Moving in new directions, with Lemon Live!

Chatting in Zoom with three of the Lemon Live playwright/actors! Clockwise from upper left: Pauline Wright, Matt Cogswell, me, and Scott Sullivan.

Hello, friends. In this amazingly stressful time, I’m taking comfort and even finding joy creating theatre through my studio. Lemon Punch Theatre Lab, via Zoom!

I first pivoted to Zoom pretty quickly in late March, just to remain connected to my colleagues and Lemon Punch students. I had no expectations and was not at all sure how the new platform would work. It sure has its quirks! But since then, I’ve hosted two free microplay festivals, taught two multi-week classes and one movement workshop, and have now spent almost 6 weeks developing the Lemon Live New Play Festival, volume 3, which will go up on Zoom July 31- August 2. The Lemon Live team is brilliant, funny, and incredibly resourceful–we’ve produced two lineups of 7 short plays, for a total of 14 new works that challenge our idea of what Zoom theatre can be. For more information, or to book your tickets, visit the Lemon Punch Theatre Lab “box office.”

During this play development process, I asked one of the playwrights, Haley Dunning, if she’d like to co-direct one of her pieces with me, and it’s been extremely fun to collaborate! She asked me one day for some pointers, and I came up with a list that sums up my approach to theatre directing, and leadership in general, pretty well. So I want to share it with you!

We all need to lead with “what’s working,” rather than, “this isn’t working for me.” If we receive too much negative criticism and no highlights of what is good, we may throw out all of our work, get confused and lose confidence. So I try to always lead with what is working—often actors don’t even realize it, so it’s important to draw their attention to their successes.

In acting, as in writing, we don’t want to simply evoke static emotional states. We want to see/hear real people doing things. Acting is doing. So I talk a lot about thinking in verbs rather than adjectives. Instead of, “She needs to be more sad here,” you might say, “Could you try to mourn the loss?” Or, instead of saying, “I think she’s defensive,” you would say, “I think she might try to defend herself.” You might follow that up by saying, “Hmmm, how do we defend ourselves? What verbs are embedded in that? Does she attack someone? Does she blame another person? Does she deflect attention from herself?” Verbs keep the performance realistic and interesting.

Ask your actors/writers/designers questions. You may have all kinds of ideas about improving the scene, but until you know what your collaborators are thinking, you can’t shape your ideas to suit their frame of reference. Also, in listening to their response, you will learn more about your own ideas and might see ways to refine or improve them. Lastly, when people feel listened to first, they are often more relaxed and willing to listen to you back.

Set a calm tone. If you are frazzled, acknowledge it. If there’s something you don’t know, say, That’s a great question, I will find that out for you! Actors get nervous when they feel the director isn’t calm. The director doesn’t need to have all the answers right away—in fact, they shouldn’t, if they want to foster collaboration and exploration. But you can model a relaxed, interested response to challenges that come up. For example—oh, if we all turn off our cameras in Zoom, something weird happens?! That’s interesting! I will sort that out and get back to you on we’re going to handle that.

Remember that it’s only a play. While many of these scripts give us the opportunity to explore serious topics and feelings, ultimately we are not working not he COVID vaccine or defusing a bomb, so we should give permission for people to be less hard on themselves. We maintain a foundational level of respect and consideration for each other’s time and talent, but we don’t push people when they are uncomfortable. If it’s not fun, why make theatre? Keeping the play in perspective helps you create and maintain an upbeat rehearsal space. And we all need that right now!

So, those are my tips for directing, and for life right now. Give me a holler and tell me what works for you in the studio, whether it’s live in-person or on Zoom!

Lemon Live Microplay Fest a success in ZOOM!

On March 31st, 13 playwrights and 12 additional attendees took part in the LEMON LIVE MICROPLAY FESTIVAL, which set the challenge to write a 150-word, 2-character play on some aspect of this coronovirus moment. It was joyous to be together, virtually through ZOOM, and the plays were both moving and hilarious. The event was also a great way for me to explore the cool features and unique challenges of making theatre that is live in time but spatially fragmented and mediated through a standardized platform. Just in time, too, since I’m kicking off my Advanced Scene Study class in Zoom on April 12th! A huge round of thanks to all the playwrights, readers and audience members. Thank you for helping us keep theatre alive while keeping ourselves and the community safe! Visit Lemon Punch Theatre Lab to learn more.

theatre in the time of coronavirus

Hello, everyone. Like the rest of the world, I have been following the news of the pandemic with an eye towards understanding responsible courses of action. It is now clear that it would not be safe to resume face-to-face classes at Lemon Punch Theatre Lab any time soon. Please stay tuned for the all-clear signal to re-join me in the Lab!
In the meantime, I have been inspired and moved by the many performing artists who are finding ways to stay connected and creative online. So, I plan to roll out some free online activities that people can try with me while we wait out this period of separation. To begin, I am borrowing an idea from the Dramatists Guild:
Call for Submissions to the LEMON LIVE MICRO-PLAY FESTIVAL!
To connect, to share, to vent, to mourn, to laugh, please write a 2-character play of no more than 150 words. The theme should be anything related to this coronavirus moment. In keeping with the Dramatists’ Guild guidelines, please write lines that could be read by people of any age, gender, background or circumstance, without rehearsal.
The deadline is Monday, March 23 at 5 pm!
One play per writer, please.
The LEMON LIVE MICRO-PLAY FESTIVAL will be held Tuesday, March 31st at 7 pm, online platform TBA. ***In-studio, truly LIVE performance to be scheduled as soon as safely possible!
Send your submissions in .doc or .pdf format to Leslie, with the subject heading “LEMON LIVE” followed by your last name.
Please include your full name and preferred contact information in the body of your message.
I look forward to writing and reading with you!
Be well and stay tuned for more virtual theatre from LPTL!

busy busy busy!

We’re shaking’ booties at the Lemon Punch Theatre Lab studio!

I feel neglectful of this blog because I’ve been so busy developing, promoting, and teaching classes at my new studio! Please know that all is well, and if you’d like to see what’s happening over there–and even join my newsletter’s mailing list–you can visit my studio’s website HERE!

Open Studios at Lemon Punch!

For several years, I’ve been aware of “open studios” at various mill buildings in the NH Seacoast area, when artists open their doors and display their work for holiday shoppers and the curious community. Now that I rent studio space at 14 Cedar Street in Amesbury, MA, I get to be part of a huge, lively Open Studio Tour tradition! So, over Veterans’ Day weekend, I had the studio open, the masks on display, and the cookies freshly baked for whatever visitors came my way. It was so busy! I barely stopped talking all day, between introducing, explaining, demonstrating my masks, handing out class flyers, and enjoying the company of friends who came by . . . plus my lone wolf brother, who dropped in unexpectedly and made my day (see him below on the right, chatting with James Grillo about classical piano).

Some of my favorite interactions included the tiny girl who announced that she did NOT need acting lessons because she already acts out all the parts at home, even if no one sees her except her mom. You go, girl!

The smirking guy peering into each corner turned out to be a previous tenant of my very studio, whose art medium of choice went unstated, who said he got “booted” for having a full-size pool table that made too much noise. Pesky pool tables, they get up to no good when your eyes are turned. What could I say, other than, “Sorry for your loss, but I’m thrilled to be here! Have a cookie!”

While I had a good number of folks sign up on my mailing list and express interest in classes, by far the most common reaction to my lack of purchasable goods was a suspicious look, a grab for the cookie platter, and then, upon leaving, the startled comment: “I love your refrigerator! Where did you get it?” $199 at Home Depot, people.

It was a great weekend, and I only wish I’d had more time to visit with my talented neighbors in the building. Thanks to everyone who visited. See you in the Lab!

Acting from the Ground Up!

Here’s my first few pictures of class at Lemon Punch Theatre Lab! I’ve been doing private coaching, script consultation, and workshops there since July, but finally got my friend, theatre artist and photographer Deb Barry, to come into my acting class and take some snaps. With me here are the marvelous, open-hearted actors James Grillo, Michelle Mombrinie, Brad Ritchie, and Rowan Dunning. It’s been hilarious and moving to work with them on both physical theatre techniques and scene work. Our last class together is this week. Can’t wait for more!

Every warmup must include a booty shake!
It’s always fun to talk script analysis and juicy verbs with James!
With Rowan, exploring the 4th wall in RABBIT HOLE.
With James and Brad as Lee and Austin in TRUE WEST. Yes, I get intense, especially when we work on Sam Shepard!

Lemon Punch Theatre Lab is LIVE!!!

I am absolutely delighted to announce the opening of my new teaching and theatre making endeavor, Lemon Punch Theatre Lab LLC! Located at the artists’ mill building at 14 Cedar Street in Amesbury, MA, the Lab features lots of light and space and . . . its own rest room! Woo hoo for Studio 207A! I also have a marvelous landlord and many great artist neighbors there. Stay tuned for more Lemon Punch Theatre Lab news. For now, visit my new website to learn all about my class and workshop offerings for Fall 2019! And enjoy a couple pictures of the space, complete with special guest to demonstrate the scale of it!

“The Little Frauds”

I had a marvelous conversation today with friends about my doctoral research from years gone by, which focused on 19th-century theatrical female impersonation. This topic seems increasingly relevant as people play with gender identities on stage and in life. One of the acts I wrote about was Harrigan and Hart. Edward Harrigan is frequently credited as the “father” of American musical theatre, as he was among the first to combine songs and sketches into an extended entertainment with a (somewhat) unified plot. Harrigan wrote the sketches and lyrics, while composer David Braham provided the music. But his performance partner, Tony Hart, was absolutely beloved for his quick-change artistry, portraying multiple roles of both genders and numerous ethnicities in one show (or even in a brief sketch). Tony was also pretty-faced and sweet-voiced, so his female impersonations caused many people to swoon, regardless of their gender. Sadly, he had an unhappy personal life and died young from syphilis. Harrigan continued his robust life and career and was celebrated in song by George M. Cohan.

My interest in Harrigan and Hart was piqued by the haunting extant photos of them, in which Hart’s blue eyes have that ghostly lightness that can still pierce you. But when I dug into the files at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts, I found a promotional poster for their early duo act, “The Little Frauds,” that really puzzled and excited me. It’s a lithograph of a quite recognizable Edward Harrigan and an exceedingly feminine companion in girlish dress and coquettish pose. From the ribbon on her hat, through her long curls and hourglass shape, and down to the pointed toe of her buckled shoe, Harrigan’s companion is all girl. The image is captioned: Harrigan and Hart. I was frozen when I first saw this: circa 1872, the duo’s audience saw the image of feminine perfection and called it Tony Hart! And they packed the theatre, blew kisses, and roared for more. Although Harrigan’s descendants were concerned about whiffs of homosexuality clinging to Tony, none of the contemporary press seemed confused by a beautiful boy playing both male and female roles. Nor did their fans. Yet these same actors also employed blackface and other derogatory ethnic images. And this same society was rife with gender inequality, immense poverty and brutality to openly queer behavior. So many contradictions. But in the right theatre, with the right mix of talents, under the right lighting and with the right costume, gender play was a thrill ride and a total hoot. So sad that it’s over a hundred years later and we’re still struggling to bring these mysterious joys into the light. Below is the lithograph that stilled my heart. Enjoy!

another great MSIM day!

On March 7th, I had the good fortune to present the traveling version of Kate Wenner’s MAKE SURE IT’S ME at the Manchester VA Medical Center as part of Brain Injury Awareness Month. Thanks once again to Nina Romano and Erica Rowe for organizing the event, and to John, Matt, Martin and Kim for reading with me and sharing your reactions and personal reflections on the challenges of coping with combat-related trauma. As always, it wouldn’t be possible without playwright Kate Wenner’s permission to use her work royalty-free in support of the veterans grappling with TBI and PTSD–Kate, you are still my hero! I have to let my bias show now by saying that one of the best parts was the company of Jasmine, a service dog specializing in mitigating the effects of PTSD. She certainly helped soothe the atmosphere as we discussed troubling topics. Here’s a picture of Jasmine getting ready for the presentation, to help smooth your way today!