Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical sci-fi and agnostic commentary.

12Apr/160

Art of Noise

Now that The Credeaux Canvas has closed and its set has been struck, I wanted to highlight some of the music we used in the show.

The house music began with this piece by Morten Lauridsen, "O Magnum Mysterium," sung here by the Nordic Chamber Choir. I wanted to hint to the audience that I find this show beautiful, so I led with fifteen minutes of liturgical choir pieces.

After "Miserere Mei, Deus" and Luis de Victoria's "Ave Maria," I wanted the music to be sexy. I also wanted to pull from the present day, not rely on music from when I was the age of the characters in the show (mid-20s). Thus it amused me to use "Adore You" by Miley Cyrus, which is not only sexy by itself but has an almost comically steamy music video.

On nights when the theater wasn't completely fully of people, I heard audience members laughing at this next song, King Missile's "Sensitive Artist." Between us, I felt it poked fun at my snooty MFA reputation.

The first act got underway with a minute of Mozart's "Ave Venum Corpus," as sung by King's College Choir. Boy sopranos bring tears to my eyes every time.

We signaled the audience it was time to buckle up for the "naked scene," I.2, with the first verse of Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited."

As we faded to blackout for intermission, astute listeners may have caught a foreshadowing of Act II in Rufus Wainwright's "The Art Teacher."

Intermission concluded with some arty jazz. First came "In a Sentimental Mood" by Coltrane and Ellington, then another foreshadowing of bad news to follow: Miles Davis' sultry rendition of Kern and Harbach's classic "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

House out, go! We played the first two verses of "The Trouble With Classicists" by Lou Reed and John Cale, then used the guitar sting to "smash cut" into Act II. I found out later this song was written for a tribute album to Andy Warhol (Songs for Drella, 1990).

I promised my Facebook friends I'd discovered the saddest piece of music ever written. I think I can now deliver on that promise. And it's not just the music; it's how that music was inspired. Grab a tissue, friends. This one doesn't play fair. It's Polish composer Henryk Górecki's "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs." We used the second movement as we abandoned Jamie in sobbing, suicidal despair.

Finally, as it is the responsibility of a director to never leave a tender moment alone, we restated the theme of the play for its curtain call. Here is the one and only Adele's poignant "Million Years Ago."

Choosing the soundtrack for a show is one of my favorite aspects of directing. It gives me a chance to show off music I've discovered, including some I've loved for years. It amplifies the emotions of a script and guides the audience into a common heartbeat.

In answer to a question I've been asked several times lately, I have no idea what or when my next directing project will be. I'm fond of a Laura Gunderson script, "Silent Sky," which tells a story I'd been meaning to tell on stage anyway. For the moment, though, I'm burned out on dealing with backstage psychodrama, and I lack the mana to deal with the technical challenges of a play about astronomy. Instead, I'll complete my work on Seven Ways to Get There and then relax for the summer. Perhaps I'll even have a chance to catch up on some of other people's shows I've been missing around Puget Sound. I'd like that very much. Directing eats my life in large, messy bites, and I've been pushing Credeaux for four years.

THE CREDEAUX CANVAS by Keith Bunin
Produced by Theater Artists Olympia (and Carv's Thinky Works)

Stage Manager: Vanessa Postil
Assistant Stage Manager: Sara Geiger
Set Designer: Matthew Moeller
Set Dresser and Props Master: Hally Phillips
Running Crew: George Dougherty
Master Artist: R. Owen Cummings
Additional Art: Matt Ackerman, Alec Clayton, Becky Knold, Steve Saxton

WINSTON: Christopher Rocco
AMELIA (and costumes): Alayna Chamberland
JAMIE: Mark Alford
TESS: Amanda Stevens

Directed by Christian Carvajal

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22Mar/160

Naked

It's been a while, hasn't it? Well, I've been busy. My contract with MightyPlay ended when we delivered a bundle of developmental math games, so I'm looking for big-boy jobs. (I have irons in the fire, as they say.) Compiling an application for any of those can take days. More than anything, I've been concentrating on The Credeaux Canvas, a Keith Bunin dramedy I'm directing for Theater Artists Olympia in the Midnight Sun Performance Space. Producing this play has been a dream of mine since I first heard L.A. Theatre Works' audio production four years ago. I must've flirted with every theater company within an hour's radius about it. They all admired the script, but a 22-minute nude scene in Act I dissuaded most. Not so TAO. They see themselves as the company that produces shows others are too conservative to try. It was a perfect fit.

I cast the play in November, anticipating it would take our four actors months to memorize their lines and prepare for rehearsals. The casting process wasn't easy. As often seems to happen in our smallish but bohemian city, I had several people audition who did absolutely nothing wrong, but who simply didn't fit the emerging recipe. It's heartbreaking for them and me. My loyalty has to be to the show I've envisioned. First read-through was a clubby get-together with celebratory port (Quinta das Carvalhas--"It's my family label!"). In early months, actors Alayna Chamberland (Amelia) and Christopher Rocco (Winston) spent a lot of time psychologically bracing themselves for the adventure of disrobing before an audience of friends, peers and strangers. I can tell you from having done it myself (Angels in America, 1996) that it takes a superhuman level of intestinal fortitude. I can also tell you that stage manager Vanessa Postil helped provide a safe place for thespian heroics, and we passed the dreaded first "Naked Night" three nights early.

I did an interview with Molly Gilmore of the Olympian newspaper yesterday, and she asked the question we knew we'd hear from many: did they have to get naked? Is it essential to the play? And the answer, it turns out, is yes. Not for any story reason, though the nudity makes perfectly logical sense within the context of the play--as it does in Angels, Wit, and so many other modern plays. In fact, I could argue it belongs in some Greek and Shakespeare (King Lear, Act III, Scene 4, for example). Set aside for a moment the fact that human beings get naked sometimes, and such coy evasions as TV's "L-shaped sheet" only threaten credulity. Set aside also the ubiquity of nudity on cable, which makes nakedness an element of professional actor employment. Look instead at the relationship it creates between a character and an audience. What I've learned through several examples is when an actor exposes him- or herself before an audience, each audience member becomes complicit. The psychological side effect is a feeling of protectiveness toward that actor. I feel it strongly as a director. And as we watch the characters of Amelia and Winston fall for each other, giving all of themselves to each other, we cannot help but fall in love with them. And the scene must go on as long as it does. When actors get naked in a production like Hair, in which the nudity lasts less than half a minute, it's something of a special effect. In Credeaux, we spend the first minute feeling terribly uncomfortable, the second minute adjusting, and the next twenty appreciating these characters' vulnerability and beauty.

I've also said all along that every character, Jamie (Mark Alford) and Tess (Amanda Stevens) included, gets naked in this show. They may not take their clothes off, but Jamie has a moment that is among the most difficult for an actor to achieve. It takes absolute weakness, and that is something even the best actors find themselves resisting. Amanda must play a character older and less respected than herself. I think Amelia's nakedest moment on stage is not the Act I nude scene, but her fragility deep in Act II. All four actors immersed themselves in a new-to-them acting approach, the technique devised by esteemed teacher Sanford Meisner. 'Acting,' he said (though no one quite agrees on his phrasing), 'is living truthfully under the given imaginary circumstances.' In other words, when you attend The Credeaux Canvas, you won't be seeing professional "stage liars" impersonating human behavior for your enjoyment, as valuable as that is in all our lives. Instead, for this show, you'll see four people who've accepted the circumstances in the room, fictional though they may have been to start with, and then interact with each other in real time. The emotions get very intense--exhausting even. When they fight, they FIGHT. When they love, they fall in LOVE. When they get hurt, they fall APART. And we live all that with them. The result is two hours of operatic emotion on a level that envelops us in its obvious, unforced reality. I think you'll find it to be a singular experience.

My work as an acting teacher on this show is finished, for all intents and purposes. This week adds set details courtesy of stage designer Matthew Moeller and props artist Hally Phillips, plus original artwork by Owen Cummings. The music is set. Vanessa is knocking herself out trying to make the most artful use of new LED lights donated by TAO board members. (Thanks, guys!) And I watch every night with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye, because there is something so amazing about watching humans be humans, purely and with no barriers or apologies. I should also note that there's a pretty darn suspenseful art heist plot, as Winston and Jamie try to convince Tess that a portrait of Amelia was actually painted by early 20th-century Fauvist Jean-Paul Credeaux. Will she be convinced? If so, it would rescue them from soul-crushing East Village McJobs. If not, it could land them in jail for five years. And of course Jamie's relationship with Amelia hangs in the balance.

So that's the emotional feast we've prepared for you. I offer it to you with enormous pride--pride in these four actors, pride in TAO's courage and sensitivity, and pride in our stewardship of Bunin's amazing script. I hope you'll see fit to buy tickets as soon as possible. We're in a small house of only about 40 seats, and for only eight shows. I know the show deserves to sell out. I think once word gets out, some nights will. I don't want you to miss your opportunity to see it. I can tell you for a fact that if you miss TAO's production, you won't see it anywhere else soon.

I'm doing something for this show that I haven't done for any show I've directed since college: I'm attending every single performance. I love it that much. I want to be there when you discover it. From beginning to end this has been an experience I'll look back on with great fondness for decades to come.

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It also gives me great pleasure to announce that I'll be playing the role of rage-addicted Anthony in TAO's next production, 7 Ways to Get There by Bryan Willis and Dwayne J. Clark. It's a great script, and I have an opportunity to work with actors I love plus some new folks I've admired from offstage. I expect it to be an absolute lark.

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