Formula of a Successful Show

There is no perfect formula for a show’s success.

However!

Opening Night is magic.

Regardless of how long you’ve been rehearsing, or the length of the show you’re producing, all theatre people know (whether they admit it or not) that Opening Night will be excellent.  There are many factors, including:

-Anticipation (friends, family, critics, people who have previous ties to the show or playwright / actors / director etc)

-Audience! (built in feedback)

-Adrenaline (Actors are thrilled, excited, jittery and ready to tear up the stage)

-Magic (no one can explain this, it just is)…this kind of ruined my list of “A” word factors of opening night success.  AAAM.

Every opening night I am more amazed at myself and the ridiculous amount of nerves and excitement that wash through my body.  In every experience I’ve had, opening night is a built in success. I don’t know how to explain it.  Something to do with that M word. Magic. NOT the OTHER M word.  Non theatre people can feel free to do their research and google what I’m talking about. Sorry, folks. I’m in the middle of a run of a show, and I don’t mess around.

Beyond opening night, seasoned actors are aware that the audience’s personality changes from night to night.  They all laugh at the same things, cry at the same things, remain silent at the same things…from night to night.  The personality of a group every night is different.  It’s as though you are meeting someone new EVERY single night of a show and you have to pace your work with the rhythm of the crowd.  It’s one of the scariest, and in my opinion, most fun parts about being an actor: figuring out how to suck the audience into the story onstage.  It’s intuitive and takes work and practice, but to me it’s absolutely thrilling.  You never know what you’re gonna get!

This brings me to another variable in a show’s success, which is audience etiquette.  Now under most conditions, audiences behave.  They know when to clap, laugh.  Of course, somebody sometimes forgets to turn off their cell phone…but when I say etiquette I mean…

you know those people who TALK during a show?

those people who come in late and ARE LOUD and OBNOXIOUS?

People who TALK on their CELL PHONES as they leave to ANSWER IT!?

There is one rule, in my oh-so-humble opinion when it comes to being an audience member at a show, and contributing to a postive experience for both actor and theatre-goer:

Don’t be an inconsiderate douchebag. 

That is all.  Quite simple, methinks.

Another factor in a show’s success is publicity.  I like to stick to the Andy Warhol-esque idea…who cares what they say about the show!?  As long as they are talking about it, people will come.  That’s all that really matters.

Okay.  We all want rave reviews.  But nothing is worse than not being talked about!  (that’s more Oscar Wilde-esque, but I am auditioning for an Oscar Wilde play this evening, so that’s where my mind is right now).

And I think the last, certainly not least, important variable in a show’s success…is the ability of a show to ride the wave of a run.

I know.  That sounds vague.  But what I mean is, most shows usually follow this kind of “excitement / awesomeness” schedule:

Opening Night: AWESOME!!!!! highest on awesome scale to infinity!

Second Night..is known as the Second Night Slump.  Second night is all like, “Yo, how am I supposed to follow the craziness of Friday night?  Everyone’s still recovering from the whole awesomefest of last night. Ugh. I’ll try my best.” AKA not so awesome.

Matinees: NOT AWESOME AT ALL.  Old people, people who have just had a chill morning at church, chillaxed people who don’t want to do housework.  Sunday people are usually zoning out and honestly not prepared to take in a stimulating theatre experience.  It’s okay. It’s not their fault.  They don’t realize!  They are trying to be culturally sophisticated people, but sadly…Our bodies and minds take Sunday off.  It’s just how we’re built.

Additional Evenings:  they’re fine.  I would say pretty good to awesome on a high scale.  Additional evenings are usually on their best behavior.

ENDING ON A MATINEE: NOT. OKAY.  It’s comparable to watching the night sky on the Fourth of July AFTER the fireworks have fizzled to darkness.  Lots of smoke..haze..and nothing really pretty to see. No energy.  negative on the awesome scale.  Why??  See Matinee.

For the show I am currently in, “Crimes of the Heart,” at Rocky Hill Theatre,  we are halfway through our run.

Opening night? AMAZING!  The audience listened to every word, laughed, cried, it was great.

Second night?  Not so many people.  No one laughed until at least 45 minutes in.  Then they realized it was okay to laugh and they seemed pretty interested.

SEE?

Opening Night = magic.

Second Night Slump? Slumpy.

PS  We close on a matinee!!!!!!  But I’m not hatin’. I’m still bring my A game. And so should you! 

Visit www.rockyhilltheatre.com

for more information!

The first scene in "Crimes of the Heart." Here I am on far right, playing Babe.
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Details, Details.

I’m kind of superstitious about Hell Week.

For you non-theatre friends, Hell Week refers to the week leading up to the opening night of a show, also more officially and appropriately known as Technical Rehearsal Week. 

Tech weeks are tedious, boring, and all about well…the details.  The technical details.  Actors don’t like technical details.  They like the emotion, the feeling, the flow of a scene.  For me, technical details are the little things I like to glaze over for the better part of a 6-8 week rehearsal period, until it becomes inevitable that…I’m going to have to fine tune the technical…details.

My list for the show, “Crimes of the Heart,” consists of the following technical details, the things I personally have to worry about, including the translation of what these details mean to me.

-a saxophone (big object I could break or hurt someone with)

-lighter…(fire really.)

-lemons (acidic, bouncy fruit)

-sugar (Messy. very. messy)

-ice cubes (use your imagination)

-a very sharp knife (See previous blogs. ACCIDENT PRONE MUCH?)

-three costumes and a raincoat (not a big deal, but I suppose it technically counts)

-a suitcase, scissors, newspaper, photo album

Now, we all have to deal with things like cups and plates and water onstage, but to me that’s not a big deal.  To me, things like oh you know, LIGHTING CANDLES and cutting lemons with a knife, scissors in general, those are technical details for my character.  I mean let’s be real:  These are the technical details of LIFE that I tend to have issues with.

If any of you know me even somewhat, you know that I am a klutz.  I need things mapped out in LIFE, and definitely for the stage.   I know things are going to go wrong in life, but on stage I need to KNOW what could go wrong.  I need to be able to walk out on that stage and think, “OK. Worst case scenario. Doesn’t matter. I’m prepared.” I need to know that if there aren’t enough lemons, or if I cut my finger and bleed all over the table, or trip and break the saxophone, I need to know that it’s gonna be okay.

This brings me to my superstitions.  To me, it does not feel like a superstition.  Instead, it feels like an ingrained fact of life that is a part of the stream of my creative actor blood that flows forth from my orange chakra in brilliant waves of light.

Shit needs to be messed up the week before opening night.

 I LIVE and WAIT on Bated Breath (I had to capitalize it, it’s a reference to the theatre group I co-founded 3 years ago www.batedbreaththeatre.org) for the first misshap.

Examples:
-We forget an entire chunk 2 page of dialogue (This one can be checked off. That totally already happened yesterday)

-Something breaks!

-Light cues get messed up

-sound cues get messed up

-props aren’t in the right place

You get the idea. Now, I’m not saying I WANT things to go wrong and I’m not saying it needs to happen every single tech week for every show.  But what I’m saying is, when things get jammed up, people rise to the occasion. It “raises the stakes” (Thank you Kristin Wold) and makes you go “CRAP!!  This went wrong!  It will NEVER GO WRONG AGAIN during the run of this show!”  And then you woman up or man up and you sharpen yo’ skillz. You pay attention. You become a better actor, or stage manager, or director.

Let’s really zoom in on one of my examples.  Last night onstage, as we were all adjusting to a nearly-fully decorated stage, and working in costumes for the first time, we reached a scene where we just jumped over a good 1/3 of a page of diaologue.  I wasn’t sure we’d recover, but we all jumped ahead and life was okay.  Afterwards, I spoke with one of the actors and she said, “I can’t believe I forgot the line, we missed the page…(etc).  Now I’m worried it will happen every time!”

I quickly cut her off (as best I could.  We were having this discussion in the bathroom and it’s hard to be uplifting and inspirational while standing in your underwear, changing your clothing in a stall) and said “NO!  That is EXCELLENT.  Because now, you have forgotten lines in a spot you never have before, and NOW you will make sure you never do it again.  You’ll be so much more aware of what’s going on.” I then went on to explain how things just need to go wrong before a show opens. If it doesn’t…I get real suspicious.

I was once in a show in the middle of the summer where the lights went out.  They just…went out.  We hadn’t had this trouble before the opening of the show.  See what I mean?

I need to face at least a few battles with theatre demons before the show opens.  Because then I can put on my war paint (ok..stage makeup) and march out and face the lights, other actors, and audience with my lion-like prowess, fear dissipated like a slow fade black out follwing the climax of an emotional scene.

And just so you all know…I get to practice with the lemons tonight. I think the director was a little taken aback about how relieved I was over such a small detail.

BRING IT HELL WEEK.

BRING.  IT.

Ides of March + Irish luck FTW

Actors need to keep themselves healthy.

When I was in school, I always thought it was a little weird and pretentious that we were taught to refer to our bodies as our “instruments.”

At least, I felt that way until I got hit by a Dodge 4×4 truck after a tech rehearsal one night.

I was walking across the street from the drama building, over to where my car was parked across the street, and literally, my last thought was, “I can’t wait to have some Rocky Road ice cream when I get home.” and suddenly I look to my right at the last second and ka-POW!

I think I blacked out for a second, because the next thing I know, I’m on the ground and I’m not wearing any shoes.  Luckily, two of my friends, Glen Nicholes, and Jimmy Gallo, were across the street and ran over t0 help me and call 911, etc.

To fast forward, I didn’t break any bones, but I did mess up my back a little bit (hardcore physical therapy took care of that).  But my body was hurting so badly and I was in such pain for so long, that it made a lot of my classes really difficult (dance class, suzuki training, etc).  I tried to play it cool, but it really sucked.  I mean, I got hit ONE WEEK before a premiere of a show I was in.  I couldn’t even wear the full period costume due to the bandages I had to wear from where I got a nasty road burn.

Anyway, my point is, that is the moment when I realized for the FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE that I was not invincible.  I guess sometimes it takes until your early 20s to realize that you are not immortal.  Or maybe that was just me, but it made me realize that I actually had to take care of myself, my “instrument,” because it’s the only I one I have in this lifetime!

This does bring me back to my original point, believe it or not.  My original point is that actors NEED to keep themselves healthy.  This includes:

-keeping in shape (not just for vanity reasons, but also to keep up endurance for long days on set, long days in the theatre, etc)

-not getting hit by cars and trucks.  or at least, avoiding that as much as possible (I should probably follow this rule…better).

-MAKING SURE EVERY FILM YOU ARE ON HAS INSURANCE (something I learned the HARD way in 2009. I was on a friend’s film set. There was no SAG insurance.  SAG insurance is inexpensive, by the way.  Let’s put it this way. I broke my foot so badly I needed surgery. oops)

Here I am, within the hour of getting my foot AND ankle crunched in several different ways. Don't try this at home.

-eating healthy, drinking lots of water, taking vitamins!  Because you don’t want to be sick.  Especially not right before your show is about to open.

This leads me to my latest foray of needing-to-take-care-of-myself.  I’m sick.  But I am getting better!

It hit me like a Dodge 4×4 in the middle of rehearsal on Sunday. Okay..maybe not THAT hard, but suddenly I was freezing, achy, and unable to stop coughing.  And ya know how hard it is anyway to act and be awesome and be great onstage?  Well, being sick made me remember how much harder it is to do all that and..well…be sick at the same time.

So I went to work on Monday and by the end of the day I was wearing my down jacket and double fisting a tea from Starbucks and theraflu thanks to Allegra. Phew.

Yesterday, I was the best actor EVER.  At least in regards to being “good” aka “healthy” aka “SMART and not stubborn.”

I slept in LATE. Well, 9am.  I ate breakfast.  I watched “The Sweetest Thing.” Don’t judge me, it was on HBO and it hurt to reach for the remote.  I then promptly fell asleep for an hour.  I MADE MYSELF NOT DO ANYTHING.  Then I recall maybe doing something else, but then I fell asleep for another three hours, got up, and went to rehearsal. BOOYA!

Today, I feel awesome.  Well, besides the fact that I have a heinous cough.  But I don’t feel like death every two seconds.  This goes back to my first blog post o’ the year: “This year I will be more awesome.” I shouldn’t quote myself like that because I’m not sure if that’s what I actually said.  And I must be more awesome by taking care of myself and MY INSTRUMENT!!! (Yell this in a old man british accent and you’ll know what I mean)

Also, 6 years ago TONIGHT was when I got hit by the truck.  Cheers!

Now go be healthy, you actors AND non-actors, you!

The story of Kiki, Michael Bolton, and my converse.

I currently temp at Connecticut Public Broadcasting.  This is the parent company of CPTV and WNPR.  So it’s PBS television station and an NPR affiliate station.

I work in Member Services.  Most of my job entails me answering the phones.  Here’s what I say:

“Connecticut Public Broadcasting.  This is Casey speaking. How may I help you?”

Pretty basic, am I right?

I would also like to point out that I am a professional actor. I was classically trained to act and well…to SPEAK properly.  You know, enunciate words with finesse. That kind of thing. 

For some reason, though,  this is the response I get, on average 5-8 times a week.

“Stacey?”

“Oh well hello Tracey”

“Good morning, Kiki,I really need your help.”

“All right, Kelly. Thanks for your help.”

“Katie, this is Mr. So and So and I’m angry about such and such.”

I mean it’s actually gotten to the point where I turned to my friend Jennifer and said, “I’m sorry…but do I not pronounce ‘Casey’ correctly?” And she assured me that no, I say my name just fine.  Phew!  I have been saying my name correctly all these years.

I used to correct people, but then it became a battle of “Casey.” “Tracey?” “Casey.” “Stacey?” sigh.

Now I just let people think whatever they want.  Or, I should say, HEAR whatever they want.

Then it all came full circle for me when I realized that people don’t like the name “casey” for a woman.  It sounds funny!

Two days ago on the phone, this older woman said, “Casey?  In my youth, Casey was only a boy’s name. How peculiar.”  And I explained how well gee, my mom must have been so progressive.

That just happens often enough, that I felt the need to share.

I also feel the need to share that random people are usually in the studio or in the building. I mean, obviously.  It’s a radio and television station.  But on Wednesday someone said, “Oh, Michael Bolton is in the other room.” And that’s when it struck me how random the days can turn out to be at CPTV.

myself, Michael Bolton, and Allegra Itsoga after Mr. Bolton's concert. Hey, it was our job to go.

My friend, Allegra and I, had to work one of his concerts last year for CPTV.  We didn’t say much, but he was very friendly.  Fun fact:  Michael Bolton and I were both wearing converse. 

And that reminds me…Actor’s Green Room was holding a contest for most creative Valentine’s Day poem, and I was one of the winners!  Because um yeah, I rhymed about my converse.

There you have it.  Bet you didn’t think I could tie all three of those subjects together, but I did.

Happy Friday, kids.

It’s the day of the show y’all!

Opening Night.

The morning of “THE” show, you wake up in rabid anticipation (OK I actually woke up because someone was texting me mere minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off), and the first thought that pops into your head is “Oh…my God.  Tonight is the night of nights. I have been rehearsing this show for weeks and now all the work will be presented in flawless theatrical form.” (All right, what I really thought was, “UGH. What day is it?  Do I really need to wake up? I feel like I JUST got back from New York a few hours ago. Oh wait. I did.”)

In truth, as I woke up, showered, and consumed a Venti Pike Place, my brain slowly registered that tonight is opening night for “Blessed Event.”  But for me, this is a very different opening night.

I have never had an opening night as a director.  What a strange feeling!  It’s not like an opening night when I’m an ACTOR.  Normally, as an actor, I wake up with a sense of, “Tonight, I will be amazing. I can control my staged fate this evening.”

As a director, thoughts run more to the tune of “Holy crap.  I gave all the notes I could up through dress rehearsal and now…I must let the show RUN ITS OWN COURSE.” As a human, as a theatre connoisser, and as a director…I must RELINQUISH CONTROL.

Trust is not an issue here, so don’t go accusing me of being a terrible person JUST yet.  As an actor onstage opening night, I have to go in with unfettering trust for my fellow actors.  We are all in this TOGETHER.  

I mean, Jim and I, we cast this show together. I have faith in these artists…these…FRIENDS.  But I can already see myself squirming in my seat with anticipation…but why!? WHY?!

Here are some of my thoughts:

-as an actor, you are stuck onstage

BUT as a director, you are stuck IN THE AUDIENCE amongst the reactions and non-reactions and grunts and laughing and tears and people asking for cough drops and passing each other tissues and yelling too loudly when their hearing aids aren’t on.  On stage, I feel as though I have some control over getting people’s attention.  In the audience, I have to be…part of the audience. Wait. Maybe that’s the problem.

Thank you, blog. I just realized something.  I’m NOT going to be onstage.  I’m part of the audience.  Jim and I helped to create this artwork.  We shaped it, the actors made it grow into something beautiful, and now, we needs must separate from the work and let it be.  It belongs to the ACTORS and the AUDIENCE now.

My God.

Now I know what my parents felt like when I got my license.  Or went to prom.  Or flew across the country by myself. 

I suppose it’s the same thing we learned when we were getting our Acting B.F.A’s…you spend hours, weeks, MONTHS training and rehearsing, and then you have to let it all go and just trust in yourself and everyone else involved that it will be a beautiful and wonderful experience all on its own.

My GOD. Maybe I AM a terrible person!  I take it back.  This IS about trust.  Okay, well.  I know I can trust myself as an actor.  But perhaps tonight, for the first time, I need to trust myself…as a director.

I don’t know about you, but I feel better now.

PS COME SEE THE SHOW. Obvs. www.windhamtheatreguild.org Our box office person said that she’s never seen ticket sales this brisk in her 6 years at the Windham Theatre Guild! Holla at yo girl.