During the month of March, I began a new adventure. Taking the written word to the stage. With the encouragement of a wonderful director and playwright, David Csontos, I not only took the written word to the stage with his newly expanded script for “I Am My Imaginary Friend”, but I stepped out from behind the microphone and my own comfort zone.
For me, it all began innocently enough. David invited me over to his apartment to talk about what he might be able to do to attract new actors for a new version of his play. He likes to work with people who are not professional actors or have little to no stage experience. As he puts it, it provides him with a cast that is not set in their ways, a cast that is willing to flex with the script and with the director to create something new and organic. He was, and is, willing to work with people who have been on stage, but finds that the inexperienced actor brings an element to his plays that you won’t find elsewhere. We brain stormed ideas on how to find just such a cast. At this point, I was just a sounding board. We also talked about how and where to promote the show.
He had decided that rehearsals would start the beginning of March with the performance date to be 30 March 2013. As the first of the month came closer he was still without a full cast. He had sent me a copy of the script just to help me get a better understanding of what was going on. Little did I know that I would wind up on stage as one of the most complicated and interesting of characters he had written for this play. I couldn’t make a commitment until after I had returned from an important trip to Denver, Co. It was while I was in Denver that I decided to take his offer of being in the play.
And my own March Madness began. Not just mine. It began for everyone involved with the play.
At the last minute he recruited a young man to play the lead role of Son. David had his cast and we began with a full read through the script one March evening. Just the five us. Son, Mom, Dad, and Veronica, the imaginary friend. Everything was fine, right?
Less than two weeks into rehearsals we lost our Son. I won’t go into details, because I do not have them. Needless to say he was no longer available to play Son and wouldn’t be for quite sometime. In a mad dash, I picked up my phone before we began rehearsal that evening and texted my friend Damon to see if he would be interested in picking up the role and helping David’s dream come true. We were in luck. As we were reading through the script with him he fell in love (if I can use so strong a word) with the character and the concept of the play.
From there it was relatively smooth sailing.
At one point during rehearsals our patient director looked as if he was about to blow a gasket. It seemed as if no matter how hard we worked and how much time we spent working on our own, we just were not getting certain scenes. It would prove that at least one scene we would never quite get. It was decided that that particular evening did not happen and that we would not talk about it with anyone else. So, with that in mind, I will skip over the details….
Mom stares intently at the script while Son and Dad look on. Veronica is behind the camera and David explains a scene.
Even with all the problems than can come about when four strong personalities get together to tackle four strong characters, the cast and the director did bond – over pizza, tea, beer, wine, and cigarettes. March was not a month for any of us to quit any of our vices. Except for Damon, he’s not a smoker.
Our director did something that I was not expecting. Most of our rehearsals were one on one or just two people at a time. Many of the scenes could easily be done without everyone there. It was only the scenes with the whole cast or when doing complete read-throughs that all of us were needed. One of those times was with our tech guy, the roommate of our original Son. (More on the tech guy later.) There were times when two or more of us would meet at David’s and just talk about our characters, the meaning of certain lines or sometimes just hang out for part of the evening. That is where our bond(age)ing truly took place.
Corwin (cohost of Lavender Hill) talks with Son, the director, Veronica and Mom. Dad is off camera.
David has been on Lavender Hill a few times, so when Corwin learned that I was going to be in this latest play of his, it was decided that we should all be on Lavender Hill to talk about the play and what it takes to put together shoestring theatre. Here is a photo of Corwin and everyone but me during that visit. We managed to talk about the play without talking about the play, if you know what I mean. “Imaginary Friend” is a play without what many would consider to be a plot. That is, each scene does flow into the next, but there is a distinct difference between this kind of play and say Shakespeare. The acting experience, or lack there of, for each of the cast was talked about. Jayme, who played Veronica, and Sharon who played Mom, have both been earlier productions of David’s. Damon has done theatre with the Lincoln Community Playhouse. Me, on the other hand… Well, my stage experience is rather limited. I’ve been in a drag production (yes, production) at the Q and done speaking parts for musical performances throughout my public school career. Other than that, my acting is restricted to behind a microphone.
The night before show time we had another shoestring theatre disaster. We lost our tech guy. The poor man was home with a 101 temperature. So, once again, I grabbed my phone and starting dialing people. After a couple of false starts, including asking Corwin to come rescue us (he was doing the family thing, but did attend the early performance with his mother), I was able to get my friend and neighbor Pete to step in to fill that most vital of roles. The tech guy is not just a sound and lighting extra. The Tech Guy, at least with this show, is very important.
In the earlier performances, both in Lincoln and in Kansas City, David used little in the way of sound effects and images on the projection screen (see the videos to know what I mean there). He did have certain sounds and music pieces recorded, but with this expanded version of the story, he wanted more. Along with the theme music (written by David) and certain images that had been used before, we included a series of images from various films and some original work created by yours truly. Obviously, the easiest way to make these sounds and images happen on the screen was to use a Power Point presentation. And that would employ the fingers and timing ability of a tech guy. Perhaps employ is the wrong word, we didn’t pay Pete after all, just fed him. And, the Tech Guy did get a line.
I’d like for you to watch the video, but to give you a bit of an idea for the images that were created for this performance, I’ll share my original work with you:
30 March came bright and early. Damon and I had spent extra time after rehearsal working out a couple of scenes that we were struggling with. We never did get the lines exactly as written, but the essence of what David wrote was there and he was very pleased with what he later saw on stage. All three version of it. We had also spent hours updating the Power Point presentation and making sure that everything was there in a way that made sense. Needless to say, that got changed more than once during the day of performances.
No shoestring production can go one without a hitch. As you can tell, if you have read this far, there were plenty of hitches in this production. After a late replacement of the lead character, an 11th hour tech guy change and literally last minute changes to the special effects we still weren’t beyond all the fun and excitement that those hitches can bring our way.
All three performances were in the Union Auditorium in the Student Union of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The same location as the earlier (shorter) version of the play with an entirely different cast. We were supposed to gain admittance to the auditorium at 9am. I don’t know for sure when we actually got into the room, but it was not unlocked for us by the time we started to arrive for set up and one final “dress” rehearsal. Mom was already waiting outside the doors when Damon and I arrived. David was nowhere to be seen and Veronica wasn’t due to arrive until 10. After unloading our set, a high table with chair/stools, and finding a place to park, the room was open and ready for us to use. We still had to pick up our tech guy. At 11, Damon and I left to make that happen.
Between the time we got into the auditorium and our first of three performances we did the mad dash of a final rehearsal, making sure everything was set up and that the slide show was working as smoothly as possible. We did have lunch and even made sure that our “audience” participants were ready to go (special thanks and appreciation to Susan and Dustin!!!!).
David Csontos with an earlier incarnation of Mom.
Here is what was (full video of the original play as performed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln):
Here is what it became with the hard work and dedication of a new cast: