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Tales from the Greenroom...

posted by Craig Piaget on Tue, Sep 23, 2008
in Backstage buzz

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So here we are, just about to begin our fourth week of performances, and while some of us in the cast are considering freebasing Vitamin-C to stave off colds and others are acting like our bangs and bruises don't hurt (the fence... oh, the fence...), everyone in general is a little tired but doing really well. We are constantly working on refining this show, and we've reached an exciting point. We know this play and these characters so well that we get the chance to really focus in on the tiny little details in order to flush more and more nuance out of this fantastically generous script. And the more we undertake this detail work, the more I realize how important rhythm is to this play.

YJ1_lr When we first started working on this script, the first thing I noticed which made this play so unique was that the way Itamar suggests rhythm was immediately apparent. All upward inflections, a California high-schooler trademark, were marked with a "?". Every "um," "uh," and "well..." was written in, along with word repetitions and interruptions. When Guillem says, "What the fuck kind of name is Trevor?", Trevor's response is "Um. I don't know. Just. Uh. Normal? I guess?" This line alone paints a pretty vivid picture of who Trevor is and the rhythms of his speech, and feels so natural to say. (At left: Brian Rivera, as Guillem, asks Trevor about his name.)

What has been harder to grasp is the rhythm of the play as a whole. How do we make these short scenes flow into each other? How do we use the rhythm of the conversation to help move the scene to a completely different setting than the last? It has been really exciting to watch this play move from a series of interesting vignettes to a complete organism, and I feel that we have really made huge strides in completing the whole picture that Tony and Itamar were trying to create.

On a personal level, Trevor and Mr. Terrance have been a huge blast to play, and took two very different methods of attack to create. I knew, on a sort of intimate and private level, who Trevor was the moment I read the script. His struggle is so clear, and his sense of overwhelming helplessness is something that I remember vividly from middle and high school, and have since only managed to hide under layers of inappropriate jokes and Axe body spray.

YJK_139 Terrence, on the other hand, is a collage of observations and memories of teachers who are so lost in the joy of affecting their students that they have sort of lost touch with how much of an effect they are actually having. (At right: Mr. Terrence talks to his students.)

Through the whole process the audiences have been fascinating. One day they will be completely silent throughout the whole show, and another they will be laughing and "ooooo"-ing and buzzing as they leave. However, there is one audience that has stood out, not just from all the performances here at Berkeley Rep, but from any show I have ever been in.

The first student matinee was filled with 400 Berkeley High students, and it will forever be seared into the collective memory of this cast. They were yelling and screaming, interacting with the characters, telling them what to do, and calling them names. They laughed uproariously and cheered after what sometimes seemed like every single line.

Now, while performing the play felt like trying to play chess in the middle of a bullfight, it ended up being one of the most interesting, fun, and fulfilling performances for me so far. Everything was different... well, it HAD to be different, and everyone was trying new things and working so hard to get this story told. And it really seemed to affect a lot of these kids, who at the talkback after the show had some wonderful, intelligent and difficult questions. Plays often feel so inaccessible to young people, but there is something really special in this play that, whether or not they actually saw themselves in it, really got them thinking about the fantastically difficult questions raised by this play---as well as thinking about performance and how this can actually be a voice for newer generations, too. It was really inspiring.

I guess I'll wrap this up by asking everyone out there what they thought about the themes and what answers they have for the unanswerable questions in this play. Did you see yourself in some of these characters or did it take you back to high school? Did anything about it get you really angry or upset? How did the rhythms in this show help tell the story? I'd love to hear any thoughts you, our lovely audience, have about this exciting and difficult project.

(Photos courtesy of kevinberne.com)

Comments:

Craig,

I have to thank you and your colleagues, who brought my school to life last night. This play is a testimony to the complexity and strength of the children attending Berkeley High.

I started BHS the fall after Itamar graduated, and every part of your play mirrored my own experience. Your teacher character, Mr. Terrence, was so like one of my teachers I was able to conjure his laugh in my head within moments of seeing you in the hawaiian t-shirt and cordouroy jacket. I kept thinking I knew you (the actors), only to realize you just reminded me of my classmates.

I felt so validated last night, as though my memories of Berkeley High weren't skewed by hormones and "teen-age angst" - but because BHS really WAS a f$#%ed up place to be at the age of 14.

The one thing no theatre performance can convey about the "real" thing was the sense of urgency we all felt at Berkeley High- of always being one step ahead of impending disaster... The Guillaum character especially reminded me of a classmate of mine (from my de-tracked history class, ha-ha), who was stabbed to death our Junior year and died in the arms of a campus monitor two blocks from school. I am sure most of the community thinks this play was shocking, but I found myself wishing Itamar had gone a step further and killed one of the characters. Death is part of the package at BHS, not simply getting punched one time by your locker. I suppose further violence would have muddled the issues in the play, but in my experience BHS was a much more violent place- that was what the tension led to!

Thank you again for your part in this play- it was by far one of the most profoundly personal theatre experiences I have ever had.

Lindsey Smallsreed | Mon, Sep 29, 2008


Hello Craig - and the very talented cast of YellowJackets.

You all did a fantastic job capturing my experience at BHS. I graduated class of 1992 and recognized many characters from that era. In particular, I appreciated the interweaving of iconic personalities and events (such as the bigger-than-life director of the Af-Am studies department, or the arm-breaking fight) - compressing significant people and events in order to paint a picture of BHS in the early 90s.

I just saw the performance last night with a good friend who was class of '93. Both of us had very visceral reactions to the play (I even cried when your character was breaking down and desperately wanting to end his torture by confessing to an authority figure). I certainly remember the feeling that adults had little control over the social environment and could not help mediate these pressures. As a result, I generally spent as much time as possible away from school or in the darkroom, and even graduated a semester early.

As well, I saw pieces of my friends and fellow students in each of the characters on stage. I wonder how teachers from that time at BHS are reacting to the play and seeing pieces of themselves and their colleagues on stage. It would be interesting to get their perspective on the institution since faculty relations were generally totally unknown (and incomprehensible - being teenagers) to the student body.

Well done!

flk | Thu, Oct 9, 2008


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