Wednesday, June 17, 2009

2003 and 2004 Theater Fliers

Here are advertisements for the 2003 and 2004 Greenbrier Ghost at GVT. I played Sheriff Nickell in 2003 and Dr. Rucker in 2004.


I began the odd hobby of performing live theater primarily for the same, inherent reason I became a writer. The self-indulgence of my heightened ego.

Acting also affords me the opportunity to show the masses just exactly where I weigh in on the cleverness scale, all without knocking on doors or soliciting via fax machines.

Note to youngsters: When confronted with the riddle of how to successfully show-off, it's much easier if the assemblage seeks out your presence, rather than vice-versa.

But none of this works if you stink up the stage often enough to have patrons ask for assorted rotten vegetables to help critic your performances.

For me, I have no clue how to act. I've never had any professional training or classes - which painfully is clear at times - but would enjoy doing so.

But, I can say without any reservations that I know exactly how "not" to act. Meaning, how to put your mind in the right frame to help prevent bad acting.

Thus, I humbly offer to you the philosophy of being emotionally naked.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There are no hiding places on stage

It's the moment dreaded by all theater actors. You're in the middle of a big scene and your brain decides to substitute the wonderful prose of a talented writer for something far less favorable like the sounds made by a dying Tweety bird.

For some less-acclaimed thespians, it's the moment your brain involuntarily orders your face to appear as a deer in the headlights. Seconds turn into minutes during this uncomfortable time warp that makes other actors sound like Sylvester Stallone in slow-motion.

Such was the case for me during last night's brush-up rehearsal for the Ghost. But the dozen or so eggs that I'm still wiping off my face can be solely attributed to my personal lack of focus Tuesday night. I was goofing off after being away from the theater for a week and learned that I'm not good enough to goof off after being away from the theater for a week.

But, lest I digress.

So, how do actors learn all those lines anyway? As the character Rucker, I only have a few pages of lines to memorize, but the stars of the show like Lori Gardner, Kurtis Donnelly and Pamela Paul have dozens of pages to master.

With no formal training under my belt, I'm unaware of any special techniques or secrets to learning lines. Perhaps they are taught in the New York acting schools by someone who puffs on a long-stemmed cigarette and barks through a cardboard megaphone.

For my first lengthy role about eight years ago, the director threw the script in my lap and politely said: "Memorize this and try not to goof off so much, Giggenbach." To which I replied: "Who's your Daddy?"

After glancing through that voluminous script, I assumed my acting career would be short lived because of the memorization involved. I've been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and sometimes my attention span is less than

"I knew there was a catch to this acting stuff," I thought to myself as I caught a re-run of Sanford and Son while scratching off a few lottery tickets and finishing up a phone call.

However, our brains must be hard-wired to memorize lines because this is how it works for me. After repeating the lines hundreds of times, something in my brain clicks and the words are on auto-pilot, ready to fly at the touch of a button.

However, my auto-pilot crash landed last night. During the courtroom scene, I thought it would be quite amusing to say my first few lines via the style of the Peter Falk TV character Lt. Columbo. I screwed up immediately.

Realizing the Columbo bit was a bad idea, I shelved that for saying the lines with a different tempo and used my regular voice instead of the heavy southern accent I created for my character.

For the next five minutes, I cruised through the scene as the veteran actor Pamela Paul perfectly matched my tempo, but I quickly lost my place and had to ask for a line, uh, about 3 or 4 times.

You can't "break character" in front of a live audience. If you lose your place, all you can do is pray that the time warp will end quickly and another actor will bail you out by throwing you a line that puts your brain back on auto-pilot.

So my lollygagging cost everyone a chance to rehearse a complicated scene which involves split-timing lines among actors stretched across the width of the stage.

That won't happen at tonight's performance, so if your looking forward to hurling rotten vegetables at me during the curtain call, just keep them in your garden.

I plan on respectfully asking the actors in the scene to do a run through before going on stage.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Ghost gets it's Groove

The lines have been learned. The music has been mastered. The lights are ready to shine once more.

Including our preview night, we've had three consecutive performances before packed crowds and I fully expect this to continue throughout our run.
"It's their (Greenbrier County's) story," Cathey Sawyer, our director, has told the cast. And she's absolutely right.

After being away from the theater for a few days, the cast had a brush up rehearsal Wednesday evening and I could tell the time away helped some of the performers, including myself. The mood was light and relaxed and everyone was enjoying themselves.

I can't speak for all of the cast members, but it was intense ride leading up to opening night. We only had a few short weeks to prepare. However, Cathey and her crew definitely had us ready. I was damn proud of everyone and it really showed why GVT is such a professional theater. Cathey inspired me to buckle down and get the job done.

"It's time for all hands on deck," Cathey told us a few days before opening night. I knew exactly what that meant.

Thus begins our second week and I expect tonight's performance to be superlative and I hope you will join us because The Greenbrier Ghost has definitely found it's groove.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Kurtis Donnelly Interview



Saturday, May 23, 2009

What You Don't See ... Kinda.

The dark and shadowy figures appearing onstage during blackouts clear entire sets of tables, chairs and whatnots only to replace them with even more necessary whatnots needed for the next scene.

All in the time it takes to say: "Wasn't Christian absolutely brilliant in that last scene?"

In reality, scene changes are integral parts of each production where actors and crew members work as a team in precisely choreographed frenzied events. The goal is to set the stage for the next scene as quickly as possible without killing yourself or maiming any cast members.

This is important for a couple of reasons. If you maim a cast member, you're rarely given the opportunity to maim again, plus, audiences don't pay to watch darkened theaters and it's easy to lose the momentum of the last scene with an unduly extended blackout.

Actors, directors and writers create make believe worlds with a purpose and long scene changes can possibly lead to patrons thinking about overdue water bills.

That's only desirable if an overdue water bill is a central theme to the production.

A "shift plot" details who's responsible for what during scene changes and they are drilled and drilled and drilled and drilled. After that, you drill some more.

But, the payoff is worth the effort and I find shift plots highly challenging. To help actors see in the dark, glow tape is placed on stairs and other objects. On stage, strips of glow tape or paper are known as "spike marks" and represent correct spots for props.

Why not just set them in the general area and be done with it? Because stage lights don't move and they are set specifically to light each scene.

It's all part of a teamwork philosophy that's crucial to success in small theaters. I guess Broadway directors pay highly trained monkeys to rid sets of unnecessary cutlery, but I wouldn't really know because I've never traveled to New York.

As for me, carrying a table full of pots while walking backward down stairs in light dim enough to make a cat spark a match can be as mildly rewarding as executing a flawless soliloquy.

The Greenbrier Ghost by Marissa and Holly Miluk

A Google search of the words "Greenbrier Ghost" offers a perusal of 4,460 Web links. Cast members Marissa and Holly Miluk created this YouTube video of their version of the famous story and it ranks as one of my favorites. Enjoy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Legend of the Greenbrier Ghost

On January 23, 1897 the lifeless body of Zona Heaster Shue was found by a young boy at her at her log home in Livesay's Mill in the western part of Greenbrier County.

Just three months prior, Zona had fallen in love with and married a blacksmith named Erasmus Stribbling "Trout" Shue, who hailed from nearby Pocahontas County.

A local physician and county coroner, Dr. George W. Knapp, initially ruled the young, vivacious 15-year-old had died of "an everlasting faint."

However, Knapp later changed Zona's official cause of death to "childbirth." Accounts of the story say Knapp had been treating Zona for "female problems," but whether she was "childing" is unknown to this day.

Three days after her death, Zona was buried at her childhood home on Little Sewell Mountain.

Disregarding Knapp's explanation, Zona's parents immediately cast suspicion upon the "drifter" from Pocahontas County.

A month later, Mary Jane Heaster began telling friends that Zona's ghost had appeared and recounted how Trout had choked her to death for her failure to cook meat.

Mary Jane Heaster told her story to authorities and after damaging evidence came to light about Trout's past relationships with other women, a judge issued an order to have Zona's body exhumed from the grave.

An autopsy revealed a crushed windpipe and broken neck Later, a grand jury indicted Trout for murder.

During the trial, Prosecuting Attorney John Alfred Preston sidestepped the issue of Mary Jane's ghost story and presented the jury with circumstantial evidence against the defendant.

However, the ghost story entered the record during Mary Jane Heaster's cross-examination by defense lawyer Dr. William Parkes Rucker.

The jury convicted Trout and sentenced him to life in prison. Trout died in prison about three years later.

Since then, accounts have normally included that Trout was sent to prison because of "the testimony of ghost," thus cementing the legend of this Greenbrier County murder mystery.