Okay, let me just ask it plainly: Why do so many actors involve themselves with such shit theatre projects? Because we’ve all been there, where we’ve gotten ourselves together to go see our Talented Friend in their play, and we are….. horrified. Right? About 20-30 hours a year at least go by this way. And we come up with something nice to say at the end, get in the car, and rip the experience all the way home, plus or minus what is by that time a necessary drink at a nearby pub. And the most common question is often Why did my friend purposefully associate him/herself with that shit?
Consider me serious when I say I don’t mean to offend or diminish the efforts of the thousands of people every day who are trundling off to rehearse their latest play. I’m not trying to be cute. I truly respect the endeavor – it’s not easy, and much of the labors involved are motivated by a real camaraderie and enthusiasm. Continue reading →
OMG. Yesterday was the date of my meeting with SAG regarding my nefarious (and unpaid) participation in a mini-DV short film, back in friggin’ 2002 (yes, the 2002 that was seven years ago), a film on which no money was spent nor made. I had expected to walk in and, once they realized that no money was made on this film (“Martine,” directed by Mark Gantt), I’d be dismissed with an apology for having been brought in at all. Wrong.
I sat down in a conference room at the SAG building opposite two lawyers, some SAG executive, some actress I didn’t know, and none other than Elliot Gould and Adam Arkin, the latter with whom I had worked for a day back in 1993 on the pilot of Chicago Hope, and the former who had starred in the film Rules of Marriage back in 1982, directed by Milt0n. Introductions were made, and they hand me a printout of screenshots from IMDB, listing “Martine” and various festivals in which it was entered – seven years ago.Continue reading →
The newly renamed Katselas Theatre Company (formerly Camelot Artists) was brought to life this weekend with my latest directing effort, Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing. Our official press opening is May 2nd, but I’ve never paid much attention to the whole preview / opening distinction – once there’s an audience in the seats, I consider that I’ve opened. I’m very proud of the actors and the work they’re doing in this very difficult play, and I think Milton would have gotten a kick out of a couple things I’m doing in this as director. The shows went very smoothly, except for the fact that our soon-never-to-be-seen-again incredibly hostile lighting and set designer brought my set in at 7:15pm the night of the first performance. Yeah, that’s 45 minutes before the first curtain. And he brought a set that looks like crap – I’ll have to have the whole thing redone. It was supposed to be a set of really nice stained wood bookshelves, and he brought what looks to be particle board that has been spray painted brown. NICE!
It is with mixed emotions that I look at the idea of having directed the first production under our new banner, The Katselas Theatre Company. Our first performance, April 24, marks the six-month anniversary of Milton’s passing, and never has six months gone by that at the same time seemed so endless, yet so quick to pass. I first worked with Milton when he directed a workshop of Puccini’s La Boheme here at The Skylight Theatre 17 years ago, and I was the rehearsal pianist. “Hey, you, Mr. Piano Guy, Mr. Bagel – no reading in rehearsal!” he famously yelled at me on my first day, as I ill-advisedly munched on breakfast while reading the New York Times in front of his face. And from that moment, we worked together on aomost every aspect of the BHP oepration. I edited his books and articles, ran the classes he taught, apprenticed him when he directed plays or scenes in class, and in 2001 he called me up and ordered me to go teach a class that night – which began the start of something I hadn’t really conceived of prior to that. He paid for my first piano teacher out here, and he even drove to the Valley to observe some of the lessons. I got to be directed by him as an actor a few times, and over the last 18 months of his life, had the immense privilege of teaching with him in the Advanced level classes here. I think the biggest gift he gave me recently, however, was last summer, in the middle of his giving a class some hell for not really studying the art of directing, for thinking that if they pick up a camera and press “record,” they can direct. In the middle of the diatribe, he paused, and asked the room, without glancing at me: “Who here has seen Rabbit Hole?” This was the production I directed last summer in this theatre, and Milton had recently seen a runthrough. A few hands went up – we had just opened the previous weekend. Another pause, and then: “Allen Barton is a director.” As my southern college roommate would have said, That’s high cotton! Thank you, Milton, for a great trip. I’ll be minding the store for you.
The Bard has been getting good treatment lately. The last four Shakespeare scenes I’ve seen in the Advanced level classes, all in the last month:
1) Act I, Scene 1 of Hamlet. Yeah, Act I Scene 1. Who does Act I Scene 1? Just a functional little scene to introduce Hamlet’s ghostly Dad, right? Not in this incarnation, directed by Peter Leake. Working for over a month at midnight and beyond, Peter directed four of his fellow actors in the class to a terrific, funny, well-armed, sound-designed-within-an-inch-of-its-life realization of scene that is usually overlooked and under-realized.
Had my least favorite brand of meeting the other day – a get-together with an angry student about why they’ve decided to leave the school. I must confess I’m not predisposed to be effective in this type of thing – I hate the idea of “convincing” someone to stay at BHP, and would much rather spend a precious hour helping someone who feels great about staying. This particular student, a 5-year veteran, was seething with anger about the way certain staff members had handled a project that she was recently part of. The list of grievances seemed to consist of the usual bullshit that has been present for every theatre production I’ve ever done: this personality didn’t match with that, such-and-such an email was misinterpreted, so-and-so said such-and-such would happen and it didn’t, an argument about who should clear sets or props. Yawn. I mean, YAWN! Most of it revolved around two people who work for BHP/Camelot – let’s call them A and B. It was a real festival of what Milton entitled in Dreams Into Action, “Blame Heaven.” Continue reading →
Had another discussion last night with someone who thinks the BHP should put acting classes on the web. I don’t get it. How can you train for the performing arts on the web? I told this person – we could cull from our video footage the 10 best critiques ever delivered by Milton personally, put it up on our site, have some eager itinerant actor in Kansas study these 10 critiques until he could recite them word for word…. Now invite this Kansas actor out to LA and have him perform a scene, and I can pretty much guarantee that it will suck.
This weekend I played at the 25th annual STAGE Benefit at the Wilshire Theatre. It was dedicated to the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin, and I had been invited to perform my solo transcription of Rhapsody in Blue. The director of the show, David Galligan, had also directed our first big Camelot Artists fundraiser in 2006 that took place over at UCLA, and I performed the piece there – he rememberd it. Coincidentally, I performed at the Wilshire Theatre in 2007, for our benefit celebrating Doris Roberts, also playing Gershwin – my transcription of Concerto in F.
So it was strange to be back in this grand old theatre, by far the largest venue I’ve played – when I performed in 2007 I was convinced that would be a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Wrong.
Just a thought. It being election season, I’m finding myself embroiled in many conversations about politics. I’ll ‘fess up and admit that I consider myself a right-leaning centrist, and yeah I generally vote Republican. This makes me like much of America, but in Los Angeles it puts me next to Genghis Khan in the eyes of many.
So being in the minority, surrounded by opponents to the left who are wanting to rip my jugular out, I need to be VERY attentive to my communication. I personally love the debate, when it is in fact a debate. Often it devolves into my leftward-leaning debate partner issuing angry monologues without consideration of anything else. Everyone is just preaching to their chosen choir. The only question I actually get about my views is the unintentionally insulting… “How could a guy as smart as you……?” Well yes. How could I? No, but really!