Our second season production 'Oregon Trail' based on the classic computer game opens November 14th! For tickets, go to www.nolaproject.com
Director’s Log 10-24-13
Back to the log! And after just two days of blocking the show is nearly entirely staged! But where does this term “blocking” actually come from? We have a great many odd words and phrases in the theatre that I imagine most actors learn at a young age and just never question: Blocking, Strike, Curtain Call, Vomitory, Break a Leg, Ghost Light… Well, I did some research and apparently the term “blocking” was originated by W.S. Gilbert—you know, of Gilbert and Sullivan. Back in the mid-nineteenth centuries when staging his operettas, Gilbert would build scaled down models of the stage (still done today) and would use wooden blocks to represent each actor. This way he could conceptualize actors’ movements around the stage (and probably tell when he just couldn’t fit any more Japanese school girls into that Mikado scene). And thus the term “blocking” was born.
Wood blocks. I had no idea. Did you? Makes sense though. Funnily enough, when I direct musicals and have to deal with large crowd scenes or movement choreography, I often like to use Skittles® to represent actors. Yellow for girls, green for boys, red for lead characters and so on. Maybe one day some young director having no idea why he’s saying it will employ the term “Skittling”.
In a play like Oregon Trail, the important thing to keep in mind when blocking is a combination of where you want the audience to be looking (the focus) and who is the most important character at any given moment (the status). Forgive me if this seems obvious, but on stage the director has the added challenge of making sure that a hundred or more audience members are all looking where you want them to look. In film, its easier: Closeup on the gun, cut to furrowed brow of hero, and so on. On stage, however, distracting movements by other actors, or a lack of a good line of sight for audience members can all contribute to making a show less clear, and in a comedy’s sake, less funny.
It’s been nine years since I last staged Oregon Trail, but watching the old film of it allows me to correct all the now obvious mistakes I made as a young director. God willing, if we stage this when I’m 50, I’ll do the same after taking a look at this production. Nothing is ever perfect. I suppose that’s why we continually perform plays.
Hello, and welcome to my log! As director (and writer) of The NOLA Project’s production of Oregon Trail it is my hope to use this blog as a way of giving our audience a peek at the inside of a rehearsal process.
Tonight’s first rehearsal marked the cast read-through (or are we now just spelling it ‘Read-Thru’ in America?) of the play, as most first rehearsals do. After several months of major revisions on the script (originally written in 2004), tonight we all got to hear one another read the script out loud for the first time. This is an exciting time for any production, as it allows me a chance to hear where laughs land, how voices work together, and how quickly and hopefully smoothly the play moves. Tonight’s read in particular proved quite delightful, as the play is full of unique voices, thanks to a group of very distinct actors. For me, voices in any production are key. I must hear each character as a distinct and separate entity. I hate it when any production has two actors that have similar sounds. It muddles the story and blurs clarity. For this reason, I have always been a lifelong fan of The Simpsons, a show that has featured over a hundred distinct and reoccurring characters, all voiced by a primary group of seven or eight actors. Family Guy, for my money, fails by comparison. It’s jokes and writing are rock solid, but the lack of vocal distinction prevents the community of characters from ever rising to the impressive community collage The Simpsons achieves. I feel much the same way about The Muppets. Both Simpsons and Muppets have always colored my directorial approach, either directly or subconsciously.
But back to rehearsal…
Tonight, actors honed their varying degrees of Southern twang and spoke the play at a nice clip, as most comedies require. The old theatre adage of ‘Louder, Faster, Funnier’ is a definite requirement of Oregon Trail, and I anticipate we will be able to stay a half-step ahead of the audience because, as I told the cast tonight, “the play must move quickly. If we give the audience time to actually think about the absurdity of what’s just been said, we might lose their willingness to go along with it with no questions asked.” I think I learned that lesson growing up watching Mel Brooks films.
Tomorrow we start blocking the show. I wish I could tell you the etimology of the term ‘blocking’, but I’ll leave that for a later blog after a good ol’ googling.
That’s it for tonight’s log. Hope you enjoyed its woody goodness!
Coming soon! ’Oregon Trail’ writer and director A.J. Allegra takes you inside the rehearsal process of ‘O.T.’ Are you ready to ride the trail? Learn more about the show at www.nolaproject.com.
Our production of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing opens this week! The play features theatre-goer’s favorite Shakespearian battle of the sexes, Beatrice vs. Benedick, whose ’will-they-or-won’t-they’ relationship drives much of Much Ado’s story and comedy.
Through the show’s rehearsal process the cast has become clearly divided between two camps: Team Beatrice and Team Benedick. Sides have been chosen and the battle has begun. Now you too can show your support by featuring your team’s image as your Facebook cover photo! Then come see Much Ado and show your support to your favorite team in person!
Theatre is no stranger to outrage. The subjective art form lends itself to interpretation, which is inextricably tied to personal experience and self-knowledge. In Ibsen’s day, when Nora walks out on her family at the conclusion of A Doll’s House, some critics praise its progressive stance. Others burn down the theater. Today audiences have cooled slightly in their active response, but not in their passion and reaction to the plays themselves. Today we have Facebook, where the realm of outrage lives and, hopefully, extends beyond into action. Anyone that keeps up with The NOLA Project on social media (our preferred marketing outlet-it’s free) has seen the sudden and stirring responses evoked by our production of Gabrielle Reisman’s play ‘Catch the Wall’ now playing at Dillard University. Or maybe you haven’t. The reaction began on our Facebook event wall for the show and was later removed (censored some call it) when a highly personal email was copied and pasted into the public forum. I felt the action was offensive and disregarded the basic trust implicit in a personal email. And as a response, our marketing director, by my request, made the event’s wall private, thusly deleting the original thread. We then proceeded to create a Facebook group for a forum discussion that could last well beyond the show’s closing. The inability for us to recover and copy the deleted comments outraged some, and that is something that as Artistic Director I must accept, take responsibility for, and move forward from.
But what pleases me despite the bruises to the ego is that we have here a play that inspires these passionate responses. And I welcome you to continue in this discussion. Does a white playwright have the authority or even the right to craft a play about the experience of black characters? Does a white director have the ability to comprehend and direct this play? And does a company composed of more white faces than black have the ability to embrace and attempt to produce this play?
Some have also questioned the motivations of the playwright and the intent of the production. Is this a white playwrights personal perspective of bounce music and public education in black communities? Or is this a call to action and social change? In essence, why do we produce theatre? To what end?
For me, and this is a lesson passed on from Stella Adler, great plays are about ideas. And the best plays pit two difficult and equally valid ideas directly against one another. Take William’s The Glass Menagerie and the struggle to define life as better lived for one’s family or for one’s self. Miller plays often deal with the difficult ideas of doing what is morally right versus what is socially and economically correct. Now to place Gabrielle Reisman amongst those legends is certainly premature and possibly grandiose. But my point is that the best plays have no easy answers and the productions of them often spark immense debate and argument. It is why they are perpetually produced, over and over again for consideration and reconsideration. They live with us far longer than the two hours we spend directly with them. And perhaps they move us to action. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they change our mind. Or perhaps they just needle something in us that isn’t very comfortable.
You can charge that The NOLA Project, or Gabrielle Reisman, or Chris Kaminstein, or anyone involved in ‘Catch the Wall’ oversteps his or her boundary and rights in producing ‘Catch the Wall.’ But if we choose to avoid the challenge and potential backlash, we do our community a much greater disservice.
I think Troi Bechet, a fabulous actor in our company said it best when she said that one thing this debate makes crystal clear is the need for more artists of color in the New Orleans theatre. We need directors and actors and designers and writers of color, and they need and deserve avenues of expression. I hope that The NOLA Project can be of assistance and in partnership here.
Please, if you haven’t seen ‘Catch the Wall’, go. Your thoughts, for better or worse, are valuable. If we inspire thought, serve the artists of our community, and keep interesting and new theatre thriving in the city of New Orleans, then we accomplish our mission, and I can hold my head up high.
Artistic Director, The NOLA Project
Join the discussion here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/555780277775654/
@t0ups is our #catchthewall Instagram contest winner this week! The photo, titled “Twerk Over NOLA Ya’heard?” wins a coveted spot atop our FB page AND 2 free tickets to Catch the Wall!
This contest runs for just ONE more week, so tag your IG shots with #catchthewall and you could be our final winner!
CATCH THE CAST: Tenaj Jackson
Hey everyone, meet Tenaj Jackson! Tenaj is playing Justice, the feisty student at the center of ‘CTW’s’ trio of students at Believe Academy. Tenaj is an incredibly talented and versatile actress working in both live theatre and film and she can be seen in the recent ‘Django: Unchained.’ Here is Tenaj in her own words…
Full Name: TENAJ L. JACKSON
Home town: NEW ORLEANS, LA
What was your first theatre experience (performing in or attending)? Technically my first theatre experience was in 2nd grade. I was the lightning bolt in a play about colors.
What type of music/what music artists are you listening to these days? Childish Gambino is overflowing in my iPod but my favorite Pandora stations are Bruno Mars and Lil Wayne….with a little TLC sprinkled on top.
Your Favorite class or subject in primary school (K-12): English across the board!
What is your favorite theatre ritual?: Not sure if there’s already a name for this warm up so I’ll call it the sound stretch lol: My castmates and I are in a circle stretching and start blurting out whichever sound we’re feeling at the moment. Oddly relaxing!!
What high school did you attend? REDEEMER-SETON
Mac or PC? Raised on PC; upgrading to Mac.
Favorite movie you’ve seen recently: Man on the Moon & Limitless. I’ve seen then both before, watched them again recently and I’m still in love!
Who was your childhood hero? Probably my sister Quian. There’s nothing she can’t do!
Anything we might not know about you that our audience would find interesting? Trick question!