortalize it. Both involve getting the various elements just right, and having them coalesce at the right moment for greatest impact. Both are difficult. Both are rewarding when everything finally comes together.
The longer I am involved with theater, the more amazed I am at how many parallels there are between other activities and theater itself. What about you, Actors’ Mission faithful? What parallels have you witnessed between theater (or whatever art you might engage in) and the other aspects of your life? Tell us about it in the comments, or on Facebook.
In our next crew interview we talk with Amy Rasdall, who takes on the role of musical director for our current production.
Aaron: As musical director for the show, you’ve got a pretty important job. What are your responsibilities as musical director? Has it been any more or less challenging than you’d imagined?
Amy: I think since this is the Actors Mission’s first musical production, the responsibilities haven’t really been outlined yet! This job came at the last minute, so I’m doing the best I can to cover as much as possible. At the moment I’m figuring out who will be playing which parts, getting together with the other band members on the side when I can in order to iron out the rhythms and stops and cues. I’m excited to pull this off – the music itself isn’t all that hard, it’s the logistics that are proving to be challenging: the drums will be the loudest instrument, and the rest of the band will need to mix accordingly – and then be quiet enough to match the onstage performance of each actor. Once we get down to being able to rehearse the entire performance start to finish with everyone, I’m predicting quite a bit of technical creativity to be involved. Very hopeful though, this will be incredible.
Aaron: You’ve been a musician for a long time. Tell us about your musical career up to now. Is the music in “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” anything like what you’ve played in the past?
Amy: I began playing in live bands when I was 12 years old, and continued with that until after I graduated Berklee College of Music in 1999. I majored in Music Business Management and chose the path of a behind-the-scenes entrepreneur, working for record labels, management, and public relations. I’ve also had countless hours in the technical field as well with mixing, live sound, etc. The music in this production is very similar to the styles I’ve played in Berklee ensembles, as well as in some of the bands I’ve performed with – it’s dirty blues, country-rock and even some disco and acoustic ballads. And you can’t beat the lyrics and plot! I’m loving the mood of this production.
Aaron: How is working on a musical different from other types of work in music like playing with a band?
Amy: Normally a band would just play songs for an audience; in a musical, the band is the accompaniment – while we’re important, the MOST important voices are the actors’, and we will still be following THEIR cues. Everything we play, every note has to coincide with word and vocal cues onstage. If the audience laughs a little longer or gives a standing ovation, we’ll need to be prepared for that.
Aaron: If you had to sum up this play in three words and one musical note, what would they be?
Amy: Hmm… Hilarious. Redneck. Maury. And your musical note is D (I’d make it a D7 chord).
Aaron: Anything else you’d like to say about the production so far?
Amy: I think “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” will be one for the books. I’m enthralled with the cast, and extremely honored to be given the chance to work with everyone, even with my hectic schedule. It’s going to be epic.
In our next crew interview for “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” we speak with Claire Schaefer who takes on the role of Stage Manager for this production.
Aaron: You’re serving as stage manager in “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”. Can you tell us what that entails, and are there any challenges to the position that are unique to a musical?
Claire: A stage manager is the “keeper togetherer of stage, actor, director, and techie type persons and things”. My job is basically to make sure that everything runs smoothly and the director doesn’t freak out. I’m the director’s right hand lady! A musical presents a lot of challenges. In a straight show you have actors, techies (lights, sounds, sets, etc) and the director. In a musical you also get musicians!!! They are amazing wonderful people, especially for this production, but it adds a whole new group of people to have to coordinate with. A musical has to have a flow; it can’t be choppy, especially for this particular musical because it has no intermission!!! Working with so many different people doing so many different things and trying to keep track of it all and keep everyone focused and on track is nuts!!! But it’s a blast at the same time. I have a very deep love for theater and so while the work is stressful and taxing it makes the end result so much more rewarding
Aaron: You’ve worked on musicals in the past. Has there been a time in your experience, changing names to protect the innocent of course, when things didn’t flow well between the actors, techies and musicians? How did the cast/crew pull it together?
Claire: There’s only one musical that I’ve done where there was an issue with the musicians and the actors and that was when I did “The Magic Flute”. It’s an opera so we had a full orchestra and the director kept having the musicians practice while we were blocking and it wasn’t helping anyone; but our director handled it well and scheduled a better time for the orchestra to practice that didn’t interfere with the rest of the production.
Aaron: If you only had three words to sum up this play, what would they be?
Claire: Holy ham samaches!
Aaron: Most of our on and off stage talent has no or very little experience with theater prior to Actors’ Mission, but you also have some formal education in musical theater. Tell us a little about that. How does your education benefit the production? Has your experience with our community theater taught you anything you didn’t already know?
Claire: I’ve basically been doing theater since I was born; the day I was brought hone from the hospital I was at a singing rehearsal for my parents’ theater company The Crystal Comedy Company. They did melodramas every summer for almost 14 years. I participated in some aspect from the time I could walk. Then I did theater all through middle school and high school; went to Trinidad state Jr. College for my associate of arts with a theatrical emphasis. Then I spent the next 3 1/2 years at Colorado Mesa University where I got my bachelors in acting and directing. I also participated in various musical theater classes but my degree isn’t in musical theater. I’ve also worked with various professional theaters during the summers of my high school career. Each and every production teaches you something because no two are alike; sometimes it’s small like discovering a new way to paint scenery or something larger like a way to convey to the audience a particular emotion. The Actors’ Mission has a very diverse group of individuals with lots of different talents; just working with someone new can give you a valuable learning experience. There is always room to grow in the theater.
Aaron: In last week’s interview Kirsten mentioned that the unique blend of elements that make this a musical (and a stripper pole) would be the major firsts for Actors’ Mission on this production. Do you have anything to add to that? What can audiences expect from this show that they haven’t seen from Actors’ Mission before?
Claire: There are lots of firsts in this show for the Actors’ Mission, as well as some very talented new faces! I don’t want to give too much away so I’m going to just say that you won’t want to miss this whirl wind of a show!
Actors’ Mission is sailing headfirst into our next production; our first musical “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”! This is a fresh and exciting experience for Actors’ Mission and to give the patrons a more in depth look into what this new project has in store we’ll be doing a series of interviews throughout the production to give you a behind the scenes glance. Starting with the director of “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”, Kirsten Mundschenk!
Aaron: You’ve directed several shows with Actors’ Mission before. What are the unique challenges involved with directing a musical as opposed to a regular play?
Kirsten: The biggest is that this production is beating a trail into new territory for both the AM and myself. I’m learning as I go.
Aaron: How do you plan on dealing with that challenge as the production moves forward? I take it you’re not learning alone.
Kirsten: I’ve surrounded myself with the best possible production crew for this endeavor. I have a stage manager, Claire Berger, who has a lot of experience with musicals and has been completely amazing in sharing that knowledge and education with us. Elise Farr is taking care of our choreography, we have Joe Barbuto and Amy Rasdall helping with the music. I have Mackenzie Bertagnolli and Tara Read for wigs/hair and costumes. And I have an epically talented cast.
Aaron: What can audiences expect to see in “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” that they haven’t seen from Actors’ Mission before?
Kirsten: A musical. That’s about it, I guess. We’ve had music, we’ve had people singing, we’ve had dancing, and we’ve had a hilarious comedy to put on. This will be the first time we’ve had all of the above simultaneously. Oh, another thing AM audiences can expect to see for the first time onstage; a stripper pole.
Aaron: Actors’ Mission productions always require a lot of volunteers to make sure everything gets done. For those people who want to come out and help, what will you need additional volunteers for on this production?
Kirsten: We’ve got a great crew so far, and my cast has been amazing at helping the production beyond the learning of their parts. We can always use more volunteers as we get closer to performance, though. That’s just a given. I’ll be making regular posts on the Facebook page and website to announce meetings and construction days, so keep an eye out for those.
Aaron: Any hints as to what the menu for this production’s complimentary meal will be?
Kirsten: I’ve been told it could be pizza. We’ll have to see though because I’ve had a lot of people tell me they love our soups and ask what kind we’re serving. This is our Christmas offering to the community, so we’ll also have something appropriately fattening for the occasion.
Aaron: Any further thoughts on the early stages of the production?
Kirsten: I’m so excited to see this become a reality. After a couple years of planning this, having these characters become real and hearing the songs and seeing it morph into what will be an epic production has been very cool.
Okay, so my blog is late this week but let me tell you WHY it’s late. On Sunday evening, I was sitting on the living room couch, laptop on my lap, all prepared to blog away. And yes, I generally wait till Sunday evening to write the Monday morning blog because I don’t do ANYTHING in advance. Being prepared and having things ready only serves to stem the flow of creative juices. So there I was, about to BS my way through a blog when what do I behold on the Direct TV preview guide? And yes, I was checking the preview guide before I started the blog just to make sure that I wasn’t missing anything important. Don’t judge me. So what do I see on the guide? The movie “Kingdom of Heaven” was about to start. That’s Kingdom of Heaven. Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons and a cast of thousands. Knights, armor, swords, battle, BLOOD! An epic movie filmed like movies used to be filmed. No digital enhancements, just lots and lots of actors dressed up in cool outfits whacking at each other with medieval weapons. The only question was, do I DVR the movie and watch it later, allowing myself time to write the blog or do I watch the move now, live, and still DVR it so I can watch it over and over again? My fate was sealed when someone told me: “Watch whatever you want, I don’t care.” Now there was NO WAY I was going to miss a chance to watch WAR on television instead of another cute comedy. So I watched Kingdom of Heaven.
As I watched the movie, it occurred to me that the actors were getting to do some pretty cool stuff. They got to dress up and pretend they were knights. They got to kiss girls, ride horses and die in spectacular ways. Now, I know from experience that acting can be hard work, especially on a feature film. But DANG! Orlando Bloom got to be a knight. AND he got to be an elf a couple of times. And a pirate. Heck, Orlando Bloom was even in the movie “Blackhawk Down”. He got to play a U.S. Army Ranger. Sure, he fell out of the helicopter like a dork but he still got to be in the movie.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that being an actor really gives you the opportunity to do a lot of things you wouldn’t do otherwise. You get to be different people from different times, from different walks of life. You get to dress as you would never dress, talk like you never talk and say things you would never say (or never get away with saying). During my brief tenure with the Actor’s Mission, I have played the ghost of a dead gay Spanish poet, a police detective, a judge, an accountant/dinner guest and a Nazi soldier. I got to wear costumes and make up, talk with a Spanish accent, say a lot of funny stuff and beat up a rabbi. Seriously, we trashed a synagogue and beat up a rabbi. My Nazi cohorts and I got to be the biggest jerks possible. Now, it’s not cool to be a Nazi jerk but it’s cool to PRETEND to be a Nazi jerk. To be directed to be meaner, louder, nastier. To be someone that you’re not, just for a little while.
Sometimes when you get to act like someone that you’re not, you develop some appreciation for the character or the situation. During our most recent production of “Behind Stone Masks” some of the actors were German Jews and some of the actors were Germans who were not Jews. As you might imagine, the German Jews were persecuted by the non Jewish Germans. Some of the actors got to experience what it is like to be attacked, beaten and generally discriminated against. Some of the other actors got blame the Jews for their problems and then go about the business of attacking, beating and discriminating. The character I played was a Nazi of the worst kind (as if there are good Nazis and nasty Nazis). My lines expressed some pretty bad thoughts. Later, when we were trashing the synagogue, beating up the rabbi and tossing around a facsimile of a Torah, I kind of felt bad. To be honest, I was pretty uncomfortable. But I delivered my lines and beat up the Rabbi and threw the Torah on the ground because the director told me I had to. You see, we were just following orders. Oops. We were only following orders. It made me think, gee, how many Germans actually did feel bad about what they were doing, but they went ahead and did it anyway or watched as bad things happened just because they didn’t want to become victims themselves. Or because the boss said they had to. I wondered how Bishop Hamm felt when his character was beaten to a pulp by his best friend because the senior officer told him to do it. I wondered if Jerry Evans felt bad when his character was beating his best friend to a pulp.
During the production of “Beauty of the Father”, I played the ghost of a real person, Frederico Garcia Lorca. Lorca was a Spanish poet and playwright who was killed by Spanish Nationalist Militia in August of 1936. The story is about the relationship between a number of people in the house of a present day Spanish artist as they are observed by the ghost of Lorca. The artist can speak to and interact with Lorca who turns out to be more or less of a mentor to the artist. Much of the dialog had to do with Lorca describing his arrest, imprisonment and execution. There is some controversy as to why Lorca was shot but by most accounts the fact that he was a homosexual Marxist certainly had a lot to do with the motives behind his killing. Now, I am not homosexual and I am not a Marxist but I could identify with my character as a human being. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that being killed for who you are or for what you believe is just not right. Did I know all of this before I played the ghost of Frederico Garcia Lorca? Sure I knew, but I had never really experienced the wrongness of it all from the perspective of the person being wronged. After it was all said and done, I really felt bad for the guy. I hoped that Lorca really was “still here, walking beneath the olive trees, memorizing (his) life like an actor in a play . . . just in case (he) got to be in someone else’s dreams.” In case you wondered, those were lines from the play.
We could keep on like this, through “Geography of Heaven” , “Witching Hour”, “The Shape of Things”. Pretty much every production the Actor’s Mission has ever presented. They have all been observations of the human condition in some form or another. While we, as actors, hope to enrich the lives and provoke the thoughts of our audiences, we also get to do the same to ourselves. With each performance we leave a little bit of ourselves behind and take a little bit of our character with us. And that little bit stays with us forever. Now if someone would just put a sword in my hand . . .
When a performance is over it is customary at Actors’ Mission for the audience to descend down to the stage and congratulate the cast and crew on a job well done. When this occurred for “Behind Stone Masks” I had a lot of very nice compliments given to me as the playwright, and a lot of questions asked. The most often repeated of these was, “What was it like seeing your words come to life on stage?” The answer I gave was pretty short and sweet, so as my final act on the production I thought I’d take the opportunity in this blog to address the question in more detail.
In a word; weird. In three words; weird and wonderful.
Why weird? Well, pretend for a moment that you have an imaginary friend. This friend likes to play pretend with you and together you go on a fantastic adventure inside your mind. Now look at the person closest to you. What would it be like if that person suddenly started walking around in the persona of your imaginary friend? They said all the words that your imaginary friend says, they walked to all of the places your imaginary friend walks. Wouldn’t that be weird? You know that person isn’t entirely your imaginary friend, because your imaginary friend lives in your mind, and yet if they walk and talk and act in just the same way the abstraction can be pretty convincing. In fact you might just decide that that person is your imaginary friend, at least as long as they’re acting this way.
That’s kind of what it’s like having a play produced. The characters who once lived only on the page and in your mind are suddenly walking around in the flesh having discussions with each other right in front of you (this can be particularly disconcerting when one or more of your characters happens to be an angry Nazi of the Third Reich). But now, those characters are also people outside the play, who have dedicated themselves to becoming those characters for the purpose of telling a story together. Almost like your imaginary friend has suddenly developed a multiple personality disorder.
But as I said it is also wonderful. Because the story you’ve conjured is given a tangible life, however brief. For a few glorious hours the story and its characters that once lived only inside your head waltzes through a stage shaped portal into the physical realm where it can be directly experienced by others. Nothing quite compares to that moment when a world you helped create merges with the real world in a vortex of experience shared by playwright, cast, director and audience. That moment is art and beauty incarnate. Wonderful indeed.
The Actors’ Mission is always on the lookout for original scripts to produce, and I can tell you that this weird and wonderful experience is worth everything you put in to creating a script. So if you’re a playwright, I encourage you to take a chance and submit your work to readers committee. Let Actors’ Mission experience the weird and wonderful journey of your play with you. We’ll all be glad you did.