I write a lot about rehearsals and performances with Culver City Public Theatre (CCPT). Yesterday as I was sitting backstage waiting for Judge Taylor's entrance for the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird, I was thinking about why I enjoy performing in the park so much. While I enjoy the camaraderie among the actors and being part of a good ensemble cast, there is also great satisfaction simply in the challenge of presenting a credible performance in an outdoor venue with no amplification
When I first performed in the park in 1996, I remember the director bringing in a voice coach to do a short workshop with those of us new to the outdoor theatre environment. I don't remember the individual's name, but I remember clearly his stating that our job was to make our voices "bounce off the houses across the street." This requires the ability to breathe correctly and to project our lines from the diaphragm and not the throat. If we were to shout without proper breathing and projection, we would quickly lose our voices. Since that first summer, I have often commented that if you can successfully perform in the park, you can perform anywhere.
But there are other factors that challenge the actors. There are numerous distractions that drown out voices and make it difficult to stay focused. The loudest of these are the fire engines with their screeching sirens that can be heard from blocks away and the jet planes and helicopters that fly overhead. We've succeeded in getting the ice cream man to NOT ring his bell as he comes by to hawk his wares. We have silenced the leaf blowers by offering gardeners bags of popcorn to arrange their schedules so that they are not across the street at performance times.
Yesterday there was another event in the park where they were using amplified music. They didn't seem to even consider our request to hold down the volume during the children's show. Occasionally, a birthday party and the joyous shouts of children celebrating with a piñata will drift across the park. Next week, the annual Fiesta Ballona will be going on a few blocks away and we will have to face rock music from their main stage flowing through the neighborhood into our performance space.
And if the outside noises aren't enough to distract us, there is the wind. There is always a cooling breeze in Carlson Park. But sometimes it does more than cool the summer air. Today the wind toppled two of the flats defining the set just prior to the start of Sluefoot Sue and Pecos Bill. Those of us backstage took turns holding the legs on the flats to make sure they stayed in place during the performance. Then, as the wind gusted during To Kill a Mocking Bird, the prosecuting attorney had to scoop of papers with his notes as they took flight during the trial. The judge had to weigh down and reposition his legal pad to keep the pages from flapping in the breeze.
And yet I find all of these challenges to be an integral component of the joy I find in performing with CCPT. And I was thinking of all of this while waiting for the beginning of Act 2 and my entrance in a wind blown judge's robe to preside over the trial of Tom Robinson.
So come join us next weekend for the closing performances of CCPT's 2008 season. For those in the Los Angeles area, Paul Carlson Park is at Motor and Braddock in Culver City. Sluefoot Sue and Pecos Bill starts at 12:00 noon and runs 1 hour. To Kill a Mockingbird begins at 2:00 p.m. and runs for 2 hours.
Come join us. You'll have a wonderful afternoon. And it's free!!