Sittin On A Porch

Sittin On A Porch
Our little back porch

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Being Creative

The Stage Company does a 1940s era Radio Show.  It is not broadcast out on the radio like Prairie Home Companion is.  We dress in 1940s era clothes and use reproductions of the original scripts from the mid 30s to the mid 50s.  Most of our focus is on the 40s and we do The Lone Ranger, and The Canadian Mounted Police, Abbott and Costello, Burns and Allen, Ray Bradbury and sci-fi like Buck Rogers, The Strange world of Dr. Weird, and all of the different Planet X ones.  We also do pieces of mystery and suspense.  

One year we did one named The Dark Journey, but we called it the Dark and Endless Journey.  The 2 actors in were wonderful, but the thing just went on and on and on.  My favorite was the one named Suspense.  Colin and Pat played the part of the daughter and the shop owner in Madagascar or some exotic location as that.  I think Ron played Pat's newly wed husband and Caroline played the mother.   Colin did the greatest voice, and Mary and I as the Foley artist got to make sounds of a middle eastern market.  We would say, "camels for sale", "Hashish for sale",  "rugs for sale", "Slaves for sale" in far off voices while we jingled coins and pots and pans to sound like a market.  Everyone was wonderful in that, and it had good sound effects to play with.

The lovely Ms Moon is half of the Foley team, The Miller Sisters.  I am the other half.  We both had the maiden name of Miller.  And we are good Foley's.  We may not be the most skilled, but we are extremely dedicated and take our Foley work very serious.  The first radio play we did together we closed that production on a sci-fi thing that Jan found called, The Amoeba that went slurp.  Jack played the mad scientist.  He is a very good mad scientist.  Jon played the beleaguered assistant, and about 3 others voices that only had a line or two.  I think Lisa might have played the wife.  But Mary and I were the Foley's for the first time.  Still fairly new friends and we were amazing.  Our minds worked together so well and we worked so hard to make every sound effect using something that existed in the 1940s or with our own mouths, vocal chords and other parts of our anatomy.  So, this was the hard one.  What does a human size amoeba  slipping into the bathtub sound like?  You can look up a lot of things on the Internet, this is not one of them.  We tried liver, we tried jello, we tried thicker jello, heavier bowls, a splash of water, changed the combinations, and finally came up with the exact sound of a human size amoeba as it slips into the bath tub.  Just the right amount of slipping and then the big slop noise at the end.  At some point during the 2 performances I remember throwing jello around as some scene at the end got wild and crazy.  Mary and I slurped into the mics.  Hundreds of times for each rehearsal, each show we went slurp and tried to harmonize our slurping into funnier and funnier moments, always doing it with a serious straight focused face on. 

No matter how silly the sound we are making at anyone moment, say like, making the sound of beating up someone or a fist fight.  Mary and I each hold a cabbage in our hands and then beat them severely with a billy club.  Trying to crack open the cabbage to expose the smaller leaves that when struck fly up into the air filling our side of the stage with coleslaw.  It always gets a laugh.  But Mary and I do not acknowledge the laugh for the most part.  Applause, OK, we take a special bow for that.  But laughter?  That's our job.  So we focus very hard on our scripts, we knit or crochet.  We sneak sips from our multitude of never ending flasks.  And we stay stone sober, serious and focused on our work. 

When we walk for the sound effect (Sfx) for a woman, we move our hips and hold up our hands to look like a caricature of a woman.  For the men, we walk with big heavy steps and hold our arms more to our sides trying to look big and strong.  But our face stay dead pan straight and focused.  We have so much fun and each year about a month or so before the show we tune our ears to sounds around us.  Listening to everyday sounds and sounds never noticed.  Sometimes listening for specific sounds we can use for a certain noise.  Sometimes we use the actual object.  Other times even though the object is available, we use something different that might be bigger or funnier, or just unexpected.  The show needs to be enjoyable with your eyes closed, travelling back to days of sitting around the radio.  My family did that when we went camping.  We camped a lot. 

But the show must also be enjoyable for the "studio audience".  So we get to dress up and improv silly things.  Last year we had this underlying theme of our Announcer/Sound person being pregnant.  She would waddle out from the sound booth, hand protectively under the pillow playing the part of her pregnant tummy.  Her other hand holding that of her son Riley.  Rile was 4 or 5 I guess, maybe at the most.  And adorable.  Oh my goodness, that boy was adorable.  He walked out with him Momma, holding tight to her hand.  Then let go and stood next to her as she did her announcing duties.  He had one of those newsboy caps that you see in the movies about the 40s.  All he had to do to win the audience was to put his cap on his head.  He figured that out the first night.  I am not sure that during the rehearsals and up to when he was in front of the audience did he understand this whole crazy thing his Mom was dragging him through.  Oh, but when the audience laughed at him?  A star was born.  He did not overdue it.  But he was thoughtful and from that first hat placement, he came up with something to do each time he came out with his Momma and sure enough got a laugh or an "ahhhh".  And he loved it.  He would get the biggest grin.  Oh, he is such a cutie pie.  

As the show progressed, Dani, our announcer was starting to struggle with walking and getting up and down off of chairs.  But then she did the Jack LaLanne Commercial which involves some very minor physically activity of calisthenics, holding up your arms and legs, and at the end, she leans over and lets out a very believable groan and then starts to buckle.  Mary and others ran over and helped her off as they starting timing the contractions.  It was hysterical.  

For the exercises, Mary and I sat on our stools behind our Foley table as everyone else stood up and did the exercises.  Mary and I had flasks in both hands and were a little tipsy acting as the exercises were yelled out.   But after that commercial, bam, we were back straight and sober.  After the show one woman said she could not believe that Mary and I were not drunk, she would have swore we were stone drunk out of our mind.  We smiled and thanked her for the compliment to our abilities as actors.  Then she was amazed all over again when Dani came downstairs, not pregnant and obviously not just having had a baby.  I think one of us probably said something to her about fake believe.  

We had planned on doing the radio show this year around Christmas.  We were going to do It's A Wonderful Life.  But then TLT put it on their season schedule, and M&M productions put on an old fashioned Christmas pageant at the Opera House, but snazzier, and well, the Radio Shows tend to pull in small audiences anyway.  Loyal audiences though, so we moved our production from December to the end of July.  M&M does the last show of the season with the Kids production, so we have the summer time that we can slip something into.  Keeping in mind how many people leave Monticello in the summer to go to North Carolina.  And of course, summer vacations.  This not only impacts getting actors and directors, etc.  But on the size of the audience.  But it is one of the favorite shows of the actors who are in it.  Just enough rehearsals to pull together as a group.  No months of memorizing lines.  We read and drop the scripts just like in the 40s.  You develop your characters so that you have the right voice and emotion.  You get to do cool things like speak walking up to the mike to sound like you are walking in from another room.  And we have like 3 old fashioned mics so people have to crowd around the mics together not making unnecessary noise and you are actually physically closer and more intimate with the rest of the cast then some plays.  Also there is a lot of freedom in the improv.  
You must also develop a character for the actor reading the parts.  Then coming up with visual things to do while you sit on the stage and try to keep quiet while you wait for your part.  I love it and don't mind being on the stage for this show because I can block out a lot of the audience part and focus on playing with the other actors on stage.  Also I have a tiny door that we open and shut to make the sound of a door opening and shutting.  sometimes it is very simple.  We also have a miniature screen  door that attaches to the regular mini door so we can make the different sounds of a screen door versus a regular door, and don't get me started on car doors.  Anyway, I can place the mini door in such away that sometime during the show I can hide behind it.  But I do love playing with the actors on this production.  I really do.  It is by far my most favorite show we do each year.

But this year the play is being performed at the same time that Ms Moon has the opportunity to go to Asheville with her dear beloved Lis and see her Jessie and Vergil.  But she is dedicated and focused and actually struggled for a week or so about what she should do.  I smiled and knew that she was simply worried about abandoning the Miller Sisters.  I will miss her terribly, and I also know that she adores being a part of the radio show, but we agreed that Rich could substitute for her.  And my nephew Christopher is going to be up and will be in the play with me.  He might get to use the real authentic NBC chimes that Jan's dad was given by NBC for his time in radio with them.  So for this year, we can manage to get through the show without Ms Moon being there.  But next year, we will do a better job scheduling this show, so there is no question about her being here.

In the meantime Mary, Rich and I have to get together and go over the sounds, decide on how each sound will be made.  Then there are the props to consider, and are they articles that would have been found in the 1940s.  We hedge a little bit, but for the most part we work hard to find someway to make the sound from something used then, or at least was around.  It will be fun for the three of us to work on these sounds effects.  Judy will get with us once we have the sounds mostly hunted out.  We may need her to decide between one or another, and there have been times when we struggled with a sound, like a car door, to get enough of the different sounds and sequence together so people recognize the sound in a microsecond because the play does not slow down for our sound effects.   When you get to work together on something like this, you really get the whole picture of a "play".  Because it is play, and it is fun, and it is challenging and creative.

Today Ms Judy came by and we worked on reformatting the scripts.  Editing out the parts of the famous actors who were in the original radio production.  Changing the commercials out for ones that we write.  Judy gave me the final nod to the scripts she wanted to use, and she did her editing on the pages while I moved the scripts to word and then made her edits.  We discussed the order of the show, length of the show and when do the commercials come in.  She has some new ideas.  Some are very funny and will add another dimension to the production.  But I am a Luddite, a stick in the mud, and stay authentic to how we have done it over the years.  So it is a good thing that Judy is directing.  She will breath fresh air into something without throwing out the fun and flavor of the show.  

After getting the scripts pretty well taken care of, except for the last of the formatting I need to finish, we moved on to the more creative side of our brains.  I read her a few of the commercials I had helped to pen.  She really liked a couple of them, one not so much.  We also worked on two new ones.  One that will advertise the town library and the other one will just advertise the town and all the different businesses and things in and around our downtown.  The library commercial will be a Sfx commercial.  We will talk about all the beneficial things they have at the library and then we can make great sound effects when we are name each person's favorite genre of book.  Romance, (Sfx man and woman each separately say, "I love you" into the mic, muted with a big kissing sound), Westerns (sfx of horses and gun shots) Sci-fi (Sfx weird noises) Murder Mysteries (Sfx muted mic, "the butler did it:) Adventures (Sfx Pirate sounds like "yahr" and swords clashing) and History (Sfx "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue muted mic).  And so on. 

The commercial, A day in Monticello is a mother and daughter talking about spending the day together in Monticello and all the things they can do.  We name every business we can think of in 2 - 3 pages.  It is always good for a few smiles.  People like to hear of places on stage or TV or the Radio that they are familiar with.  It is a good commercial to start out the show.  We will end the show on the Monticello Opera House commercial that we wrote last year.  It is sung to the tune of If I only had a brain.

So Judy and I spent time being creative.  She has not seen one of these shows at the Opera House before, so the benefit is that she will have new eyes to look and see how to improve on the show.  But she does have the disadvantage of not knowing what everyone else knows.  As the Director she needs to know as much as everyone else, if not more.  So as we discussed the scripts or worked on the commercials she would ask questions or I would think of things that I had not told her yet.  Like making sure that all of the actors identify each page of their script with a unique mark so when they drop their scripts, they will be able to retrieve them at the end of each rehearsal and show.

I always enjoy myself when I get out into the yard and garden, stretching out my long arms and legs in the sunshine, bending over to pull weeds, up and down to put plants in the garden.  But it is also rewarding to stretch my mind, my creativity.  To play in my head and find words to dance across the page so that actors can read them giving shape and emotion to all of those words.  To have your head and mind and heart filled with sounds and scenes, and languages and sayings of yesteryear.  To hear a story and see it in your minds eye.  To race across the landscape with the Lone Ranger and Tonto, go through the confusion and hi jinks of the Kirby's and Grandpa's family in You can't take it with you.  To write in sound effects that add to the wonder and amazement of a live show.  And to make people laugh.
Now that is a good thing
And the process of creativity to make that laughter,
and world peace.
We can always work towards world peace by bringing people together
through laughter.

1 comment:

  1. And guess what? I may not be going to Asheville that week. I'll let you know....