Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Deadliest Penguin

Now, getting back to the traumatic... As I said, the first two weeks of rehearsal were smoother than any show I've been involved in. More than a week 'til opening, and everyone had found their characters and were pretty much off book. Then...


The Second Act of The Deadly Penguins was going to be pretty action-packed... a brutal, knock down, drag out fight between Sister Virginia and a Boss Penguin, and a big dance number featuring a chorus line of zombie nuns.

Then, during rehearsal for the big fight scene... Erika took a bad twist off the stairs. Trooper that she is, we went on rehearsing for an hour.


That night, Erika got the bad news... breakage. But the next day, she was back... on crutches, but ready to roll. Of course, that meant some pages had to be tossed (I sorta liked the idea of an ass-kickin' ninja nun on crutches, but reality trumps that kind of thing), and rewrites to bridge the gaps. And reblocking, of course.
Also dropped were the buckets of blood. I miss 'em, but I've seen someone go ass-over-teakettle while just taking a bow in stage blood. I already broke Erika's foot, wasn't gonna up the ante.

This was with four days left before opening night.

But that's what theatre is good for, and we were good for the challenge. And honestly, the second act is a lot stronger for the incident... the dance number was out of nowhere (although admittedly was part of the joke), but didn't add anything. It also led to a better punchline... or two.

So it goes.

Then the day of opening night, Don went under the knife for an emergency operation... Mark McGinnis stepped in with a script and we rolled with a freebie preview. And the next night Don was back on stage in full form. Jeebus.

Fortunately, the glue that hold things together offstage was Assistant Director Cheryl Battles (below, l.). As my left eye started twitching in the hours before opening, things started to get done. Props began to appear where none had been before. I doubt it was the Blue Room poltergoost that took care of it, so I'm sure it was Cheryl and Stage Manager Heather Gomes.

Oh... and that's Sabrina Schloss next to Cheryl, in Little Match Girl gear. No one seems to get the joke (Little Mermaid aside, doesn't anyone remember Hans Christian Anderson anymore?), but it sets up Sabrina's next appearance in the show, set to sing, "The Sun'll come up, Samara". So there's that.

As the Deadliest Penguin says, "Keep watching this, guys... keep watching this, guys!"

Stay tuned, folks... we're about to roll into the feature programming.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Deadly Penguins: Stage One

Well, then.

A couple of positive reviews, one from the local daily and one in The Synthesis, a local entertainment weekly (no link available). Unfortunately, the first two weekends were lightly attended, but the audiences were more than up to the challenge to make the actors feel validated.

And so with that and (hopefully) good word-of-mouth, tomorrow we go into the final weekend of the stage version of
The Deadly Penguins, and it's been an interesting experience.

Interesting as in exhilarating and traumatic in equal measures. With a three week rehearsal process leading up 'til opening night, the first two weeks were smooth sailing.

As I've noted in earlier posts, I have an very intuitive cast... but that's underselling them. These folks are stellar. I prefer writing for and working with ensemble casts, and this one is the best one it's been my pleasure to work with.


Loki Miller and Erika Soerensen play Gordo the Canadian and Sister Virginia, the ostensible romantic leads. Ostensible because the play is a ensemble piece and isn't very romantic. And I forgot to write a scene where they kiss onstage. There is a moment where they can be heard bumpin' uglies offstage, but it's a brief moment. Very brief, to Sister Virginia's chagrin.

I love the above photo (courtesy of Wayne Pease). It evokes the old school publicity photos from back in the day, and nails the atmosphere of the genre itself. You can almost hear the sad, no-hope-left music playing in the background as they realize that... well, there's no fuckin' hope left.

Making his stage debut in The Deadly Penguins is local musician Mark Simmons as Laveau. Mark has been a spectacular find, and a pleasure to work with.

In the foreground is the steel drum that serves up the contents of the ever-popular inciting incident. Gordo and Laveau have been dispatched to arctic boonies to get rid of the inconvenient drum of biohazard. Unfortunately, they don't utilize a very eco-friendly way of disposing of the toxic waste: thermite.

A nasty green cloud unleashed from the explosion drifts across the icepack...

... and settles over a colony of cute li'l penguins. Even more unfortunately, the cloud contains Trioxin 245 (ahem) and a foul, foul rain falls on the fowls.

Cue the Scary Fanfare.

Meanwhile, back at the station...

Colin Brewer (l.) is on hand as the research station's military presence, Scottish Captain Folbrook. His primary function here is to try to destroy the penguins before they even seemingly pose a threat.

And with the phasing out of dog teams in the Antarctic, the station's handler/veterinarian Linux (Bill Saporito) has been promoted to bass doctor. Linux's function is to serve as the voice of reason, and to try to communicate with the birds.

We've all seen how this traditionally plays out for both of them.

Filling out the roster is Ollie, the ever-put upon Norwegian (Don Eggert) and Murdock, the god-damned annoying Texan (the character, not actor Winston Colgan). That's the great part of being a writer... you can bag on anyone and everyone and call it comedy.

There's also Sabrina Schloss, who drops by the remote station in various roles... but I don't have an image of her.


But here's one of me trying to figure out how to do an emergency rewrite and reblock the Second Act of the show, four days before opening...

I think I'm trying to channel Ernie Kovacs... but getting a busy signal.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Return of The Deadly Penguins

Well, obviously that scratcher was just another piece of paper...

Since I last posted a few of months ago, things have been a bit of a whirlwind. Things pop up and schemes change.

I had a chance to put up a stage production of Night of the Living Dead and I took it. Since there's not a script floating around (a whole lot of winging it from the original cast of the flick, I hear tell), I had to transcribe a script from the film and then adapt the narrative to fit the limitations of the stage. Due to casting restraints, had to tweak the characters.

Turned out to be a fifty-minute one act, but the sucker moves pretty well that way... no Barbra wandering around the house for five minutes, no ten-minute radio broadcast playing as Ben boards up the joint. Basically, get Cooper and Tom bursting in from the cellar within the first ten minutes and keep the puppy rolling. I had to drop the first in-house zombie attack due to pragmatism (two week rehearsal schedule), but otherwise it turned out well. Here's the final performance of Night of the Live Dead... although closing night also means actors getting a little creative with the material. And the closing scene also illustrates one of the hazards of live theatre... although the audience got a kick out of it, so there's that.

Meanwhile, back to The Deadly Penguins...

I finally got the stage for it, and I've assembled a great cast. Now, I wrote the thing, so what's left of my modesty says that I'm not gonna guarantee that it's the funniest show of the year... but I've got a intuitive cast, so there's the potential.

As I've mentioned before, it's a bawdy spoof of the old B-monster movies of the Cold War era, in the style of Mel Brooks and early Zucker Brothers... with the unfiltered humor of the Scary Movie franchise.

Of course, due to the inherent limitations of the stage, only about 55 pages of the 108 page screenplay translates to stage. To counter, I had to re-write the ending. So it goes.

The show opens May 14th at the Blue Room Theatre in Chico, CA. Runs through the 30th. And as planned, when the show wraps we’re gonna jump straight into shooting it as a low-budget movie.

We'll see. Some fund-raising tactics in mind to raise the $2,500 budget, so I’ll get back on how that goes.