Bottompost 4: previews and opening

L>R: Brad Wrenn (Starveling), me, Mike Dees (Flute), Mark Cairns (Snout), David Sweeny (Snug)

What a week.

It’s pretty simple: in order to save money and produce a play as big as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, small theater companies have to make compromises. In the case of the Lantern, this meant shaving a week off of rehearsal. We began February 15th. Our first audience was March 6th. We were barely ready. Because of the limited resources at its disposal, the Lantern works within a contract with Actor’s Equity which doesn’t allow for as many rehearsal hours as a larger theater. So they’re caught in a kind of Catch 22: relatively small financial resources means less rehearsal time with union actors and fewer rehearsal weeks.

Me and Dave Johnson (Puck)

Luckily, we have a cast of self-motivated and responsible actors, and we were able to double up rehearsals, with some of us staying on stage with Charles and others going to the rehearsal room with either Alex the fight choreographer, our Josh, or very able A.D. And there is something to be said for putting a comedy in front of audience a little too soon. I’ve always felt that comedy suffers from being too rehearsed. It is the actor’s fear which can propel him to comic heights.

We were all exhausted last week. Most of us are working other jobs in addition to acting in Midsummer. In my case it means getting up early enough to see my kids off to school and be at class – either in North Philly or in Media – by 9:00 am to teach. Then rehearsals from 1 – 5. Then shows at night. Then . . . repeat. That was last week. At least through Wednesday night, when we opened.

Wednesday was an eventful day for me. I fainted on the way to rehearsal. While I was driving. I had just eaten lunch, was driving down 2nd street, when I felt an overwhelming tingling sensation in my arms and head. My thoughts became weird and confused. I somehow managed to pull over and put my flashers on.  I “came to” sitting in my car, staring at the steering wheel, and having no idea what I was doing there. I gathered my thoughts slowly as I broke into a cold sweat. I remembered where I was going and continued on to rehearsal.

I spoke to Rebecca our stage manager about what had happened, she alerted Josh, who is playing Bottom in the school shows. We had notes and a light rehearsal, and I napped for about an hour afterwards. I felt dizzy three or four times that afternoon, as if I was going to have another episode, but it passed, each time becoming less severe. Remember – this was opening night.

We had a great opening, with a warm and supportive audience, and since that afternoon, I haven’t experienced anything like what I went through Wednesday. I went to the doctor Thursday, had an exam, an EKG, and they took some blood. I had a CT scan the following day. Nothing – all normal. So there it is: my own weird play within the play.

with Joey Liao (Hippolyta/Titania)

Speaking of which, it has dawned on me that Midsummer has a secret weapon: it is Peter Quince’s play Pyramus and Thisbe. If you can rock P & T, it almost doesn’t matter what has come before in the production. The audience will leave in the warm glow of laughter and feel that it was a night well spent. It can, of course, go the other way too: an unfunny P & T can mar the good work which has come before it. So far, we are rocking it. For me, it is an exercise in extremity. It is the pinnacle of Bottom’s career, and he nearly bombs, forgetting lines early on, falling down the stairs and generally making an ass of himself (sorry, had to). But the fear which drives the actor to great heights, the fear I spoke of before, drives Bottom to an insane frenzy of melodrama. In spite of himself, he provides an over-the-top entertainment both for the Duke and for the Lantern audience. Charles encouraged me to go into the audience. Careful what you wish for.

Thisbe and Pyramus meet at the wall

Some favorite moments so far:

  • my encounter with Titania and the fairies at the end of our act 1. Something about my donkey mask, Joey’s performance and the way the fairies and I discover each other – in one of my favorite light cues in the play – feels purely magical.
  • my ongoing interaction with Snug (David Sweeny), who is a very sweet mechanical nearly crippled by shyness.
  • watching Mike Dees, who plays Flute/Thisbe, adjust his enormous falsies before entering.
  • lying on top of Dave Johnson.
  • Pyramus and Thisbe generally, the wonderfully comic and wonderfully specific work of the six mechanicals, and the mending of my relationship with Peter Quince.
  • listening to the comic crescendo of the four lovers’ scene which begins our act 2.

Very much looking forward to the next three weeks.

Hee haw.