I’ve always hated dream ballets in musicals, They always seemed silly and contrived to me and often unnecessary (which is why they are often cut or shortened in modern productions). But this week Guest choreographer Kevin Hill staged the second act dream ballet for West Side Story, a sequence that retells in dance the tragedy of Maria and Tony. There is no dialogue in the sequence, the orchestra plays the lyrical “Somewhere” and is joined by a beautiful offstage soprano, (Cathy Ardrey in our production). Of course we didn’t have the orchestra at rehearsal, just a single piano, and Cathy was out of town so Wendell Smith, our Music Director (not a soprano) sang”Somewhere” softly as the dancers went through their paces. And there in the rehearsal hall, with no orchestra, no sets or costumes, this beautiful and moving story came magically to life simply in the movement of the dancers. It was beautiful, a dream. I couldn’t believe I was moved to tears by a sequence I’d actually thought about cutting from the show. I can’t wait for you to see it.
Marybeth Clark, Director for West Side Story.
This past Wednesday our Resident Professional Acting Company joined me at lunch for pizza and a reading of my latest draft of our new version of Frankenstein which will premiere in October. This is draft ten and there were a number of changes from the last draft they read. The biggest change was the ending. Don’t worry, I won’t give it away. All I’ll say at this point is that it involves fire and ice. (And it’s closer to Mary Shelley’s original ending, though it has a few of my own twists thrown in as well.) Most of all I worked more fully on developing the characters. Victor’s betrothed, Elizabeth, (Sara Claire Smith) for instance, now relies on faith versus Victor’s reliance on science and reason. Victor’s friend Henry, (Brian Zane) who was just a tag-a-long friend in the early draft, now challenges Victor and his methods. In one instance I realized I had simplified the plot elements for Justine, the governess (Viveka Chandrasekaran) and the village bully (Sonny Kong) too much and will restore some of the elements cut from version 10. (Note to future playwrights: Never throw anything away.) The biggest development in this new draft, as was evident from the reading, is how the character of the Creature has evolved. Actor Michael Lazris read it with great pathos and power and the scenes between Victor (Andy McCain) and the Creature in Act II are really strong—so much so that I realize I need to go back and rework the Creature’s act one scenes. This is a tough act because it’s here that we are introduced to the Creature for the first time, and as in Mary Shelley’s version, we must see the horror of this creation but his humanity too. A tall order. The other actors gave great readings too and in some scenes made my writing sound better than it is. (Another hint for future plarwrights, always find a cast that makes you look good.) By reading the script out loud these professionals helped me find the awkward parts—phrases that look great on paper but don’t sound that realistic. Bessie Edwards, our Stage Management Intern this season read the stage directions to help everyone follow the action—and there is a lot of action, explosions, fights, lightning, thunder and more. Bessie did a great job of making these come to life and helped us to get a feel for the rhythm of the show. Production Manager Stefanie Christensen, Costumer Barbara Young and Property Master Mike Christensen were there too and we began initial discussions on the look of the Creature (more on that in a future blog) and discussions how the sets will work—especially considering there are six locales from an alpine meadow to Victor’s lab to a ship bound for Capri. And so, on to draft 11! Writer David Halverstam once said writing and rewriting are like cleaning a dirty window, with every new draft the window gets cleaner and cleaner and we begin to see the truth more clearly as well. For this new version of Frankenstein, I’m still “window cleaning” but I can definitely see this great story taking form through the still murky glass. I now have about a month to finish the draft the actors will use when we go into rehearsal. But it won’t be the last draft, generally two or three additional versions will be created during the rehearsal process. So I guess it’s time to stop blogging and get to those rewrites.
Julian Wiles, playwright for the all new Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus.
I have a confession to make. My name is Brian Zane and I’m addicted to West Side Story. There I said it. They say the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem. However, my love of this show seems to be incurable. I was first seduced by this work of art at the spritely age of 7 and my condition has only worsened with time. It was one of the first musicals I ever saw and definitely my clearest memory of musical theatre at such a young age. The production was done by the Pleasantville High School (a small school that I would later attend) Performing Arts program and was more alive and raw than anything I had ever seen on small or big screen. The music, the dancing, the story: it all broke my heart and yet also awakened it. It awakened a need not only to see more theatre, but to become a part of it and tell this story and more stories like it. Suffice it to say, when I found out I would be playing the part of Riff, I felt like I was seven all over again.
Flash forward to our first rehearsal, this past Tuesday, when we had a read-thru and sing-thru of the show. I felt like a ball of energy, more excited for this read-thru than I had been for any other. We began to read and the energy and attitude of the show seemed to soar through us. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long to say my first line or sing my first song and I finally had an outlet for all my energy. When guest actor Aaron Velthouse (our Tony) opened his mouth to sing “Something’s Coming” alone and then the “Tonight” duet opposite resident actor Viveka Chandrasekaran (our Maria) I knew I was going to be part of something special.
The next night, Wednesday, our dance boot camp commenced. Let me repeat that phrase: dance boot camp. What, you may ask, is dance boot camp? Dance boot camp is everything you think it would be and more. Kevin Hill, our choreographer, is quite a task master and made us do pushups, sit-ups and all kinds of body-weight exercises until we were red in the face. Never having been in armed services, I can’t compare it to actual boot camp. However, I did play football all four years in High School, and I had flashbacks of three-a-day summer practices during dance boot camp.
(Center- Resident Actor Brian Zane at Dance Boot Camp)
My name is Brian Zane and I’m addicted to West Side Story . . . And you know what? I’m just fine with that because I know that something really is coming.
(Local Actor Cara Dolan and Resident Actor Brian Zane practicing their dance form)
The cast for our new version of Frankenstein assembled last week to readthru the first draft of the script. (Actually it’s the 7th draft of the script but the first one to be read out loud. ) Hearing a script read aloud is so important for a playwright, for unlike a novel, the words in a play are written especially for the ear and a line that may look great on the page may sound awful or awkward out loud. As we read I made a number of notes on lines that need some tweaking. The goal is to make the dialogue sound not like sentences but conversational and that’s a challenge. The professional cast for this new version of Frankenstein is made up of our six new Resident Professional Actors (Michael Lasris: The Creature, Andy McCain: Victor Frankenstein, Brian Zane: Henri, Sara Claire Smith: Elizabeth, Sonny Kong: Felix, and Viveka Chandrasekaran: Justine, joined by local favorite Ross Magoules as De Lacey. It is a GREAT cast and they made the script (even the awkward parts) sound great! Best of all they could provide insights into their characters, what lines felt natural, which plot points seemed realistic and more. Creating a new script is a partnership, plays are not “written” they are “wrought” (which is why it’s called playwrighting). This means the final script will be forged by the actors working with me as the writer to bring this classic tale to life in an all new way. So we read through the entire script, Bessie Edwards, our Stage Manager reading the stage directions trying as best she could to add in all the special effects, lightning and thunder and explosions. After the reading the first reviews came in from the cast, staff and friends who’d gathered around. They weren’t bad! So what do I think? Well, as usual at this point I know I still have a lot of work to do. Some parts I think are already work well, especially the first thirty pages which I’ve worked the hardest on. Others need some tweaking and I’ll be focusing on those parts as my rewrites begin. The challenge for me, is to stay true to Mary Shelley’s original story but to be mindful that our visions of Frankenstein are shaped by the famous Boris Karloff films, not to mention, Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein, which is a classic in its own right. Our new script isn’t there yet but I think we’re off to a great start. Next will be a full revision (version 8.0) which we will read once more before we go into rehearsals. The evening concluded with themed refreshements, including a vegetable skeleton designed by Stefanie Christensen our resident scene designer. (See below)
Julian Wiles, playwright for this season’s new version of Frankenstein.
The Veggie Skeleton Centerpiece!
But this year’s SummerStage will go down in history.
With High School Musical closing in less than an hour (they are currently on stage), our SummerStage cast is extremely proud of themselves, and deservedly so. High School Musical has shattered box office records, selling more than every previous SummerStage production at Charleston Stage. In fact, they’ve sold more than DOUBLE the tickets of any previous production! In fact, the current show has over 500 audience members in the house… which is significantly more than the Dock Street Theatre can even hold! Moving to the Sottile may have been the best decision we could have ever made!
While we are praising our wonderful students, I guess I should mention that you are reading a blog entry written by one of Charleston Stage’s new Resident Actors. My name is Sonny Kong, and I am joined by fellow Resident Actors Sarah Claire Smith, Viveka Chandrasekaran, Brian Zane, Andy McCain, and Michael Lasris. We are thrilled to be working with such a talented group of students and couldn’t be more proud of their work. Below is a picture of some of our SummerStage students during a High School Musical rehearsal: