Rehearsing out of doors

The Book of Liz rehearsing outdoors
Brandon Murphy, Katie Koster and the Power of Theatre

This week we rehearsed our outdoor production of The Book of Liz outdoors in the park on the 5th Avenue side of the Old Stone House.

On Tuesday the actors had the challenge of maintaining focus and composure (which they did with aplomb) while a funk and soul band played, loudly and well amplified, across the street.  After that experience they were prepared to deal with anything that might come their way.  Any type of interference.

On Thursday we rehearsed again outside, but this time there was no funk band.  There were, however, many “audience members” for us, ranging from the casual passersby to the earnestly focused on the performance.  My favorite audience members were the young people who stopped and stayed, incredibly focused on the actors at work.  By Scene Five there was a trio of girls who were not only watching but slowly moving closer to the “stage” (which was chalked out on the ground) and, incidentally, directly in front of me as I watched the run through and took notes.  I did not move them out of my field of vision because my view was not as important as encouraging their interest in live performance (or not discouraging it at least).

There were several highlights from the rehearsal once the girls were there.  There were many moments when the actors changed the expletives in the play to more family friendly, or at least vague, terms (b-hole, jerk, goo, slag replaced the usual suspects).  But my favorite moment, captured in the photo above, was when Yvone is pointing out to Liz one of the fishes in the fish tank (located in the imaginary 4th wall, in the direction of the audience).  At that moment the girls were so engrossed in the truthful storytelling of the actors that they turned behind them to see the (imaginary, nonexistent) fish tank.

I love the draw of  live performance.  I love the power of the theatrical imagination.

Cheese balls & The Book of Liz

Cheese balls.

Many people have asked me, “What is The Book of Liz?”  My answer has become, “It’s a play about cheese balls.”  I then receive quizzical looks.  I then add, “It’s by Amy Sedaris and David Sedaris.”  And in response I often get a knowing, smirk of a grin.  Those who love these siblings are quite fond of the unique Sedaris voice that blends dry humor, quick wit, and satirical observation.

Fueling that great humor is great heart.  After the rolls of laughter that regularly occur from encountering a Sedaris play or piece of writing (or interview, for that matter), there is something that stays with us, the nearly inexplicable quality that defines great comedy.  As George Meredith wrote in An Essay on Comedy, “The test of true comedy is that it awakens thoughtful laughter.”  The Sedaris siblings’ brand of comedy passes that test.

The many characters of the Sedaris siblings’ creations are deeply flawed (or “but flawed” as Reverend Tollhouse says).  But despite the many foibles of each character (including themselves in the case of David’s writings), there is a universal emotional core which allows us to laugh with them rather than at them.  At the core of the title character in The Book of Liz is the need to feel appreciated.   She asks Sister Butterworth and, in effect, asks us: “Do you ever get the feeling that you’re not being appreciated?”  Liz must find her answers and we are prompted to find our own, thoughtfully.  The play, after all, is about much more than cheese balls.

The Book of Liz by The Talent Family, Amy Sedaris and David Sedaris performs July 10, 11, 17, 18, 24 & 25 outdoors at the Old Stone House, Park Slope Brooklyn.  For directions and more information, visit The Book of Liz Website.

Creating characters with artists (who happen to be 7th graders)

I am grateful for the many creative projects I have going at any given time.  And I am grateful for those in which I see a real change in my fellow artists through the outstanding work that they do.   In one recent case I saw such a change.  It just so happened that my fellow artists were 7th graders at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel-Benedicta in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Staten Island.

Inspired by the production of Beauty and the Beast at Wagner College and the classroom curriculum on Greek myths, student artists, in small groups, over the course of 4 sessions, created characters from inanimate objects — a tube of paint, a paintbrush, a ladle, a water bottle, a box of couscous — through biographies, monologues and costume renderings.

“What is your writing process like?”

Noel Fielding of the sketch duo “The Mighty Boosh” responded to the question above with this: “We talk about what we’re going to do for weeks, but we don’t actually do anything. You have to drink lots of different sorts of drinks. You drink lots of coffees, then you’re going to need juice, then you need some water, then you need some tea. … You go through the whole gamut of drinks. Anything to not do any actual work until you have to.”

I understand that process.