Sunday, January 31, 2010

Barry's Blog: Trying to stay "Calm, Cool, and Collected"

Wow, hard to believe we are so close to performances now—10 days! I definitely feel the stress and pressure mounting, and I’m sure everyone else does, too… though they hide it much better than I do. What really amazes me are all the technical elements that will come into place in the next 10 days. Right now, we still rehearse in a rehearsal room with a piano. In 10 days, we will be on a double-decker set with costumes, lights, instruments, and props, in front of an audience. It’s thrilling and surreal. I have not had the opportunity yet to work closely with all of the designers, but that all changes in the next week as we focus on tech. Each one of them is a name I knew from Playbills and watching the Tony Awards, and someone I never dreamed I’d get to work with. One whom I must mention is our orchestrator, Doug Besterman. He did the orchestrations to Seussical, The Producers, and Thoroughly Modern Millie. He is a true master in the field and I have always loved his work, which is fun, inventive and bright. He really knows how to use orchestration to support the storytelling. For this show, he tapped into his love of indie rock. When discussing influences, we discussed the soundtrack to Juno, an album called First Days of Spring by Noah and the Whale, and the music of Ben Folds (one of my all-time faves). Needless to say I am very excited to hear Doug bring these influences to a theatre score!

Nice moment yesterday: Two of the actors were rehearsing their duet and the other two were on the side watching. Afterward, the two on the side told me they were actually watching me watch the song! They said they can only imagine what it feels like to watch something you wrote come to life so magnificently. People have told me I make crazy faces when I watch things-- like extreme agony or extreme ecstasy-- but I have no idea if that is true. What I was actually feeling yesterday while watching this duet was proud to have trusted my collaborator. The song has been in the show for the past 4 years as a quartet, i.e. all four characters singing it. Our brilliant director Kathleen Marshall suggested that I make it a duet instead. This meant a lot of work for me, but I am so glad I listened to her: the song works MUCH better now! One of the things I love about theatre is how collaborative the process is. If you have a giant ego or are unable to compromise, that is a major disadvantage, in my opinion. I know that in the case of CALVIN BERGER, the show has benefited enormously from ideas suggested to me by others. Often, what they suggest feels instinctively right, and I just go, “Der! Why didn’t I think of that?” But it’s hard to always see with clarity when you are so close to something. It’s so important to get outside opinions.

Well, time for rehearsal. Come see CALVIN BERGER, everyone!

posted by Barry Wyner

Friday, January 22, 2010

"Security Meltdown" ...briefly now and then

The opening number of the show is called “Security Meltdown” and insecurity is a major theme of the show. Specifically, not letting your insecurity hold you back from doing what you want to do. Each of the characters are insecure about something, whether a physical feature or a perceived personality defect. Over the course of the show, we see them struggle with their insecurities and try to overcome them.

And of course, as our production grows near, I battle my own insecurit
ies. People see me pacing in the back of the room, or just bearing a general look of terror, and say “Don’t be ridiculous! The show is wonderful!” To which I reply, “Hey, I’m the guy who wrote a show about insecurity!”

That said, I’ve been proud of my fear/optimism ratio lately, which has leaned more in the positive direction lately than usual. I think some things people view as opposites-- like ego and insecurity, or crying and laughing-- are often more connected than people realize. This came up in a recent discussion of our Finale, in which Kathleen, our director, had some characteristically wise insights. The scene before the Finale song had lots of sharp and funny quips, whereas the Finale song itself was sweet and sentimental. We are sprinkling some of the funny lines from the scene into the song. It makes more dramatic sense, but also hopefully you’ll laugh at a joke one second and then hear something touching the next. Laughing through your tears is a heavenly feeling. I’d be thrilled if something I wrote induced that in others.

My favorite example of this feeling is in a truly brilliant piece of musical theatre writing: The hospital scene at the end of William Finn’s Falsettos, in which they hold a bar mitzvah in the hospital room of a dying character. Bill is the master of mixing joy with sadness, humor with emotion. That’s a big part of why I treasure his work so much. (If you love musical theatre and don’t own the CD to Finn’s Elegies… my highest recommendation.) Bill has been a huge supporter of Calvin Berger and had a giant impact on its structure. There is a wonderful tradition in musical theatre of established writers mentoring the younger crop. In the case of this show, Bill Finn, Jerry Bock and Stephen Sondheim have all played big roles. It is truly altruistic on their part and something I greatly admire. So, as I battle things like fear and fatigue, the emotion that always dominates is my favorite…. Gratitude.

Alright, time for rehearsal now. Come see Calvin Berger, everyone!

- posted by Barry Wyner

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"More than meets the eye "

Read-through of all music today. It’s good to see where we stand.. The first phase of rehearsals is always nerve-wracking for me: actors tend to find the music tricky, so when they struggle I feel like they’re mad at me for its difficulty. But I also think they know that the depth and sophistication of the music is what captures the complex emotions of these characters. This helps differentiate the show from being just a “kids show,” which it is definitely not.

This cast did a remarkable job picking up the tunes and harmonies quickly. In rehearsal, they record their parts on their iphones, and then the next day you can tell they really practiced with it at night. People don’t realize the amazing work ethic actors need to have. Even just the 6-day rehearsal schedule can be very grueling (he types while yawning). One of our actors has been performing in a Broadway show at night after rehearsal, too. Oy!

One of our actresses was not called for rehearsal today, and when we did a group number our director Kathleen filled in and sang her parts. I thought to myself, “How surreal that Kathleen Marshall-- someone whose work I’ve know and admired for years-- is casually singing my song right now.” If I have the diligence to continue with these blogs, I think you’ll be hearing me praise Kathleen a LOT. She is so smart and also so warm and kind. It is real treat to work with her. She’s sitting right next to me… but doesn’t know I’m complimenting her in this article. I wouldn’t want to make her blush.

I’ve also been seeing more of myself in the show than I ever knew was there. I guess things sneak in subconsciously and you don’t realize. One example is the character of Matt. All the other characters have names derived from Cyrano DeBergerac (Cyrano is Calvin, Roxana is Rosanna, LeBret is Bret), but where did “Matt” come from? In Cyrano, that character is named Christien! The first production of Calvin Berger was a half hour from my hometown, and many of my high school friends came to support me. One of them, named Matt, asked me humbly after the show, “Barry, um… is that character based on me?” And I had never thought about it, but I think he was right! I had forgotten, but in high school we had a love triangle: we both had a crush on the same girl (who now has 4 kids, btw), and she chose him—the happy-go-lucky, good-natured jock—over me. I chose that name by “accident” and didn’t even realize it was from my own experience. Yup, art imitates life, alright.

Now that I’ve gotten to know our cast better, I could NOT be more pumped about this production. It is going to be fantastic. Help us spread the word!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Calvin Berger: First Day of School

First day of rehearsal. It’s a show about school-age characters, and the journey there felt like riding the bus to the first day of school. There are lots of method actors, but I might be the world’s first method writer.

I don’t have kids, but I would guess that the pride I felt seeing the show reach this next step was akin to what parents feel seeing children reach milestones. Walking up George Street for the first time and seeing our beautiful new logo hanging outside this reputable regional theatre… Hearing artistic director David Saint praise the Dream Team of creative minds we have assembled (I couldn’t agree more!)… Seeing the army of warm and hospitable GSP employees so eager to help make the show a success. I felt like a proud parent… “my little [show] is growing up!” (bites bottom lip, chokes back tears)

A special moment for me was David Saint’s welcome speech where he said I remind him of his good friend Jonathan Larson (the late composer of RENT). Jonathan is my personal hero. I keep a picture of him above my piano. I don’t feel worthy of a pimple on Jonathan’s big toe (then again, I did write a show about insecurity), but hearing any comparison from someone who knew him was surreal and special. Thank you, David!

In rehearsal, Kathleen spoke brilliantly about our internal self-perception and the external image we try to put forth, a prominent theme in the show. How appropriate, I thought, as just last night I pondered trying to look “writerly” for today’s meet-and-greet, with a vest, or maybe the ol’ t-shirt/blazer combo. Luckily, I nixed that idea.

The cast members are each magnetic in their own ways. All are wonderful and quirky, and none are boring. They managed to make this difficult music sound exciting and lovely on their very first day. Their vibe is fun, positive and warm. This goes so far in making the audience root for these characters.
We are definitely off to a great start!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Takea Virtual Tour of the Scene Shop

Happy New Year Everyone!

While we get ready for some exciting new content for 2010, here's a tour of our scene shop while in production for A Moon To Dance By. Maddie Orton, at the New Brunswick Cultural Center took a tour with Spencer Burke, a new carpenter at the shop this season.