A Staged Reading – Fully and Completely Realized

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Duncan (Andy) Fisher (left) as ‘David’, Laine Maret (centre) as ‘Kate’ and Jeff Glickman (right) as ‘Richard’ during the staged reading of ‘Not Being A Dick’

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Duncan (Andy) Fisher (left) as ‘David’ and Aubree Erickson (right) as ‘Becky’ during the staged reading of ‘Not Being A Dick’ at C’est What in Toronto.

Last night’s staged reading of Not Being A Dick was incredibly gratifying.  The play means so much to me personally, and to see it so warmly received by an audience was something beyond words.

Last night’s event, was actually the first and only time we ran the show from beginning to end without stopping.  It was the first and only time we had the full cast together on that stage.  We didn’t even have time to block it out before presenting it to the audience – just a quick run through of our entrances & exits as people arrived (and watched us work).  We truly were up on a high wire and working without a net – and it all went off without a hitch.

I am so proud of the hard work, effort and talent my cast brought to the project.  We took the play so far in such a short period of time.  Every expectation I had for this undertaking was exceeded by a long shot.  The performances were strong.  The blocking was solid.  I was able to ‘see’ the play and then learn from it.  I also was able to learn something from how the audience received it.

We did a Q&A with the audience, and while everyone had great things to say about the relationship between David and Richard, and the humour between them, there remains some ambiguity between David’s relationship with Kate & Becky, as well as the women’s relationship to each other.  I’m thinking I’m going to have to write a new penultimate scene, to take place AFTER David professes his love to Becky.  Perhaps something where Becky confronts Kate.  Need to make sure there remains some high conflict in the scene, otherwise the play loses its momentum, and the scene falls into expositional drivel land.

Aside from making plans to meet with my cast individually for final thoughts, as well as addressing some of the pencil marks I made on my paper copy of the script, I don’t think I’m going to rush into writing the next draft.  It’s time to let things sit a spell – perhaps wait until the next theatre gets booked.  I’m thinking Chicago sometime soon – take advantage of some of the theatre contacts I’ve made down there.

More than anything I’m pleased that I followed through on a commitment I made to myself in back in February.  The timing took a little bit longer than what I first thought, but I did it.  I realized the goal, fully and completely.  It’s not often that I’m able to say that about commitments I make to myself – at least not ones that require so much effort from so many people whom I have no control over.  I am truly greatful for all the help I receieved.

Now, it’s time to begin the next thing.

‘Not Being A Dick’

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David is a very nice guy with a talking penis named Richard.  Richard likes Kate.  David LOVES Becky.  Conflict!

Our final rehearsal for Not Being A Dick took place in my apartment last night.  We worked exclusively on the David/Becky scenes.  It really is amazing how a scene can go from feeling flat and lumpy, to flowing and alive, just by marking the beats and driving them.  It took us over 3 hours, and I wound up with goosebumps when Andy & Aubree played their final scene.

We hit the stage at C’est What, in the heart of downtown Toronto, tonight at 7pm.

Downtown Toronto!  My play.  Three years.  What a journey!

I met Courtney four years ago in a Philosophy 100 class at the University of Regina.  My thoughts are very much with her in this moment as I reflect on how this play came to be.  Quite simply, it would never have been written if I hadn’t ever met her.  So much joy.  So much pain.  So much to learn.  So far to grow.

Becky stopped being Courtney shortly after I met Julianne last year.  Writing a play whilst playing with fire is an intoxicating and dangerous mixture.  Becky began to grow into her own person during this time.  Where I was simply unable to turn the screws and put this character through hell, like every good playwright needs to do with his characters, I simply couldn’t because of who she represented.  I couldn’t hurt Courtney.  Things changed when I fused Julianne’s spine with Courtney’s spirit.  Becky truly came into her own.

In the hands of Aubree, who plays Becky, the character has taken on yet another major shift.  Becky now lives and breathes.  She has a voice – a singing voice.  She has a way of holding herself.  She is nothing like Courtney or Julianne.  Aubree gave Becky her smile.

My mind is racing right now through the places and faces that moved me through this period of my life.  Not Being A Dick is more than just a play to me.  It is a vessel that holds many precious memories from the last four years of my life.  Real life with the boring bits removed.  Theatre at its most naked.

Thank you for taking this journey with me.

Reading Between the Lumpy Bits

I set aside a two-week block of time primarily to accomplish two things; write/rehearse Dick and cut the music video together.  Didn’t really see this block of time as ‘strategic’ to my career or anything – it just seemed like something I had to do.  I am a writer and I need to write.  I am a filmmaker and I need to create.  Period.

Something unexpected has happened.

The music video has opened some doors to potential opportunities.  I met with Matt Devlin Thursday morning, looking for advice on my documentary series idea.  We came up with a much bigger concept together.  It’s still too early to get excited about anything concrete, but I came out of the meeting with far more than what I expected going in – I’m developing a project with somebody who’s worked for a number of major US networks and has connections that I don’t have.

The music video also opened some doors in terms of corporate work with my friend’s production company here in town.  They’re using the video as part of their pitch package to a big client.  They get the gig, I’m in – and I’m earning enough money to focus three quarters of my time on writing and developing my own projects.  A very excellent balance methinks.

Version 10 of Dick has been completed.  We rehearsed it Thursday night with the full company present.  The new changes held up, and there remains only a small tweak in the final scene to address.  We can make the change in pencil, it’s so small.

Rehearsing the play has been incredibly gratifying.  I am constantly being surprised by how my words in the hands of other artists, transcend what I imagined them to be, when I wrote them.  Blocking was our major focus – so much so, that some of the David/Becky scenes were glossed over in favour of getting a full run of the play in, before it was time to call it a night.  Those scenes suffered as a result.  They simply weren’t as tight as the rest of the play.

I actually didn’t sleep well that night.  Combination of things.  I was thrilled with the scenes that thrilled me.  I was excited to have Renee present for part of the rehearsal process (she won’t be able to see the show on Sunday).  I was concerned with how often we had to stop and start because of blocking issues.  I was occupied with how to simplify everything, without cutting too deeply.

Movement in Dick is as important as the dialogue.  It speaks as loudly.  We need to see Richard dance.  We need to see the tender, unspoken, moments between David and Becky, contrasted against the sex scenes with Kate.  Obviously those scenes with Kate are scaled back from what they would be in a full production, but the David/Becky scenes can be played very close to how they are written.

Readings for a play can be everything from actors on stage, reading from the script behind music stands, to something closer to what I’m trying to do – rudimentary blocking, on a cobbled-together set.  No light cues.  No music.  Someone offstage reading the stage directions to the audience.  I don’t think I’m asking too much of my cast to present the later.

Andy, Aubree, and Laine are coming in tonight to rehearse the David/Becky scenes.  We hit the stage tomorrow night at C’est What.

Rewriting An Unexpected Turn

Looks like Version 10 of Dick is in the works.

We rehearsed Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  Many discoveries have been made about the play – most of them, unexpected.  The biggest change thus far will be a major rewrite of my penultimate scene (scene 13).  The dialogue will only have to be tweaked, but the setting and the circumstance is completely turned on its head.

In the current version, Becky turns up at David’s apartment to tell him that she loves him, but can’t be with him – and his heart breaks.  In the upcoming rewrite, David shows up at Becky’s apartment unexpectedly.  The conversation takes place in the hallway of her building.  She won’t let him inside because, unbeknownst to him, there’s another guy inside.  He professes his love, and she to him, but it’s just not a good time for her.  The stakes are high because she doesn’t want him to know she has someone over.  She loves him, but can’t/won’t be with him – and his heart shatters into a million pieces.  Becky’s story arc changes, but not too far from where I want her to wind up.  It clarifies her journey.  It also reinforces some of the themes coming out of the story.

Along with the discoveries we’re making together as a company, we’re also getting some rudimentary blocking in.  We all headed down to C’est What for a look at the stage yesterday afternoon.  We had the place to ourselves.  It was practically our own private rehearsal hall.  Came up with a basic set design based on what was already laying around and worked with it.

It felt great.  We’re really doing this.  We’re a company with a script, a venue, and an audience to please.  We’re going to be a little rough around the edges, but we’re going to tell a great story.

Our next rehearsal is Wednesday afternoon.  I need to have a rewrite complete by then.  Let’s see how it holds up.

Beating A New Ending Into Shape

Remember that thing I was saying yesterday where I was like ‘my work is so brilliant I didn’t have to change a thing to my final scene’?  Something to that effect anyway.

Well guess what?

C’mon.  Guess.

Yup.  I tore the final scene apart last night and rewrote half of it.  Completely changed the ending for ‘Kate’ and ‘Richard’.  ‘David’ shifts slightly and ‘Becky’ remains the same.  Maybe a page and a half of new material, with an equivalent amount taken out.  Not a significant change in terms of word count, but a gynourmous huge shift for ‘Kate’s’ journey.

It’s the correct shift too methinks.  It was a major glaring problem and I didn’t see it until we attempted rehearsing it last night – nine revisions after I first wrote the scene.  Funny how that works.  Am I missing anything else?

I hope not.  In general terms, I was always unsettled with ‘Kate’s’ journey in the story.  Something about her was missing from the pages.  The vast majority of Version 9 spoke to ‘Kate’s’ missing pages.  But for a tweak of a line or two, the new material with Kate held up.  I’m hoping for the same with this final scene.

The rehearsal itself was great.  I spent three and a half hours with Andy and Laine (‘David’ and ‘Kate’), going through their scenes in my apartment, while sitting around my coffee table.  There were times where I needed to read ‘Richard’ and/or ‘Becky’ so we could get through a scene, but that was kind of fun too.  Being a Director is a very different job from being a writer.

We would read a scene from beginning to end, then stop and go back to the beginning.  No notes.  Maybe some questions were asked of me, but I wasn’t too interested in diving in that deeply into the script after the first cold read.  Actors can usually figure things out on their own if you point them in the right direction.  It takes a bit longer, but it provides for a far better performance in the end.

Upon the second read, we set out to identify the ‘beats’ of the scene – those moments of understanding between two or more characters.  Beats provide the shape of a scene.  The actors use them as markers.  We start off slow at the beginning of a beat, then pick up momentum, surging towards the next beat.  We hit that beat, drop the pace slightly, and surge towards the next beat.  Hit that beat, drop the pace slightly, and surge towards the next.  Think of it as shifting gears in a car with a manual transmission.

Much discussion comes from discussing where the beats are in a scene.  In order for the actor to surge towards a beat, he needs to understand what his character wants and what tactic that character will use to achieve it.  The pursuit of that objective is what ‘drives’ a scene.  Conversations around subtext – what’s really being said with a line – happen here too.  From a lofty perch, the actor can look at all his scenes in the play, with those beats and objectives clearly marked, and see how his character’s journey progresses through the story.  Just as he gives his scene a shape, he then gives his character’s journey through the play a shape.

It was incredibly satisfying to see these characters come to life.  The script held up to close scrutiny with the exception of that one scene.  Laine and Andy are soooooo good.  I could not imagine a better fit for those two characters.  I can only hope the audience agrees with me next Sunday.