Great Books Conversation Part 3
In this, the final part of the rough transcripts of my conversation with the cast of In Tandem Theatre’s latest show, we talked about keeping things fresh through rehearsal, the importance of previews prior to opening night, money, working, Mike Nussbaum, and everyone’s individual projects . . .
LOSING THE ENERGY WHILE REHEARSING
Kevin Rich: Comedy is always the worst to a maddening degree. Nothing is new. There’s nobody new to watch it, so none of the laughter.
R. Chris Reeder: You’ll start wanting to change things in ways that make no sense just so it’s funny to you.
Chris Flieller: Just so you can reinvigorate your own . . .
Rich: So we’ll use phrases like: "we’re ready for an audience."
Flieller: Yes. Exactly.
Me: And once they’re there that provides you with the energy you need.
Flieller: Just before you flat-line, the audience is the defib.
Doug Jarecki: That’s a great medical analogy.
Flieller: He sucks-up so good, doesn’t he?
Me: But the problem with that analogy is that there’s no preview before you flatline.
Flieller: What we’ve started to do this season with the luxury of having our own space . . .it’s allowed us to get ahead of ourselves a bit. I’ve invited . . . Tuesday afternoon prior to previews . . . just to get a couple of people in. And then Wednesday is our pay what you can preview. And hopefully you get a large crowd. And since it’s pay what you can, the audience . . . they’ve paid less so they laugh more for some reason. You know how THAT works. And so hopefully we’ll be in the good swing of things for the official opening when YOU come and see the how. [he’s talking directly to me here]
Flieller: [to cast] And now you know not to pick him to go onstage. I’ll give you a list. No reviewers on the stage.
Me: That’s actually happened to me a few times . . . with audience participation in cabaret, oddly enough.
Me: Yeah, It’s like, “no, trust me you don’t want to. It’s gonna mess things up.”
Me: So those [previews] are acting as smelling salts for the production.
Flieller: Yeah . . . And it’s so funny: you rehearse a thing and rehearse it and get it to just where you want it. And then comes tech and it just falls apart.
Me: How many props?
Flieller: We’re going to start working with that as soon as these guys get the scripts out of their hands we’ll get ’em the props. But you rehearse a thing and I don’t know WHAT it is . . . y’know . . . I go through this as an actor too. I guess just because you’re creating something from nothing. That it lives in its own context and you create this context. You create this world. And all of the sudden, [during tech] [everything] comes crashing down on this little world and completely blows it up and you kind of have to rebuild it. And ... you have three days to do it rather than three weeks.
Jarecki: And your focus goes to a different place. It goes to the tech side as opposed to the world you’ve created..
Flieller: And somehow it all manages to come together. And I have great designers, too so that helps.
THE VERY BUSY BUSINESS OF MR. RICH, MONEY AND THE IRONY OF MIKE NUSSBAUM'S CAREER
Me: [to Rich] and that reminds me . . . was there ANY space between this and the [Milwaukee] Shakespeare thing that you’ve got going on?
[a somewhat awkward, if brief pause]
Rich: No. I’ve got a show tonight.
Flieller: He CLOSES Love’s Labour’s [Lost] and ten minutes later, he’s here teching. That’s the week before we open.
Rich: It’s pretty great, though, I mean: we talked about . . . we kinda live . . .
Flieller: [to Rich] You’re young, you’ll bounce back . . .
Rich:. . . it’s a feast or famine thing. I teach a couple of classes in the morning, I rehearse for this play in the afternoon and then I go do Love’s Labour’s Lost until October 5th.
Flieller: And we open on the 9th.
Rich: And we open on the 9th.
Flieller: And I would not have taken the chance on it with anybody else.
Rich: aww . . .
Flieller: Nobody else.
Me: [to Rich] Do things slow down after that for you?
Rich: uhh . . . inevitably.
Me: But you’ve got nothing lined-up directly after this.
Rich: Not . . . no. No shows. I’ve kinda cobbled together a career as an educator.
Flieller: You still waitin’ tables?
Rich: Just teachin’.
Me: [deadpan] They sell that the better option for that these days is selling real estate.
[oddly enough, no one laughs]
Flieller: Dan Mooney would tell you that . . . Peggy Spice.
Rich: the reality of being a stage actor is the issue of having another trade. Like Mike Nussbaum who is still a regular Chicago actor. He was in all of David Mamet’s original stuff. And he’s 84 years old and still regularly . . . I mean, this is Mike Nussbaum—he’s a big deal. He was a bug man. He was an exterminator all along. And what’s so funny about that, by the way, is that Mike Nussbaum actually, late in his career finally got a big movie thing that . . . y’know . . . paid him ton of money, which was Men In Black. He was the jewelry store owner who . . . gets hilled by the bug. He gets killed by the bug. It was just . . . too perfect. The guy survived as an actor by killing bugs and then gets a big movie break that’s basically like retirement and his character gets killed by a bug in the film . . . incredible guy. Sweet, sweet guy. Unbelievable stories—World War II stories. He is really somethin’ else . . .
Flieller: His wife is a visual artist.
Reeder: He will, however, not be appearing in this show.
Rich: yeah, why did I bring him up? . . .
Flieller: He’s gonna give us some ant traps.
MR. REEDER AND THE HIGH PRICE OF GAS
Me: [to Reeder] Is it really expensive to commute here from Madison every day, or are you just crashing on the couch?
Reeder: No, I’m commuting and y’know . . .
Flieller: He’s a newlywed kind of . . .
Reeder: yeah, well. It’s so rare in the last bunch of years that I’m able to sleep at home and work that, y’know . . . it’s like an hour and a half drive each way. I’m relishing it right now. I can go home every night. I’m not sleeping at someone else’s house. This is great, y’know, I’ll happily pay for the gas and sleep at home.
Flieller: and in an emergency, the futon’s always available.
Reeder: No worries about that right now.
Me: and after this for you?
Reeder: I finish this and I have a month and a half off and my next thing is in Cincinnati . . . in January/February.
Me: that’s a much worse commute.
Reeder: That IS a much worse commute. I was trying to figure that out and I’m not exactly sure how I’m gonna do that.
MR. JARECKI AND THE SHOW
Me: [to Jarecki] and you?
Jarecki: We’re doin’ The Show here in December. We’re actually doin’ The Show out in Waukesha the weekend before we open here as well. But yea, in December three weekends here. It’ll be alright, though. It’ll be a reasonable amount of time between shows. And them I’m also . . . I just got a job as Educational Outreach Administrator in Waukesha Civic Theatre. I’m helping build a year-round after school program fro kids.
Me: Are you getting sick of the other guys on The Show yet?
Jarecki: Oh god, yes. [laughs] . . . No, no it’s great. Y’know, we did three versions of The Show last year. Three brand new versions and it was . . . it’s such a labor of love. But it’s so exhausting. And I had no idea what it would take to do three of them. But we’re so excited. We just kept going and at the end of the year . . . we were all a little burned-out. And so we’ve taken some time of and kind of recharged the batteries. And so, coming back to it this fall, even though our rehearsals are overlapping a little bit with this, it’s still fresh and fun again. And that’s a great group of performers. I’m not sick of ‘em yet.
Me: How long has that group been together?
Jarecki: I wrangled them together for the first show . . . not even two years ago. But we’ve all known each other. We’d done shows together . . . improv shows, straight theatre . . .
Flieller: You’d me Karen [Estrada of The Show] doing Anne Frank, right?
Jarecki: I didn’t meet Karen doing Anne Frank. I met her doing “Cast on A Hot Tin Roof,”—it’s an improv show that came up to the Miramar.
Flieller: Oh, okay.
Jarecki: it was an hour long fully improvise Tennessee Williams play. [Getting back to The Show] but finally, I just gave us an arbitrary deadline. I rented the Studio Theatre at the Sunset Playhouse for the following Spring and out of my own pocket. I would never focus enough if I never gave us a deadline, so I did and we put it together.
Me: But for the [Milwaukee] Sketch and Imrpov Fest this past August. Was there an time before that that you got together?
Jarecki: There was supposedly one rehearsal. It turned into a bit more of a social hour. Because we were sitting around and we had the scripts and we . . . started reading and it just became more of a skim. It was pretty sad how under-rehearsed we were, but it came off.
Flieller: Well, you’ve got good talent . . .
Jarecki: Yeah, it’s a good group.
Flieller: You’ve got Karen Estrada, what else do you need?
Jarecki: Yeah, I get it Chris . . . she’s better than me . . . I fetch her coffee, I get it.
BACK TO THE GREAT BOOKS
Me: It sounds like fun. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be on top of it having to seem fun for you guys to make it through an entirerun of this.
Rich: Preparation equals freedom.
Jarecki: Y’know someone said—I think it was Steven Tyler [philosopher/lead singer of Aerosmith] who said ,“it costs a lot of money to look this cheap.” And it takes a lot of organization to look this chaotic. [to Flieller] I know, it’s not a medical analogy or anything.
Rich: It’s a science. It’s the science of comedy.
Me: but there’s a fine line between preparing enough to making it look good and preparing so much that it makes it look like you’re trying. And that’s the trick.
Flieller: Comedy’s like . . . it’s almost like a game of chess in a certain way. Because you have to be realistic and you have to be listening in the moment and you also have to be listening three lines down to make sure that you’re hitting the right rhythm clicks. So you have to have a kind of split attention. When we were auditioning this thing . . . there’s a little bit in the show where they’re going to do War And Peace . . . and War And Peace is, of course, this ridiculously large book that one of the actors drops and everybody does the bit where they all jump [when it hits the ground] and I purposely put it in the audition process just because I wanted to see how people were being aware of each other onstage when they were reading from the scripts. And I based a lot in the casting with how people dealt with that. And these three guys were actually—besides being the best readers for the parts also had the capability of getting in synch with somebody else onstage right away and being able to manufacture that in an instant.
So I knew from the get-go that this was a group that would mesh easily.
STRESS AND PARTING WORDS
Me: How much stress is this for you s a director? Is it not a more intricate production than stuff you’ve done in the past?
Flieller: No. Not necessarily. [Last season’s] Equus had a lot of moving parts. And I was working with students, so there was that . . . working with them and getting them to that level. THAT was pretty stressful. Joyous, but stressful. These guys already know. I don’t have to teach them.
Reeder: He has to REMIND us.
Flieller: But no—these guys bring so much to the table while being respectful of the process and the material. Yeah, there ARE a lot of moving parts here but it’s not going to be an insurmountable task. It’s not going to stress me out. Not as much as putting this … building together. [Fleiller worked extensively on molding the space of the Tenth Street theatre last year.] Getting temporary occupancy five hours before we opened our first show last fall. THAT’S a kind of stress I never wan to have again as long as I live. And I probably won’t, cause it’ll kill me.
Rich: I was in that show.
Flieller: You WERE in that show.
Me: [to the cast] What’s the stress like for any of you before a show opens?
Reeder: It’s different for every show. Generally as an actor I don’t get terribly stressed out before a show. But it would really depend on the show.
Rich: I do this because it’s NOT stressful. Y’know . . . everything ELSE is stressful.
Reeder: I used to do [Chris’] job. [Reeder was Artistic Direct for the St. Croix Festival Theatre] So when I’m just an actor . . . all I have to do is memorize lines and show-up and have fun onstage.
Flieller: It’s like a … vacation . . .
Reeder: I feel guilty, kinda. I’m like, “can I clean ? Can I do anything else?”
Jarecki: From my point of view, too is that . . .umm . . . it’s not stress, but I would definitely us the word, “adrenaline.” But I think the difference between the adrenaline and the stress is the faith that it’s going to come together and that you know you always need exactly as much time as you have. And just the faith that it’ll come together. I get butterflies every single time I go onstage no matter what I’m doing. I ALWAYS get butterflies. And I’m always grateful that my job can make me feel like that. I can’t imagine doing something that doesn’t give me butterflies. As an actor it’s your jobt take that energy and focus it into the play.
In Tandem’s All The Great Books (abridged) closes this weekend. The final performance is on Sunday, October 26th. 414-271-1371 for more info.