The Core of the Assassin
Friday, June 20, 2008 - 11:52 AM

Vincent Truman: The core of "The Tearful Assassin" can be found in the middle of the play. Two detectives are working on the case of an abducted teenage girl and they are contemplating their next moves. The junior detective becomes baffled by her senior partner's detached cynicsm and calls him on it. The senior detective replies, "Stick around. The longer you live, the more you realize that there is a battle going on out there, and it's not between good and evil. It's between truth and belief. And truth has a hard time winning, because you have to prove truth."

Throughout the play, all of the main characters have to say goodbye to something or someone major in their lives. And it is that tenuous balance between what is true and what is desired to be true that either sets the characters on the road to improvement or a spiral beyond control.

As I write this on the morning of June 20, we are four rehearsals into the pre-production and I admit to a bit of shellshock. In a good way.

All of the artists have exceeded expecations, definitely of mine but I think perhaps some of their own as well. I freely admit to being in awe of the lead female artists, who are so burdened with huge conflicts and prisons (internal and external) yet take on their characters' dark worlds as if it was a familiar suit.

Last night, we worked on the most harrowing and terrifying scene in the play: the final showdown between the teenage girl (Caitlin Emmons) and her abductor (Robert Felker). Set in a dank basement with no light other than the flashlight held by the girl's abductor, the scene is a terrifying tug of war between the two characters' wills. Even before we got to the brutal physical attack that comprises the scene's climax, I became aware of an eerie silence in the rehearsal room. And I realized that the people watching from the sidelines (stage manager Kyle Ramos, assistant director Melissa Malan and me) were not breathing. As I redirected my look to observe Caitlin Emmons as the teenage girl, huddled a ball, displaying terror and resentment in a single look as her captor loomed over her, I saw a tear roll down out of her left eye.

It was one of the most haunting and thrilling performances I have seen with my own eyes.

And Caitlin's isn't the only one; I will be reporting back as rehearsals progress. I didn't want my introductory blog to describe all the brilliance I've seen - else it would go on for pages and pages. More to come.

 

Irony and Artistry
Saturday, June 28, 2008 - 11:42 AM

Vincent Truman: Here's a slice of irony for you: a show with a comedy group is an often brutal and frustrating endeavor - making sure everyone gets equal stage time and equal jokes, alternating the humor style, opening and closing with a bang, etc. etc. - yet a show that is steeped in psychological horror and violence? It's been a joy.

We are currently in our third week of rehearsals for 'The Tearful Assassin' and have focused on thirds of the play (Scenes 1-4 one day, Scenes 5-8 the next, 9-12 the next) to allow the actors to really explore their character arcs and experiment, all under Melissa Malan's great direction, 'don't get comfortable with it.' Despite being guided into fairly dark areas of the human condition, every actor has stepped up and infused their character with their own experiences, and the results are breathtaking already.

We have been lucky to have a sneak peek at an audience's reaction as we have had two guests: Neil Klemz (who designed the poster and may be coming up with other brilliant bits) and Mandy Matz (who wrote the music you hear on this site, which is a snippet of a much larger piece; she and I have collaborated on another piece and more is coming). Imagine, if you will, being pulled off the street on a sunny day and coming into a room full of screaming, crying, arguing and fighting. For me, this would be simply going to a family reunion. But for normal people, like Neil and Mandy, watching their reactions and body language (Mandy gradually transformed into a square knot during one particularly violent scene) has been a wonderful bit of foreshadowing to August.

The other night, we worked on a scene in which I (as Detective Fowler) am dealing with the parents (Mary Marshall, Matthew Tucker) of a girl who was just kidnapped. The first take was servicable, certainly, but by the time we got to the third, the exact emotional unrest and terror that you might expect two parents to be going through was right there two feet away from me. Matthew's internalized pain caused the poor fellow to sweat buckets. The most haunting and beautiful moment was after a take when Melissa Malan suggested something to Mary Marshall and Mary, her cheeks streaked with mascara and her face red with anguish, nodded and said, 'yeh, I can do that.'

I have always referred to actors as artists, mostly as a courtesy, but in this case, there is no better word. Even though I'm pretty involved in the behind-the-scenes of the show, I still come back to the same thought: I'm damn lucky to be here.

 

Four down, Four to go...
Saturday, July 05, 2008 - 8:52 PM

Melissa Malan: We are now four weeks into rehearsals and four weeks away from opening night. We have explored and discussed every scene, character and relationship within “The Tearful Assassin”. We’re progressing better than any of us could have hoped for and as happy as this makes me, it also scares the hell out of me. I’ve said to our cast more than once, “don’t get comfortable with it” and the question I keep asking myself is how do we resist the well deserved level of comfort that comes with working hard and developing a great show? I’m not sure how we do it, but I know we must if we want our audience to experience the same tragically beautiful story that our stage manager, Kyle Ramos, and I have seen over the last four weeks.


Our cast has worked extremely hard this past month, discovering and developing their characters and gaining an understanding so deep that there is heartbreak in their eyes, tears on their faces and a fight in each of their voices in every scene we rehearse. They have embraced the qualities in their characters which most people like to pretend don’t exist and put themselves through such emotional peaks and valleys that I leave rehearsals exhausted simply from watching them. This is a fantastic place for a show to be and a hard place to remain.


Each of our actors faces a difficult challenge over the next few weeks. We’re done breaking down and dissecting scenes and we’re moving on to telling the story in its entirety. They now have to focus on being their characters instead of discovering them. It’s scary, it’s exciting and it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to every single cast member meeting and exceeding. They can do it and it will be amazing to watch. As long as nobody gets comfortable with it.


This show requires actors to be fearless and vulnerable and raw and willing to lose themselves in the characters and we’re lucky enough to have actors like that in every role of this show. There is potential for every audience member who sees “The Tearful Assassin” to hold their breath, bite their nails and sit tensely watching these characters’ every move the way our production team has, on more than one occasion. I have no doubt it will happen. As long as we don’t get comfortable with it.


I look forward to another exciting four weeks of rehearsals.



 

Moment by Moment
Tuesday, July 15, 2008 - 9:51 AM

Melissa Malan: We are preparing to begin week six in the rehearsal process. The show is solid, which is great, and the actors are working hard to bring their best to their characters. However, half way through rehearsal this past Saturday I must admit I felt lost.

We had just run the whole show and it went relatively well. Everyone knew their lines and delivered the proper emotion throughout. But it didn’t quite work. Nothing was wrong but I felt something was missing. The same “something” that had caused more than one member of the show’s crew to hold our breath in previous rehearsals wasn’t quite there. There were certainly still many great moments in the show but I wanted to find the moments we had lost. We chose a couple of the more grueling scenes and went back to work, asking questions and rediscovering parts of the characters that may have gone missing.

We focused first on a scene between the story’s young girl (Caitlin Emmons) and her abductor (Robert Felker). Both are handling their roles with amazing ability, effortlessly portraying these characters and their struggles. But that’s not enough. They needed to get back the rawness and vulnerability in their interactions that will force an audience to watch them with a mixture of awe, fear, and pity. They’ve done it before – I’ve experienced it. So after a brief discussion and running the scene a couple of times, I went to the back of the theatre to watch them. Of course I could feel their intensity five feet from them but I wanted to know if it would carry to the last seat in the house. And, there, sitting in the farthest row from the stage, in a dark theatre, watching this scene play out under a harsh stage light, I was drawn into their story and as the scene ended I realized, once again, that I had been holding my breath. Their "something" was certainly back and perhaps better than ever.

After rehearsal, I started thinking about another intensely emotional scene involving the young girl’s parents (played by Mary Marshall and Matthew Tucker) and one of the detectives working the case (Vincent Truman) which had produced one of my favorite moments of the day. As I listened to the three of them fight for control over the situation, yelling at and interrupting each other, I realized how many moments, like this one, still draw me in, even after five weeks of rehearsals.

Imagine the reactions of people seeing “The Tearful Assassin” for the first time…

Over the next week, we’ll continue working scene by scene to make new discoveries and rediscover parts of each character. I can’t wait to see what else this group of artists can do and how much further they’ll go to tell this story.



 

They are women, hear them roar.
Friday, July 18, 2008 - 4:49 PM

Vincent Truman: Rehearsals for any show is very much like any other relationship you may encounter: the initial bliss of connection, the past stories and glories that can be related, etc. until one hits the point where the past has been well taken care of and there is a need to create something new in order to continue evolving.



We hit that point last week, when all of our collective warchest of experience ran dry and we had to, for lack of a better term, take it to the next level. The rehearsals of late last week and Wednesday of this week were quite hard indeed. The lines were all there, the blocking was all there, the light cues were all there... but like a high school student working at a level of a high-performing fifth-grader, we were not realizing our potential.



This was Melissa Malan's big challenge. Over the last three weeks, I have consciously backed away from being director-in-charge, letting her find her way - and of all of the directors I have worked with since starting my production company back in the 1990s, she is the one who has excelled on all fronts. Last week was a challenge not only for us in the cast but for her as a director. Somehow, through a balance of praise and criticism - a balance I am not known for having - she has inspired the ten people in the cast to excel yet again.



I noticed last night, out of the corner of my eye, that Mel, while watching a scene being rehearsed for the 20th time, gradually folded into herself, not unlike Mandy Matz (who is writing music for the show) did when she sat in during the first horrific kidnapping scene. It was a tribute to what the actors have done - and what Mel has done - that we made the real director crumple into a ball.



The women in the cast and crew continue to astound. In fact, if I am kicking myself for anything, I wish I had written a play with strong women before now. In a nod towards my improvisational roots, I have approached a couple of them and asked, 'what role would you like to play?', and from those discussions, have commenced work on a new piece which is almost ALL women.



I suppose I resisted it because I thought only women could write strong women roles, but I think I may have developed a knack for it. I only hope they think so, too.



Next: the gang is in the theater space of Gorilla Tango for the last time prior to technical rehearsals in the week leading up to our premiere. The game is, if an actor fails to deliver in a scene - any scene - then the rehearsal is stopped and we have to go back to the very beginning of the show. That inspires a great deal of fear in me, but it also inspires a great challenge and a need to 'own' the show more than I already have. We will be going fast and furious until the end of closing weekend now, and the momentum is as daunting as it is absolutely brilliant



 

Enter Hell Week
Sunday, July 27, 2008 - 11:20 PM

Vincent Truman: Last time I wrote a blog here, I was talking about our last time in the theater space to rehearse prior to the tech rehearsals (which, despite the name, are hardly rehearsals of the standard kind). The experiment of having to start the play over if energy dropped was wildly successful, at least in terms of the wave of inner frustration we all dealt with as Melissa stopped the show not once but twice with the order, "Reset!"



The first time it happened, it was fairly early on in the show so it didn't shake us all that much. The second time, though, was quite near the end, and that rattled everyone to the core. It is not enough to suggest that it was Actor A or Actor B that dried up and forced us to start again; that would be too easy (and hard, as no less than five people were onstage when Melissa called for the second reset). At this point, the cast is an ensemble, period. No one person COULD tank the show. It was only the wave of contentment we felt that permitted us to deliver sub-par performances and forced us to power through a third run.



Now we are face to face with the final two tech rehearsals, and word has just come through that we will have not one but two reviewers coming this weekend. This is the classic blessing and a curse, of course. By researching one reviewer's work, I found that very little passed muster with him. So that's creeping me out a bit. Not because of the quality of the show, more because of the quality of the reviewer. But, like a junky needs a drug pusher, so do we need reviews. However, I have long passed the point of achingly needing them, and will fire back if the review is shallow or wrong as well as I will accept if a review is thought-out and correct, no matter how many stars we get or don't get. I'll know then.



A chunk of words needs to be said about our supporting players. We have quite a few artists who have pretty limited stage time (just like people in your life aren't ALWAYS there, so it is with The Tearful Assassin). In all cases, their roles are rather like extended auditions to see if we can all work together again. And, in all cases, they have triumphed. Danielle Cochrane, who is so brilliantly funny that I long to see her in a big comedic role, is spot-on and perfect every time. Brian Parenti is wonderfully willing to step up to the plate no matter what, including group warm-ups (which, for the record, I loathe - still he makes them worthwhile). David Holcombe, who plays the boyfriend to the kidnapped girl and never shares the stage with her, is the picture of focus and an absolute delight for me personally to play against. Mat Simonian has one scene at the very end of the show, and - I'm not sure how he does this - he is able to take the weight of the previous 11 scenes right onto his shoulders and hold it there.



Each one of these artists, like those with heavier loads of lines, have delivered 100% throughout the rehearsal process. And to them I say a special thank you. And to you, I say: see these people before you can't afford to.

 

The Unbearable Lightness of Being From Kansas
Saturday, August 16, 2008 - 2:31 PM

Vincent Truman: As the crowds gather each night, backstage goes from a light room with stairs going up and down and access to the back rehearsal space (also known as a garage) into a darkened corner of hell. In this hell sits, stands or paces the actors, all gradually pulling themselves into their own personal darkened corner of hell to fortify their characters and the years of experience that each character has into their minds. Mary Marshall and Matthew Tucker, our leads, somehow find corners darker than the barely-lit backstage area. I tend to hide on stairs or nearly under one of the prop tables. Shelley Nixon, who has to play innocence and hope defiled over the course of the following hour, retreats upstairs and remains there. Robert Felker, who plays the terrifying kidnapper, wanders the stairs leading down to the basement, up and down, up and down, slowly changing the gait of his walk until it is not his walk at all. Certainly, if some normal person were to come upon this scene, they would think we were part of an elaborate cult or something equally devious and terrifying.



Everyone must have their own method for 'getting into character'; I have found that reciting my character's life history from childhood up until the timeframe of the play works best. It's somewhat like meditation, with some physicality thrown in at moments. As I think of Detective Fowler's early years in Kansas, I mumble to myself about the members of my family, gradually permitting a light wash of a slight Southern accent creep into my intonations. I recall his wedding and subsequent death of his wife. I grab the gun on the prop table. I recall becoming a detective, with the hope to make a difference gradually wearing down like a pencil point. I recall the phone call I receive from my partner at 220am one night about a girl being kidnapped. I put a jacket on over my T-shirt I imagine I was sleeping in and force a few yawns. From then on, I am irritable, official, tired, cynical and subtly caring. Moments later, I will need all of that to shout down both Mary and Matthew as they, as the girl's parents, attack each other with accusations.



So far, the show has been remarkable, like a great machine we all jump into. Four papers in the area have lauded us with good reviews; one hasn't. I could not wish for a better result, as if work isn't polarizing on a certain level, it's not really art. It is well beyond being my script; in fact, I rarely stop to think I wrote it. This is because the 11 actors on stage own the thing now; I'm just one of them. Overall, I am just pleased to have put the sketch comedy on hold for now. This is what Terry Gilliam must have felt like when he broke free of Monty Python to create "Brazil." This is not yet my "Brazil"; that'll be either the next show or the one after that. I feel as long as I have a core group of fellow Clowns, who have all stepped up into quite different roles for "Assassin", everything will only get better.



I'm looking at my Fowler suit, which sits a few feet away from me. It'll be time to either possess him or have him possess me shortly. Can't wait.