MAKE YOUR BOTTOM MORE APPEALING

That's not advice from the latest exercise guru, it's a line from my play LOVERS, LUNATICS, AND POETS, which just got published by PLAYSCRIPTS, INC.  The play is the direct result of a writing contest; and also of my long-standing love affair with the theatre. The contest put on by Playscripts, inc. and called  Pitch-n-Play, and was in two parts. In part one, people were asked to tweet a pitch, or idea, for a new play that was somehow connected to the line "the course of true love never did run smooth" from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. My winning pitch was "real life Puck messes with teens in high school prod of Misdummer Night's Dream". That pitch, along with two others, won the first part of the contest.  In the second part, people wrote short plays based on any of the three winning pitches. I decided to write a play on my own pitch. And while it didn't win the grand prize, the very wise folks at Playscripts decided it was so good that they would publish it anyway. And as of last week, it is available to the general public to read, perform, quote from at parties, etc. It's perfect for high schools, actually. It's set entirely on the stage of a high school theatre, has a cast of 16-20 with 11-15 female roles and 5-9 males. And of course, it's hilarious.

I wrote the play quickly, drawing on my own experience in high school theatre, a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that my brother and sister were in when I was in 8th grade, and from a production I was in when I went to San Jose State University. Wow- I just realized that I saw my first production of that play over 30 years ago. How the hell can that be? I can see it so clearly in my head. There's my brother in a bad toga playing Aegeus with intensity and style. To me, it was like magic how he transformed himself from high school senior into cranky old man. And there's my sister Heather stealing the show as Tom Snout- a role she was bummed about when she got cast, but one that she embraced and triumphed in- which was infinitely cool to watch happen. Snout is  one of the rude mechanicals who plays the wall in Pyramus and Thisbe, the play-within-the-play that some people think is the most actor-proof scene ever written- meaning that no matter how bad your actors are, that scene always works. Which is kind of true. But I've seen some folks try their best.

I'm realizing more and more, as I write this, how vital that show is to my life in the theatre. I remember going to rehearsals of the production my siblings were in at Blackford High School as the tag-along younger brother, and watching all those cool older kids on stage, and being completely taken in by how fun it all looked. And every now and then, a little spark of magic would happen, and I'd catch my breath and wish I was up there, leaping about and speaking in verse. By the time that show opened, I was hooked. I wasn't any good yet, but I wanted to get up there and do some things, speak some lines, touch a little of the rough magic that seemed to course between and through all those actors on stage in the auditorium/lunch room that served as the theatre in our high school.

Years later, I was a junior in college at San Jose State University. Undeclared, not sure of what to do with myself- or rather, not clear with myself, not honest. But that year, things changed. I had done a few shows my first two years, gotten some small parts in some, worked backstage in others. But then, the mafia was formed. The mafia- that's was the nickname given to a bunch of us at SJSU that year.  I'm not sure how, but what happened was several of the drama majors- including my brother and sister- decided to do some of their own work at SJSU. One acts, student productions in the studio, that kind of thing. And I went along for the ride.  I think it really kicked into gear during a production of Tennessee Williams Night of the Iguana, and was solidified when we did a production of A Marowitz Hamlet at City Lights, the experimental theatre in San Jose. It was directed by Jon Selover, and had a cast that included my brother Jerry as Clown/Polonius, my sister Heather as one of three Ophelias, Donna Federico as Gertrude, Rob Langeder as Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, and somehow I got the role of Laertes. It was weird and wonderful and profound.

And instrumental in my learning about theatre and all it's possibilities. By the end of that show, I considered myself an actor. A member of the tribe. A lunatic. By the end of that one school year, I worked on eleven full productions.

There are, I think, certain times in your life where you are happy and growing and full of that wonderful, fleeting feeling that for just a flicker, you're where you're supposed to be in the world, doing what you're supposed to be doing. This was one of those times. At the end of that year, I got cast as Snug the Joiner in the school's main stage production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It wasn't a huge role, but it was juicy. And I milked it for all it was worth. Snug, as written, is not the brightest of folks. I took his non-smarts and ran with it. I made Snug wide-eyed, innocent, and fun- a sort of big baby without a trace of irony in his bones. And people loved it. My fellow actors would laugh during rehearsals. Something was starting to happen when I got on stage. I didn't understand it exactly, but I dug it immensely.  My brother Jerry played Quince in that production, and we had a lot of fun together. My sister Heather was Titania, and my brother's wife at the time, Jenny, was one of the faeries- so there were four McAllisters in the show, which we thought was very cool.

Anyhow, the reason I bring up that production is that there was this one rehearsal that was so gloriously strange, it cemented forever my deep and abiding love for theatre. The show was directed by the great Richard Parks- one of the funniest, most talented, and terrifying people I have ever met. He was incredibly smart, knew the show inside and out, and could coax performances of beauty from a stone. But he also had a temper. One night, we were rehearsing the scene where Puck comes in and does some magic. There was going to be a sound effect of chimes or something for when the magic happened, but we didn't have that yet- so Richard recorded his own voice, rising from low pitch to high while saying "doodle doodle doodle doodle doodle". His plan was to use this as a substitute sound effect so we could get used to hearing something. Sadly, he didn't tell anyone in the cast about this ahead of time. Rehearsals were going along fine, and we got to the scene where the sound effect was supposed to happen, and suddenly, out of the speakers, came our fearless leaders voice. "Doodle doodle doodle doodle." There was a pause, a momentary confusion and people looking around as if to ask "did I really just hear that?", and then we all burst into laughter. There were at least ten of us on stage, and more backstage or in the audience waiting for their next scene. And all of us were laughing. All, that is, except Richard. He was fuming. He screamed out "What's so funny? What's so god damned funny? We needed a sound effect, so I made this to use until a better one comes along." We all got our selves under control, and went back to running the scene. "Doodle doodle doodle doodle." More laughter. Richard again up, this time running from the audience up onto the stage. "Stop laughing! Stop laughing right now!" Slowly, we got it together. We all said sorry, asked if we could please go back to rehearsing the scene, and looked as full of remorse as we could. Richard said fine, strode back into the audience, and we started the scene from the top. "Doodle doodle doodle doodle". As I remember it, we tried not to laugh. Faces contorted. Some people seemed to be giving birth. Then a strange, high pitched squeal broke out of one of us, and that was it. An explosion of laughter erupted from the entire cast en masse. Richard turned a bright red, and screamed up to the stage manager, who ran the sound, to "play it again! Play it over and over! Play it ten fucking times if you have to, so they can laugh their little asses off and we can get back to work!" I'm not sure he meant for the stage manager to actually play it ten times in a row or not- but that's just what happened.

I have never seen so many people laugh so hard for so long. We were keeled over, rolling on the ground, screaming. Somewhere around the seventh "doodle doodle doodle doodle doodle" Richard shouted something and exited the theatre.

It was a glorious night. And now that I think of it, also instrumental in my becoming a writer, because a few days later, I wrote a short story about the rehearsal, in which Richard ran back in with a machine gun and shot us all in iambic pentameter. I remember reading it to the cast, and everyone laughed. A lot. And something about making people laugh from something I wrote was as satisfying as making people laugh by what I did on stage. Wheels were set in motion.

And so, here I am, years later, with a one act about actors and theatre and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Life is good sometimes.


Comments

I remember Richard Parks well. Funny piece, Kelly.
Lance Holt said…
Reading what you wrote about Richard Parks and the sound effect... Had me laughing as hard and as long as I image the rest of the cast laughed. I can see it so clearly in my mind's eye. Thanks for the mirth.
Lance Holt said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lance Holt said…
Don't you hate how when you accidentally post the same note twice and delete the duplicate, it leaves this notification that the "comment has been removed by the author"... Which I think naturally activates our traces of paranoia... "What did he write? I'll bet he left some snarky comment and then thought better about it?"

That duplicate was snark-free.

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