After Hurricane Sandy…

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It was cold in the Avalon last night (October 30, 2012).

The temperature had dropped after the hurricane and we all came in winter coats and didn’t take them off until we got upstairs to the Stoltz Listening Room. It was cozy there, but downstairs was cold. Cavin Moore warmed up the kids by putting them through their dance routines.

Then Cavin worked with the “casserole ladies”, a group of women of a certain age who are interested in our widowed main character, Sandy Hawes (played by David Foster). Cool it, ladies. Martha got there first! In the original script these casserole ladies were supposed to be able to tap dance. Laura and I had an idea that the Talbot Tappers might try out for the parts, but by the time auditions came around, the tappers were already booked for the holidays. So our ladies will do some sort of routine. We’re just not sure what it will be yet. Cavin seems to have it in hand.

Upstairs Cecile Davis worked with the adult actors. In one scene Will Hawes (Casey Rauch) has to be angry by the scene’s end. Cece had him play the whole scene being angry over and over again. She called them “anger runs”. Casey was getting hoarse, but the red eyes in the photo below are from the flash. He didn’t get that angry. Then she had him play the scene in the regular way, but at the end the anger was so much more authentic. She said the anger runs were to get some body memory about anger for the times you need to call on this emotion. We are finding these mini acting lessons fascinating.

Laura has ordered a banner of the Santa Diaries poster she designed (see below). We’ll carry it at the head of the play people who want to walk in Easton’s Christmas parade on December 1. Some will be in period costumes and some not. Laura and I rode in the Christmas in St. Michaels Christmas parade last year – in a pink Cadillac – holding a poster for our book The Santa Diaries – Memories of a Small-Town Christmas. That little book was the inspiration for the play now in production. We get to be in another parade. Life is good!

Hurricane Sandy? The Show Must Go On…

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With only 47 days until opening, almost everyone made it to rehearsal yesterday (Oct 28, 2012). Director Tim Weigand was late because he was at Talbot County’s Office of Emergency Services watching the track of Hurricane Sandy and making disaster preparedness videos for the local cable channel. I think the people who came had already completed their storm prep before arriving at the Avalon. We all hope the storm will pass our area without too much damage and Tuesday night’s rehearsal will happen as scheduled. There is still lots of work to do.

One of the longest scenes in the play is when Will (the male lead and LA star) holds auditions for the community play. Everybody in the cast is on stage and the majority of them are kids. Trying to keep everybody focused is a real challenge. I am amazed that nobody is yelling, but from the back of the audience I want to collar some of the older kids and tell them to listen up and help corral the youngest. Being present on stage is crucial and is being drummed into everybody, but it’s a hard thing to do.

Cecile Davis worked with Talley Wilford and choreographer Cavin Moore on a variety of blocking options for this complex scene. Moving people about and then expecting them to stand quietly while she gives instruction about how to do it better is difficult. Some people have to be at the front of the group at a given time and that requires shuffling of the cast. The stage at the Avalon is not large and if people are too far front they are not visible to those in the balcony. Lots of things to consider.

Portia Hughes plays the part of Marley, the imaginary come-to-life stuffed animal (dog) belonging to Tim Darling. This is a great role with lots of physical humor. Portia came prepared for her hands-on-knees role with kneepads. Good thinking, Portia.

We are beginning to hear some discussion about lighting issues. There are times when certain stage areas of a scene need to be spotlighted, and then another and another in quick sequence. People have to be in place when that scene begins and stand quietly until the spotlight is on them. I am beginning to understand why there is a technical week at the end of the rehearsal process. I might be biting my nails at that point.

After most of the kids were released around four in the afternoon, the rest of the cast went up to Stolz to continue rehearsing. They are all to be off book in a week or so and only some are there at this point. Tim Weigand talked about the importance of pauses in dialogue and not rushing ahead. Timing for laughs is something the actors may not really get a handle on until the play is being rehearsed on stage and there are people reacting in the audience.

The actors are getting more comfortable in their roles and Tim, Cece and Tally are encouraging them to try different “takes” on their characters until they find the one that really works. This has to feel risky, but feeling safe enough to try is crucial. There are no mistakes at this stage of the game.

Rehearsal 10-21-12

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Yesterday (10-21-12) was the fourth rehearsal of The Santa Diaries. Laura and I sat in the back of the auditorium watching Cece Davis and Cavin Moore putting the kids through their paces. It is truly astounding to see what has been accomplished in such a short time. It’s not perfect yet, but you can see the outlines. We were so impressed.

Rehearsals of various scenes were taking place in three different spaces at the Avalon yesterday. At times, in the theater, Cece Davis was on stage with some kids and Cavin Moore was on the floor where the chairs usually are with another group. Up in the Stoltz Listening Room the main characters were working and on the third floor another actor was getting some one-on-one help.

 Cavin on the theater floor…

while Cece blocks a scene on stage.

 Meanwhile upstairs in Stoltz…

Tim Weigand is directing.

Tyler Sabatino, the boy who is playing Timmy, is adorable with a smile that lights up a room. Like many of these kids he seems born to the stage. He has no fear about being up there. Today he was running a scene that included the live counterpart of his stuffed dog, Marley. His mom, Mindy, was patiently waiting downstairs. When he returned, he got a snack and a hug from Mom.

 Tyler and his mom, Mindy Smith-Sabatino.

Marie U’Ren was around taking measurements of the cast so she can figure out who will wear what Victorian costume in the final scene of the play. Some of the adults and kids will walk in the December 1st Easton Christmas parade. Laura and I plan to march at the front of the group holding a banner of the play poster which Laura has designed. We’ll preview the poster here in a few days.

When Laura and I left a little before six, Marie was sitting in the lobby nursing a hard cider from Bannings. She was patiently waiting to catch Casey Rauch (he plays Will) and get his measurements. We had a short discussion about the Marley dog costume which is currently being used in a local children’s theater production of Annie. In Annie it’s a cat costume but we’ll alter the ears and tail. Recycling is the name of the game in community theater. Tomorrow Marie told us she would be moving costumes from one place to another and might need help. I volunteered my husband and told him over a glass of wine last night. Please tell us somebody is working on sets! This production takes a small-town…

Acting 101

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Originally posted on on October 17, 2012

Tuesday night we watched Tim Weigand work with four of the leads in The Santa Diaries. He led them through some acting exercises designed to get them out of their heads and into a space where they become their character. It was fascinating to watch the actors reach that “aha” moment when that happened.

Casey Rauch plays Will Hawes. He has a huge part – the most lines and is on stage most of the play. He is the “grow and change” character and we have to see him transition from being an LA dick, just full of himself, to a man who remembers what’s important in life.

Jessica, the highschool sweetheart Will left behind, is played by Jenny Madino. Jenny is a singer, and has not had an acting role before, but she brings to this role a natural empathy for the character. She told me early on that she is the girl who decided to stay in her small town and not take her talents out to the world. Wait till you hear her sing!

Ashley Chroninger plays Brandeee (yes, three e’s — think Beyonce, Madonna — you have to set yourself apart). Brandeee is Will’s Hollywood starlet fiancee. This is a demanding role as it could easily slip into characature. We have to believe that Will loved her enough to want to marry her.

Erik Higgins, known locally as Groundhog, plays Will’s business snarky manager, Josh Shankman. Erik is having so much fun with this role. At one point last night he asked Tim, “Could I try this as a gay?” “Go for it,” was Tim’s reply and the result was hysterical. Nobody knows yet how this character will be presented on stage, but early in the process the actors have to try on different ways of portraying the character.

It seemed to me that Tim was trying to get the actors to create a universe on stage, inhabited only by themselves.  Learn to shut out the audience. You can only react to the people who are on stage with you. And you have to stay in character 100% of the time. The audience will know if you start thinking about the clothes you left in the dryer or the almost empty needle on your gas tank. And the minute you do that, you lose the connection with the other actors and your audience.

Tim said that when people think about great art, they think, “I couldn’t do that.” When they think about great music, they think, “I couldn’t do that.” But when they think about acting they say, “I could do that.” Watching the acting exercises last night let me know there’s way more to it than just standing in front of people and knowing your lines.

Controlled Chaos and Collaboration

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Originally posted on on October 15, 2012

Watching the table read of The Santa Diarieswas amazing even with Director Tim Weigand telling the actors to just read at this point. He said there will be lots of readings before they start acting – that at this point the goal is becoming familiar with the script and other actors lines. He told them they needed to be “off book” by November 1. I think that means they need to know their lines by then.

Laura and I have been working on the script since the beginning of June. I know there will be tweaks, additions and subtractions almost to opening night. Now we are learning about the myriad details involved in getting the script on stage.

Someone had to go through the script and put the scenes on a spreadsheet with all the characters (even walk-ons) down the left side and then indicate which scenes (across the top of the spreadsheet) each character is in. I couldn’t figure out how to print it out, let alone do this herculean job – which had to be done before a rehearsal schedule could be compiled.

Not every actor has to be at every rehearsal which will be taking place in three different places in the Avalon Theatre: on stage, in the Stoltz Listening Room and on the third floor. Some actors will be running between these locations. Tuesday nights and Sunday afternoons are going to be chaotic. Then there are the changes. Tomorrow night the stage won’t be available because Capital Steps will be performing. Main leads only in Stoltz.

This is what controlled chaos looked like yesterday afteroon. I was amazed that the kids actually were getting the dance routine down. Remember, this was the third rehearsal!

I am coming to realize that controlled chaos is how you produce a play. The writing part was easy compared to the details that now have to be handled. Sets, costumes, directing, choreography, and a whole bunch of things that have to happen that I’m not aware of. Let’s not forget the important role of front of house – marketing, ticket sales, vacuuming the theater between performances. Truly, putting on a play is a collaborative effort. I’m beginning to think Laura and I did the easy part.

Yes, Maryland, there is a Santa Claus…

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Originally posted on on October 10, 2012

Yes, Maryland, there is a Santa Claus. His name is David Foster! Last night was the first (mostly) complete cast read through of The Santa Diaries at The Avalon Theatre. David Foster is playing Sandy Hawes, a small town Santa Claus, descended from a long line of Santas.

Tim called David’s understated and completely mesmerizing read, “Gorgeous!” And gorgeous it was! When you closed your eyes, it conjured visions of Wilfred Brimley and Garrison Keeler – a velvety voice that captured the spirit of a warm, compassionate, yet savvy Santa. You could almost see the twinkle in his eye and hear that he knows exactly who’s naughty and who is nice. It is a brilliant piece of casting by the Avalon!

The adult lead actors rehearsed in the Stoltz Listening Room (2nd floor), while the younger actors worker under the direction of Choreographer Cavin Moore in the main Avalon Theatre on the first floor. Avalon Director Tim Wiegland, Assistant Director Cece Davis and Producer Liza Ledford, were up and down the Avalon stairs all night! I don’t envy them.

Parts Are Cast

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Originally published on on October 8, 2012

Sunday (10-7-12) afternoon at the Avalon Theatre everyone who tried out for a part showed up to hear what part they got. Lots of kids and lots of excitement. Liza Ledford and Cece Davis did the honors and handed out rehearsal schedules and pages of script. The entire script was given to the leads although it wasn’t the tweaked script Laura and I sent to them Saturday afternoon. I think script tweaks will be an ongoing process.

I’m excited by the people cast for the two major parts. Jenny Madino will play Jessica Darling and Casey Rauch will play Will Hawes. Both look like just like I imagined these characters would look. They will be the first to ever perform these parts!

Some of the kids knew each other, some didn’t yet but they will by the time the show goes live. Tim Weigand asked all the actors to come on stage…

…and then asked for a group hug.These actors are going to be in close quarters on stage and back stage so he got the process started.

On Tuesday night there will be a table read with the main characters. This just gets better and better.