But wait! Before you start chasing me out of the box office with torches and pitchforks, please note that this does not mean I don’t like plays. On the contrary! I think plays are great. The play is such a unique narrative form in that the script, the actual words are just the skeleton, and the muscles and veins and lungs and eyes and ears all belong to someone else: an actor, a director, a designer, a member of the audience.
Therein, however, is my problem with just sitting and reading plays. All I know is that more often than not, when I curl up by the fire with a cup of tea to read a play1, I get a few pages in and then I go all cross eyed because my brain isn’t filling in the blank spaces between the dialogue and I’m unable to process the story being presented to me. When I look at a script, often I’m boggled by the white space between the lines. What the actors will look like. Will they have accents? Is he wearing a suit in this part, or is he dressed more casually? How will they transition from being in a crowded diner to a cramped bedroom? The questions never cease, and my poor fragile brain isn’t able to answer all of them at once. The white space is endless.
There’s so much not being said in The Temperamentals, so I’ll admit it to you here and now that when I first read the play, I closed the script and I didn’t quite know how to react. This was my first verbalized2 response, via a text message to a good friend of mine:
The answer to her question was, “yes, I think so.” Because, see, when I read the script of The Temperamentals, it’s like I’m scanning the list of ingredients for a cookie recipe. I see things like social justice and political awareness and men in suits and chocolate chips3, and it’s like when I read an actual cookie recipe and my mouth fills with drool imagining the plate of baked goods I will eventually be consuming. There are so many interesting, thought-provoking, and exciting things about the play, a lot of which lives in the white space, so as good as the words are, I look forward to hearing them once the whole production has been baking in the oven for a little while, and the smell of intelligent discourse and interpersonal relations waft through the theater. You know, I think I got lost in the metaphor there. Excuse me while I go find some cookies. And we’re back. At its core, The Temperamentals is a story about Harry Hay and his relationships, both romantic and platonic, with other men, and how they were created, influenced, and effected by the conception of one of the first successful gay rights organizations in this country. Anytime a playwright dips into history and recreates a real person, the opportunities for distinctive and exciting storytelling are everywhere, and nowhere more than in this script. This is a story I’m glad the Lyric will be telling, because I am so interested to see the way the characters interact with one another in “real life,” instead of on the page. I look forward to gauging their posture and gait and tone of voice; to the story really living and breathing along with these men. So the short version of this is that I’m really excited to see this play. I’m excited that you’re going to see it too.4 And afterwards, you can come to the box office and tell me how well you think we filled in the spaces.
 I do not actually do this.  In a manner of speaking – I was alone in public so I did not actually verbalize anything.  I cannot promise there will actually be chocolate chips at the theater, but I encourage you to bring your own. I know I will.  What do you mean, you don’t have tickets yet? Call 617.585.5678 and talk to one of our charming box office representatives today. Is this a shameless promotion? Yes. Yes it is.
Hello Internet!And welcome to the Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s blog for our upcoming production of The Temperamentals. This play by Jon Marans centers on events in history that don’t get much play in lessons about the 1950s, and we thought you all might benefit from an extra look-see into the world of the play and our production process.
Every Tuesday you can expect a new update from a member of the cast, production team or Lyric staff, and every Thursday (or “Turgsday”) I will be posting some dramaturgically-related information about the show. Have a question or a comment burning in your breast? Let us know, and you might just be the subject of our next post.
In the meantime, you might be asking yourself, “what is The Temperamentals about anyway?” I’m so glad you asked. The Temperamentals is a beautiful, moving, and true love story of political activist Harry Hay, and fashion designer Rudi Gernreich and the formation of one of the first Gay rights organization in the United States, the Mattachine Society. “Temperamental” was one of the many code words for “homosexual” in the early 1950s. In this play we see Hay, Gernreich, and the first few Mattachine members struggle to shuffle off the veil of secrecy and discover who they truly are. It is a remarkable and timely piece, perfect for launching many thoughtful and fruitful discussions through the virtual world here and the analogue world out there. Till next time, see you at the theatre.
“I absolutely LOVE my work with you all. I feel so incredibly lucky to be in this show with such wonderful people and working on material that has such depth. Thank you each for the part you play. Goodness, we are lucky.” –Erica Spyres, Tilda Price, Miss Snevellicci
“This is a dream company and Nick/Nick will be a landmark in Boston theatre history. I am both humbled and proud to be a part of it.” –Will Lyman, Ralph Nickleby
“Speaking from my point of view behind the table/scenes, I’m so proud and appreciative to be a part of this show. To be able to see the talent of the actors, directors, designers and technicians that I work with every day reminds me of how inspiring and amazing theater can be. I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart for constantly inspiring me and for helping me to love what I do SO much! I will be forever grateful to be able to say I was part of the Nick/Nick family!” –Amanda Ostrow, Production Assistant “I have never been as excited to begin a 12-hour tech than I am today. Our Nick/Nick is chock full of people, characters, and experiences that make going to work exciting and ‘always a joy’. The Lyric is so full of life and love on this production and I am so incredibly proud to be a part of it with such a talented and lovely group of people.” –Cat Dunham-Meilus, Production Assistant
“After 6 weeks, I still watch the scenes I’m not in. I cannot think of a better way to express my appreciation for everything everyone is doing. Someone once told me that an ensemble is a group of people who, rather than striving to make themselves look good, are doing their best to make every other person on stage look good. I hope I’m doing my part, because I know everyone else is making me feel like a champion.” –Daniel Berger-Jones, John Browdie, Lord Verisopht
Recently, we’ve been studying the etiquette of Victorian England, and what it took to be a gentleman or a lady. Here’s a hint: a lot. The Victorians were very concerned with how one behaved, and the rules for what one should and should not do were complex and detailed. Much of what we consider to be basic ideals of behavior and courtesy (e.g., Do not talk while your mouth is full, or give up your seat to an elderly person) began during the Victorian Era. Here are a few of my favorite rules:
For the gentleman: “Never scratch your head, pick your teeth, clean your nails, or worse of all, pick your nose in company; all these things are disgusting. Spit as little as possible and never upon the floor”
For the ladies: “a young lady should be expected to shine in the art of conversation, but not too brightly.”
For gentleman and ladies: “a gentleman may take two ladies upon his arms, but under no circumstances should the lady take the arms of two gentlemen.”
So until next time, remember: “You may bow to a woman in a window, if you are in the street, but you must not bow from a window to a lady in the street.” Mind your manners, please.
Watch video from The Nicholas Nickleby Rehearsal Center below!
The ensemble of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY rehearses narration for the production at The Nicholas Nickleby Rehearsal Center. The cast includes: Leigh Barrett, Daniel Berger-Jones, Peter A. Carey, Neil A. Casey, Sasha Castroverde, Larry Coen, Daniel Cohen, Michael Steven Costello, Jack Cutmore-Scott, John Davin, Janelle Day-Mills, Kerry Dowling, Nigel Gore, Eric Hamel, Hannah Husband, Maureen Keiller, Will Lyman, Joseph Marrella, Grant McDermott, Sally Nutt, Jason Powers, Elizabeth Rimar, Alycia Sacco, Erica Spyres
“To LONDON!” In a cavernous, almost empty, and very echo-y warehouse space in the South Boston Waterfront District on September 14th, 24 voices thundered that phrase in unison for the first time. It was about hour 4 of our first rehearsal, and Spiro had just finished his first “pencil sketch” of the opening scene. It was the perfect way to begin our work on this text.
The first rehearsal always has its own energy – equal parts nerves and excitement. As the cast was looking at the lovely costume renderings by Rafael and listening to assistant costume designer Kathleen Doyle discuss their plans, Spiro turned to me and said, “I’m directing Nicholas Nickleby!” with both joy and awe heavy in his voice.
And as we’ve settled into the space and the world we’re creating, that joy and awe still peek their heads out. Sometimes it comes from the text, like when the entire echo-filled room of 30+ people went silent to hear a small exchange between Smike and Nicholas, and sometimes it arrives when the entire company is screaming with laughter (thank you, Larry Coen as Young Wackford!)
Of course, there have been challenges. Some actors are still finding out that they are playing a new role in rehearsal. Sadly, Peter Carey has been unable to sway Spiro’s mind, and the role of the Stableboy has not been brought back in. (Keep trying, Peter!) This is my favorite part of the rehearsal process. After all the preparations, all the pieces being rearranged and sorted through for the hundreth time, now the play is suddenly bursting and breathing with life. Moments are beginning to be delved into, characters are beginning to form, and suddenly Nicholas Nickleby is here and now.
An excerpt from the Stage Manager’s report after the first rehearsal of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby:
We’re on our way! The meet ‘n’ greet at the top of rehearsal introduced our stellar cast to our brilliant staff and the myriad policies and procedures in place at the theatre. Moving right along into our designer presentations, Janie Howland was first up and she whetted all appetites for the real deal with her model and pictures of the set. Next up was costumes and Rafael’s radiant associate Kathleen Doyle was on hand in his stead to go over the warp and the weft of the costume design scheme for the show. And if all of this was not fun enough, dialect coach Amelia Broome joined us for a few delightful moments to say “hello” and introduce herself to the cast.
To round out the talking portion of the day, Spiro spoke for a bit about the play now we’re all here together on a road that leads all of the way back to 1980, when it was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Then he got right down to assigning narration lines at the top of the show as he began staging. We got to page 11 by the end of the day.
Here we are – three weeks from the first rehearsal. And while this is the part of the process that many people generally think of as the beginning, it is not. For example, most people probably don’t realize how far in advance the design team begins working on a show. Our team has been furiously working for months now to create the Victorian world of …Nicholas Nickleby.
The “Crummles Company” section of the play-where Nicholas and Smike join a troupe of actors and find success and much happiness-is truly a love letter from Dickens to the theatre. And in many ways, this section of the play has helped to focus the vision of our production: a company of actors here at The Lyric Stage Company presenting the play of Nicholas Nickleby to you-and perhaps even with you.
Beginning there, our designers tackled the challenge of how to bring 1830s London to The Lyric. Janie Howland, whose work has been seen in such favorites as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Urinetown, has almost finished the scenic design already. Janie has been working with using different textures (wood, brick, cobblestones) and creating various levels and spaces that can take our audience to London of the mid-1800s and beyond. From the cold and northern county of Yorkshire to the slums of London’s East End, from the tired and work stage in Portsmouth to the very fashionable Opera, we needed a world that would allow us to quickly transform our locations while still giving us the feel of each individual world. At the same time, we hope to bring the audience into each location immediately and completely. This design does not end where the line of the stage does . . .
Our fabulous costume designer Rafael Jaen has been researching and sketching costume pieces all summer. When going over some preliminary ideas in a meeting with Spiro and me, Rafael told us he was “illustrating” this play more so than designing it. This idea of illustrating this play-filling in key moments completely while leaving certain details and other moments to your imagination-resonated very strongly with me. Now of course, this does not mean that you will see people half-dressed on-stage. However, when one is playing a starving young resident at Dotheboys Hall, perhaps just a few key pieces, such as a hat and gloves or a scarf, will allow the actor to transform into this young boy. Rafael also spoke of focusing on the silhouettes from the period, once again giving a strong, clear outline while allowing each audience member the freedom to fill in some of the smaller details with their own interpretations and imaginations.