Cat On A Hot Tin Roof…

This is the last installment of my month long Sunday series on my involvement in theatre, but probably won’t be my last post about theatre.  The play in question this time is Tennessee Williams critically acclaimed play, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.  I have to admit, I hate this play.  With that in mind, and the fact that I was burnt out on theatre thanks to endless tech directing jobs and set building, I declined to be involve with the play, despite one of my best friends directing it.  I did, however, serve as his assistant director and assistant editor on the trailer.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.  What can I say about this play.  Not much, since I don’t particularly like it (which is a sin, according to most thespians) and I wasn’t really involved in it in any real way.  But my coworker and very good friend was the director, and he has a television background, so he wanted a trailer.  So I helped him shoot it and edit it.

It really is a fantastic trailer, and I wish I could work with the director on more projects, but we both have busy lives that preclude us from much theatre right now.  We borrowed the home of one of Huntsville’s blue bloods, and everything you see here was shot either in that house, on the grounds of that house, or down the street at the UAH’s president’s mansions gardens.  A very fortunate location for shooting this trailer.

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Little Women…

This is another of my posts about my involvement in theatre.  In this installment I talk about Little Woman, a little musical by Jay Richards.  If I remember correctly, we were honored to do the southeastern premier of this beautiful play.  Once again, I served as tech director on the play, which meant I was literally building back to back to back sets.  

Little Women was a fantastic play to work on, as I got to work with some amazing young talent and some of Huntsville Old Guard in theatre.  I was pleased with the public reception and the amazing set I designed, but had so much help building.  But one of the things about the play I am most proud of was the trailer.

We talked a local park and museum to let us shoot the trailer on their grounds, so we had a plethora of building from the time of Little Women to shoot in and around.  The end result, if I do say so myself, was beautiful.

One funny story, toward the end of the trailer there is a scene where the entire cast is leaning on a fence.  We originally shot that scene facing the other direction, so the sun was lighting the actors faces.  It was a beautiful scene, and I was overly pleased with myself for setting it up.  Oh how pride doth fall.  It was the last scene we shot, and just before I released the actors, we reviewed the scenes.  I loved the fence scene, and everyone else did too, but since we were on top of the mountain, someone suggested we shoot the scene from the opposite angle and have the expansive view behind the actors.  I was skeptical, but since the actors wanted to do it, we set up the shot and quickly got the footage and left.

I finished editing the trailer that night, and sent it by email to the cast and crew and board of directors.  Word quickly came back that everyone loved it, and thought it was our best work to date.  I got the go ahead to post the trailer to YouTube and just before I did, I showed it to my kids.  Now keep in mind that the cast reviewed the footage before we left, I sent the footage to a dozen or two people and everyone approved the cut.  But the first thing out of my son’s mouth when it got to the fence scene (I had used my original shot) was why there was a bulldozer in the background.

WHAT!

There was some groundwork being done while we were shooting, and we had been shooting around the construction equipment all afternoon.  No one else saw the bulldozer in that shot.  I’m glad the cast convinced me to shoot the opposite angle, and I quickly swapped out the shot, emailed everyone about the faux pas and asked that they delete the trailer before sending it on.  Crisis adverted.

Here, now, is the trailer for Little Women.

Sordid Lives…

This is my weekly posting about my time in theatre.  This week we talk about Sordid Lives, by Del Shores.  The play is about a family in a small town dealing with the various secrets that have been hidden in the closet for too long.  It is a great play, a great movie and a wonderful television series.  Shores has released his latest movie, Southern Baptist Sissies, and I hope he will release it as a play as well.  

I was technical director on another play, Sordid Lives, and it went smashingly well, despite the total disaster my set design turned into.  We made do, and put on a great show.  But the highlight of that show was making the trailer.  Everything else was about half as fun as the night we shot the trailer and publicity photographs.

For one thing, the first gay bar in Huntsville had been closed for renovation.  It was Thursday night, and the bar reopened on Saturday.  But the owner, who was a big fan of Sordid Lives, and the manager both let us use the bar as the location of our shoots.  The big mistake, or should I say brilliant idea, was that since the bar was fully stocked, we got to drink while shooting.  Sordid Lives is not a kid friendly play.  It involves all sorts of adult situations, and being a gay positive play, we had a generous support from the local gay community.  The video and photography shoot quickly became a party.  There was a scene where one of the actors had to pour a shot of whiskey, and of course real whiskey was used.  But the actor had never poured a drink like a bartender would, so it took a few takes to get right… and well one should never let whiskey go to waste, should one?

So here is the trailer, in all of it’s concupiscent glory.  I hope you enjoy watching it a tenth of as much as we enjoyed making it.

 

Deathtrap…

This is another in a series of post concerning plays I have been involved in at Theatre Huntsville.  This week’s play is Deathtrap, by Ira Levin.  The play is about a mystery writer planning the perfect murder.  It is quite funny, and in 1982 Christopher Reeve and Michael Cain starred in the movie version.  

Deathtrap was a great play to be the Technical Director on.  The set was massive, and fun to build.  I had a fabulous set dresser, so the end result was amazing.  The set was two stories, with a full staircase and a massive amount of room.  It also had one special effect that I was scared to death to build, but I managed to pull it off.

In a climatic scene, one actor shoots another with a crossbow.  Crossbows are incredibly dangerous machines, and the thought of an actor firing one at another scared me to death.  Since the loading of the crossbow was a vital scene, it couldn’t be easily faked by not putting a bolt into the crossbow.  I was in quite the conundrum.

Keep in mind, I had never fired a crossbow much less built one.  And now I had to build one that worked.  I learned a few things from that build, the most important one is that it is easier to build a crossbow than you might think.  It is easier to build one that really fires, and fires accurately than you might think.  And the hard part is building one you can load, fire, but the bolt never leaves.  Also, triggers are tricky, and you need to keep them as simple as you can.

Since I had absolutely no idea how I was going to manage that, I decided to show my success or failure on YouTube.  For your viewing pleasure, and my humiliation, here is the four video blogs I put together of the build of the crossbow.  I now know that if the Zombie Apocalypse occurs, I’ll be ready for it.  After all, I can build a crossbow.

As I mentioned in my last post about theatre, we did a trailer for this play as well.  Actually, we toyed with several trailers, but this is my favorite.

Same Time Next Year…

Way back when I served as Vice-President of Theatre Huntsville, the only position I’d ever accept on the board of directors for that organization again, I had the chance to work on a great play.  It was “Same Time Next Year” and I got the chance to do some really great things as the Technical Director.  For one, the set build was fun and exciting, as I had a very condensed timeframe, uncooperative weather, and since it wasn’t performed in our usual venue, some serious drawbacks.  The biggest hurdle was building a 24 foot wall, with windows and a door in the center, and the door had to slam.  But I could, in no way, attach the wall to the floor.  A little ingenuity and about a quarter ton of steel weights and sandbags worked wonders, and the wall was rock solid for the run of the show.

I also got to do some creative stuff for the show.  Since this play was a “special addition” to the regular season, the main stage show was already rehearsing in our scene shop and rehearsal space.  So I had to build our set around the build of another set, and I had to come up with some fairly technical solutions to real problems.  One of those problems was that the actor had to play piano, but he didn’t know how to play.  So I built a false grand piano, put speakers in it, and on his iPod Touch, he had control of the sound files of the songs he had to play.  It worked beautifully, with the sound coming out of the piano, every night people went up to Carlos, the actor, and commented that they didn’t know he played piano so well.  Okay, Carlos gets some of the credit, he did act it out quite well.

Another problem was the Director didn’t really like the way the play opened.  For those familiar with the movie, the play doesn’t start at the restaurant, it starts the very first time the couple walked into their hotel suite.  The director really liked the setup at the restaurant, but we couldn’t add words to the play, and having a scene change was out of the question.  So what we did instead was open the play with a silent film, that I got to shoot and direct, that set up the play the same as the movie.  The play opened in darkness, and we projected the opening movie onto a screen lowered from the ceiling.  Additionally, we used the screen during the scene changes, since each act was separated by five years.  Our producer was a talented piano player, so he recorded a 3 minutes of music from that 5 year period, and I created a video of images from the same time.  It worked beautifully.

Another thing I started with this play and continued for the next several plays was introducing movie style trailers for the shows.  We heavily used the trailers as television commercials and on social media, and we tracked ticket sales, and releasing a trailer seriously drove ticket sales.  After a year, I burnt out on being the only person available to shoot and edit the trailers, so they aren’t done anymore.  And that’s a shame.  I think they really helped drive sales.

I was reviewing all these trailers last night, and was surprised to learn that the trailer for Same Time Next Year was significantly more popular than the others.  So I thought it might be fun to start a weekly series on the trailers I shot that year, with a little background on my involvement on each of the shows.  I’m not sure what happened to the scene change videos or the opening video, but if I can track those down, I’ll add them at a future date.  But here now is the very first Theatre Huntsville trailer ever shot, and the first play based trailer we could find anywhere in the southeast.  (Many theaters around us started doing them after that first year.)

A new feature here at Running Wolf Blog

Starting tomorrow and running every Sunday through August 3, Running Wolf Blog will be featuring stories about your host’s involvement in community theatre.  Each post has video included, so we hope you’ll enjoy this new addition to the blog.

The plays covered by the blog, in the order they are scheduled to appear, are as follows:

  1. Same Time Next Year
  2. Deathtrap
  3. Sordid Lives
  4. Little Women
  5. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Posts will appear each Sunday morning, just a little something different for your viewing pleasure every weekend until August.  Enjoy!

Ouch…

For the past two months, I’ve been building a set for Theatre Huntsville.  I’m rather proud of the set, and you all should come and see the show.

In the process of building the set, I worked long days, mostly alone, swinging platforms that way upwards of 100 pounds and are 8 feet long all over a building full of tools and sharp objects.  I would swing 2×4’s of various lengths around the shop, chopping them up with one of several saws.  I pushed sheets of lumber through table saws, drilled holes, drove screws of various lengths into a multitude of wood.  I even built a jig, used the jig to build 10 roof trusses and then slung those trusses… by myself… onto the top of a set of walls 9 feet tall.

I tell you these things not to impress you, or brag, or in any way bring praise to myself.  I tell you all this because I want you to understand the risks I took.  I did so much of this alone, with no one in the shop with me (a big no-no) and often with most of my friends completely unaware of what I was doing.

Now don’t think I wasn’t careful.  I was.  When I had to destroy a prop using a sledge hammer, I actually called the president of the troupe and told her to check on me.  She did.  I was exceedingly careful with the saws.  I knew I was being somewhat risky, but I was also very aware of the risk.

So that’s why what happened yesterday is so annoying.  So I need to cut some fence posts.  I set up the saw and needed an extension cord.  It was on the set.  I went and unplugged it.  Then it happened.

I hit my head.

That’s not fair enough.  It doesn’t really explain what happened.

I hit my head so hard I saw stars and little blue birds.

I staggered for a minute, but thought I was okay.  I started back across the set.  My head REALLY hurt.  I pressed my hand to the hurt part, and it felt a bit wet.  I pulled my hand away and it was a nice shade of red.

Next thing I knew I was on my back on the floor.  The show producer and the show director were there (thank God) and heard me yell something obscene.  They found me on the floor bleeding all over my freshly painted set.  First aide was applied, and I got a ride home.

Damn it hurt.

By that evening I had a splitting headache. One of those “OH MY GOD THE LIGHT HURTS” kinds of headaches.  I’m pretty sure I had a mild concussion.  I know I had a bump the size of a golf ball.  And a scab.  And this nasty amount of dried blood in my hair.  It was pretty gross.

Today was a bit better.  I didn’t fight the sleep that I fought last night.  I got some rest that I probably needed without the consideration of the bump on my head.  But tonight… ouch.  It’s hurting again.  I think I’ll go lie down someplace very dark.

A Learning Experience

I had a learning experience last night.  It wasn’t comfortable, but true learning experiences often are.  I learned something about myself and I’m not sure how I feel about it. How I feel is pretty irrelevant, because it is true.  True enough to be squirmy in my gut.

Here’s the story.  Last night the very sweet and wonderful people at Fantasy Playhouse asked me to videotape the dress rehearsal of their annual production of A Christmas Carol.  Their normal person was booked, and they heard about my employment problem so I jumped at the chance.  I didn’t think anything of it.  I’ve been in the play, and I’ve directed the play…  the story is one of my favorites.  The script is pretty darn good, and I’ve loved watching it in the past.  I even auditioned this year, but it didn’t work out.

So, I was videotaping and I couldn’t help it.  This little voice in my head wouldn’t keep quiet, and it just over and over again told me all about how the things going on the stage was wrong.  It drove me batty.

I directed the play in 2006.  I had a great cast.  I had a fabulous tech crew.  The show was marvelous.  I can honestly say it was a proud moment in my life.

Now this year’s show is directed by friends.  I even interviewed them for my podcast.  I love them dearly and have completely enjoyed other shows that they have directed.  I respect both of them as directors, actors and people.  So while anyone can have a bad show, I don’t think that’s what made me feel the way I did.

In fact, the audience was amazingly appreciative.  They laughed, cried and shouted at all the right moments.  Prior to seeing it, having interviewed them, I understood the directors intentions.  They had decided to go “back to the roots.”  The idea, with this being the 20th Anniversary, they would return as much as possible to the original show.  Directors over the years have added some things and taken away others, so they wanted to get it back to the original.

So the directors are solid, the show is solid and the concept is solid.  So why was I all upset with what I saw?  I think the problem wasn’t the show… it was me.

We now come to the thing I learned.  I clearly can’t watch a play I’ve directed.  It felt like someone had stolen and ruined what I’d managed to accomplish.

It’s not like I’ve had many opportunities to learn this.  Is not like that many shows get repeated year after year, so the odds of seeing a play I directed again is pretty slim.  And I’m a little disappointed in myself.  I was completely and totally biased against the play before I’d even seen it and I didn’t even know it.

Now I’m going to be spending lots of time with the play, editing four hours of video from last night’s shoot.  I hope after realizing that I’m the one with the problem, I can look at it differently.  It’s almost a second chance, and you don’t get those very often.

Stop and Go Traffic

Wow.  NaBloPoMo has made a huge difference here at Running Wolf.  I’ve noticed a significant increase in traffic since starting writing daily.  I suppose that’s the point, but I’m surprised anyway.

I’ve also seen a surge in traffic at Beyond The Boards, but I suppose having something controversial and a bit gossipy helped over there.  About the only place I’m not seeing a surge of traffic is Geek Palaver, but it’s new and we haven’t quite figured out what we’re doing over there yet.

As a result, I’ve gotten a few people who’ve commented in person about a post or two.  It’s been interesting to find out who’s reading the blog in real life as opposed to the (very) few comments I get here.  Not sure if that means I need to be careful what I write about or not.  In typical reckless abandon, I’ll probably not worry too much.

It’s been a fairly good weekend.  I’ve been spending a lot of time with the rugrats, having them to myself both Friday and Saturday night.  That was, for the most part, fun.  There was the one fist fight, but I ended it without bloodshed.  And with real fights being pretty rare, I’ll chalk it up to my having feed them really good ice cream earlier.

I also got to hang out with some pretty amazing people over the weekend.  The cast and crew of Christmas Belles had enough drama offstage to compete with the drama onstage that no one could blame them if they didn’t want to hang out together away from the venue.  But they overcame the drama and put on their show and hung out for some good fellowship and karaoke.  I didn’t know many of them, and not being a part of the show they didn’t need to include me, but they did and I’m glad.

So a good weekend.  I’m about to go to bed early for a change, then it’s back into the job hunt.  We’ll have to see how that goes next week, but I’m sure it will provide plenty of fodder for the various blogs.