Process : Directing

I’ve met a bevy of artists since I’ve come to New York in November.

They are not hard to find. When not on stages, screens or crisp white lit walls – they are serving cocktails, slinging trays, walking dogs, burping babies, selling stilettos, teaching teenagers and so on and so forth.

It is no wonder then that I’ve met new impressionable and inspirational talent through one of the several hospitality jobs I have to survive in the Big Apple.

 

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Acute Reflections performance at “With This Ring” event at Punto Space in April – where I met several artists from a reputable catering company.

 

I am always looking for that special something – and after having lost all of my muses in Philadelphia and then Berlin due to relocation – I knew very well it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge on the account of my desperation and desire to find new ones. Furthermore, to be in this epicenter of creativity was my primary motivation (if not instinct) when I came back from Europe. I had the crème de la crème of artists at my disposal when I was across the ocean, so my burgeoning palette became hungry for better, more, perfection.

When I first saw Phillip – his smile was infectious. I wanted to bring the dark side out of him. Not one to harp on emotive proclivities, our introduction was brief and I spent much of the rest of the evening keeping a peripheral eye on him, going through my mental Roladex of scripts wondering what characters he might fit into or if there were any ideas on my back burner he’d be appropriate for – like any writer/director spends most of their time doing everyday.

We were working a catered event for about 100 luxury cruise line professionals. They were a spritely, boozy bunch, and I was of course surrounded by a plethora of front of the house professionals slash artists, but there was something about Philip.

All of us were talking about film and television and theater, like the art nerds that we were – and the adrenaline of competition versus camaraderie was leaving a sweaty stench in the air. We told the forever-the-same tales of the woes and wins of New York Shitty, and how no matter how hard it gets, there is no option to bail out.

Philip and I (along with a few others) ended up huffing it to the subway instead of splurging on an Uber we couldn’t afford, as true artists are prone to do. Like a good writer, I had some Polish Vodka in my bag and started to swig to quell and coerce the creative energy brewing inside of me.

When we were the last ones to transfer off and away from the borough of Manhattan. We got to talking about or respective and specific passions and he had mentioned to me that his past primary project was a web series he wrote and starred in entitled “Planners”. I asked him to take a picture of me (this weird affectation of Narcissism artists sometimes get when they haven’t gotten any work in awhile) before he left. “I hope to see you again,” he motioned with a wave “so long”, as he too transferred off to another train with another hundred people.

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The next day I took a look at his web series and then found my way to his other work and I knew that there was something there…

Previously, I had already declared a perfunctory muse. She’s run the gamut with me in varying velocities of interaction. She works with me at my primary gig – a bistro restaurant on the Upper West Side that is famous for the entertainment elite it caters to.

The staff is made up of a cast of characters, mostly actors and the writers who adore them. I’m lucky in one way to be surrounded by so much drama, as exhausting as it is – but more than that there is this precious dichotomy of feeling like you’re on the wrong side of the equation. You can’t help but iterate those classic show business adages about making it on Broadway and singing those musical songs in your head as you serve expensive omelettes and steak frites to Tony winners. It’s better and worse than you can ever imagine.

There, I met Stephanie. A veritable chameleon that has a special draw not only for her unique and amicable visage, but her demeanor strikes you as coming off as the perfect blend of sweet angel and little devil.

She too told the story we all share about New York and her dreams and the struggle and the victories – and I was enthralled. She spoke openly (like a soliloquy) about her passions when I asked, and I mentally took notes on her diction, intonation, inflection, projection, physicality, emotional slants, her gait – like any writer/director spends most of their time doing everyday.

I told her I wanted to work with her some day. Her oblige wasn’t so much of a blush but rather a figurative wink. It came in the form of a nod and verbal agreement; I knew we were a match.

About a month ago after seven months in New York, for the second time, after a slew of proposal and application writing – one of my works was chosen for a new artist collective entitled Hearts on the Wall from Dark Matter Productions.

I sent Phillip the script that was chosen and he said he was interested. Two of the actresses I had in mind (whom I met through other catered events) were indisposed, and eventually Phillip suggested that I get in touch with his acting class partner, Jamie.

I met Jamie for a meeting/audition/rehearsal – though after reviewing her work, and being turned on by the idea of working with two actors who work together regularly, I knew she was already my girl. We got along swimmingly. She sat next to me at the café where I typically meet everyone, where by chance there was another meeting/audition/rehearsal going on right next to us.

 

 

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I focused intensely on Jamie, noting that she must’ve been a dancer by the way she used movement as an expressive tool. I also watched her eyes, the muscles on her face, the nature of her personality, the tones of her voice, the weight of her hair, the concentration of her spirit – like any writer/director spends most of their time doing everyday.

The logline and synopsis of the play was as followed:

“Bed” is a brief exhibition of an intergenerational interlude
 
Workaholic Sharon and her much younger lover, Bill, are holed up in a hotel room together fighting over business versus pleasure. Not until a rousing discovery of a secret is revealed do they come to a compromise.  

I had a casual couch rehearsal with Philip and after we dug into the character, we conferenced in Jamie via Skype and read through all together. I am a big fan of using technology for working in the arts, many times I record rehearsals and send links so my performers can study virtually.

 

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I sent notes and references to the entire cast and went through the costume requirements. I was always taught to wear all black at auditions, and I prefer actors to do this during readings so you can have a “clean slate” visually, though we did go through what I call The Parker Posey Method of Acting. I once saw her in an interview say that the first thing she does when she is playing a role is pick out what the character would wear. I added a bandana and glasses to the characters’ accessories.

And then we met on the day of the show at the aforementioned café and I nearly shit a brick of glee having finally attained 3 malleable actors to paint my piece.

One of the biggest challenges for me as a Director was that I only had 3 weeks to put the pieces together. It was a staged reading, but me being me, I was very zealous about making it a performative piece as much as possible, though the actors were to stay on-book. I typically do not like the actors to get too involved or familiar with the text before the first rehearsal, but time did not permit that and I had to make some changes to the script posthaste.

I asked them all the same questions about their characters – and I eagerly acclimated myself with their contributions. I even made the narrator of the play an actual character, to further the complexity of the presentation.

 

 

I do get a little sadistic when directing, and I believe that that is the true mark of a great artist. It comes from the passion but also to instill discipline in my performers (perhaps that comes from my pious upbringing, my families’ military background, my stint with athletics, and from being trained in dance).

I got out of them what I needed, but not what I wanted. This was in fact a work-in-progress, so there was room for error, but make no mistake, they all impressed me and I consider them to be high caliber actors. The material was engaging not only to the audience but to the readers, and I knew this dynamic would be fun to navigate.

Here are my notes I sent to the actors:

-Remember to project!
-Make the most of Happy Accidents, that’s what drama is all about! Especially at readings/rehearsals, this gives you the opportunity to give the playwright/director a new perspective and perhaps make viable changes to the script/production.
-Typically comedy needs to be FAST – hit them hard with the punchline. When working with tragicomic material, the tragedy comes slow and easy. This cadence was just a little bit missing in the performance.
-Relish in audience reactions! 
-Keep digging and being awesome. Find a way to relate  to and disconnect from your characters.
Thanks again so so so much. This was so rewarding and special to have you all involved and I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure I work with you again.
It was an expertly curated event and I highly recommend you attending the next one and/or submitting your work in progress for [Monday, August 22].
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Courtesy: Dark Matter Productions #HOTW

Maybe I’ll see you there, if I can get my shift covered at the restaurant.
-ldn

 

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