Monday, June 16, 2008

THEATRE PRODUCTIONS 1991-1994

Above: poster and still from the first Media Guilt Production (1991). Adrienne Ferrari, a sixth-generation San Franciscan was the driving force behind the company, and she's shown here terrorizing the subway car passengers in the play. An awesome piece, by the way. We had the super-talented TOD McCUNE BRAY to design and paint the set for this play and the next two that we did. So we had a great subway car. I got some vintage ads together for the walls and crafted a bunch of old newspapers together, copied from an actual period paper, because she had to tear up and destroy one each night, and I could only get so many 1963 newspapers, so I made realistic prop ones.
Vern Henderson did a fantastic job, he was a serious, tough, and good director. He was SO all about business that we were shocked when we saw him toking up once in a car outside of rehearsal, LOL. I'm proud to state that when Amiri Baraka saw my poster for the play he was fond of it, although the idea of the apple-dripping-blood logo was given to me by Adrienne.
Rehearsals for this piece were fun in the sense that the actors could really go full-out in many parts, and neighbors in the vicinity of our rehearsal space were unnerved by all of the hellacious screaming and shouting, I recall.
I play a small role as a passenger of the subway car where this all takes place, I'm over on the far right.
Existential Children's Stories (1992) was our third production, I believe. Actually, it may have been the second, but there was another play that we did, and I art-directed with Todd Bray and ran lighting and sound on called GRACELAND, that I haven't any stills from or a poster anymore, so it's being skipped. I'll come across the proper date of it's production as I finish the Autobioblog and insert it somewhere. And besides, ECS was an original piece, so we'll barrel on into it.
ECS used sections from all sorts of outrageous kid's books from different periods (for instance from very old Mother Goose and Brothers Grimm, to Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, and even Monte Cazzaza) with linking dialogue and situations. Below we see some actors on the 'hill' and running wild, and laying down looking at stars.
Everything on set had to conform to the strict five-color scheme, all props were painted or acquired in the correct color.
Below, from left, final night crew and cast, Barbara Dunham, on left, our costume designer, who also came to all the shows and helped out, even though she didn't have to. the three-member pit band is on the right of that shot {Jon Arnold from Chotchke, Bogomils, Big Chief Electro, Dimebag Child, Fresno, and Walt's Band, Lucija Kordic (of many bands and projects, such as To Nije Sala, and Walts Band, Bogomils, Fresno), and Rob Wortman of Big City Orchestra, were our pit band, providing live accompaniment to the show, playing all-original music that Jon conducted and composed}. Then a closeup of Lucija, looking down into the musician's area, a shot of Jon, Lucija, Kip, and Adrienne during rehearsals, and one of me and Rob on set..
Tough, long hours by everyone involved, lots of terrific work.
This show totally rocked, people and kids loved it, good attendance.
During the GOREY ALPHABET sequence, a highlight of the show.
Marie on the stairs, me fiddling about dressing the set (I wish I had a good shot of the box of EXISTENTIAL SUGAR PUFFS in front of me- it was the coolest-looking prop box of cereal, I saved it for many years but it finally just fell apart), Marie and Adrienne rehearsing on the hill, and lower right, Annie Vickart (of BCO fame) and friend snarfing up leftover cereal that was thrown about in each show, barely visible on the right is the famous Todd Bray, who we were lucky to have with us on three plays.
Publicity stills. The session was done early on in production, as publicity has to begin so soon, so they are wearing their own clothes and not the proper show costumes, which weren't finished yet. That poor balding chimpy was in my house for many years after that.
Ever noticed how pictures and film of theatrical productions make 'em look so lame? Something about theatre rarely translates well to film or camera, I always cringe looking at stills from plays in show listings, even when the piece was good. I do like the top and bottom shots here, and they were the most-used.

Emboldened by the success of Existential Children's Stories, Adrienne and I fired up Media Guilt Productions in 1994 to do an even more elaborate play for kids and adults. This time, instead of adapting a lot of material from children's literature, I had to write a full-length plays-worth of dialogue and action, which took me about six months, or so it seemed. Everything was tougher this time out; casting, promotion, setbuilding, rehearsing. It was a musical, so we needed a bigger space to rent for weeks while we choreographed and sang it over and over. The musicians now had to be there for the bulk of the rehearsals. I quit the band CHOTCHKE for a while,forcing them to find a replacement drummer for six or so months, as I just had too much to do, directing, promoting, and art designing this play.
Jon Arnold, however, toughed it out and took on the unenviable job of music-directing/composing for this play, and staying in Chotchke as a key songwriter and singer.
We rented the same theatre that we had used for Existential Children's Stories. We even got loads of co-producers to give us money, such as James Gabbert, from TV station KOFY in SF!
I must say, I honestly never cared much for the title of this one, I didn't think of it, and somehow it was voted in. A bit unweildy. But it was a hard show to come up with a title for.
In any case, there were twice as many small-company theatrical productions on the boards that summer in SF as there had been the year before during Existential, and we had too-small audiences all along. Our stage manager Joe Heafitz said that he'd worked plays at even swankier theatres in town that drew even smaller numbers, but they could afford to carry money-losers better than we could.
Worst of all was the effect the small audiences had on the actors. Really demoralizing. The texture of the performances suffered. Thus, this was our last production.
Kip and I in my backyard working on the massive swingset, made from 4-by-4s. It had to be able to support two adults onstage who were gonna be rough with it.
Below that are the 'plant and bush' flats that were used on the 'outdoor' portion of the set.
Knowing that I had to dress a huge, black, shiny floor for our 'playground/exterior' area, and that it would be cost-prohibitive to cover the entire thing with fake 'grass', I decided to just spot it with kidney shapes of 'grass' all over, and then surround and detail that area with loads of very stylized 'plant/bush' freestanding flats. Below is one of the design drawings from my director's notebook.
Parts of the set for URFOT, a bigger and more detailed set than the previous 'kid's' play. It featured a beautiful hand-painted pull-down USA map by Ramona Banzacca and I (which I wish I still had, it was gorgeous) and a huge poster of all of the US presidents through Richard Nixon. After Ramona and I had spent a long night drawing all of the president's heads, the next morning we saw the newspaper headline "Nixon Dead At 81".
As usual, the set, props, and costumes were all keyed to a specific five-color scheme.
The swingset shot below barely shows the nifty astroturf patches that suggested the playground. Unfortunately, I have no shots of the lovely plant-flats that surrounded that area.
Pauline Overgaard did a great job on the costumes for this play. The pics barely do them justice.
Adrienne in position on set for the "Being Green" song. A highlight of the play, and a very melancholy moment.
The inside of the Unconscious Rhymes program, with some odd bios. This show, like the last one, featured the tremendous talents of Jon Arnold, Rob Wortman, and Lucija Kordic in our music department.

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