FRED @ Fringe Update #9

From the Director…

Whether a character is in a play for all three acts, a fleeting moment, or occasionally hovers in the background, they are there for a reason.

A generous writer will often allow their script to give its director and actors room for movement; an interpretation that means no two productions will be alike. Yet the characters’ respective traits and motivations will all serve the narrative in a manner that, no matter who is producing the material, the story is brought to life with a consistent verisimilitude.

Phillip Hunting directs the cast of the self-devised Boxed In for La Más Collective, who include Michael and Phillip executive producer Michael R. Lister and actor Bethany Griffiths (extreme left). Wayne Stellini was his assistant director for the production.

As writer, director, and producer of Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning, I have gone through an incredible learning experience about staying true to my original conception and allowing actors to explore and play their characters. If anything, I am far less precious about actor interpretations than I thought I would be.

This does not mean that my vision isn’t clear. What it does mean, however, is that in allowing an actor the freedom to delve into their character affords me insights into this fictional world that I had not considered. It is also quite inspiring from a writer’s point of view.

This sort of character development is, I think, best observed with actors who have the least stage time compared to their colleagues. For one, they have less raw material to play with. Secondly, they have more places to venture—and how far they go is completely up to them.

In two months time, Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning’s run will be over. It may or may not ever tread the boards again. With the performance dates creeping up on us, I take a moment each week to think about how far the team has come. I may have conceived these characters around nine months ago (the irony is not lost on me), but the cast have had less time with them. And yet, they have put in an incredible amount of effort that they perhaps know their respective characters better than I do. Well, that was the goal all along, the purpose of so much emphasis on character development workshops early on in the process.

What is particularly pleasing to see is the dedication from the entire cast to fine-tune their characters. Let me go into some further detail…

The structure of Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning dictates an anarchic undertone. That is, we’ve created a circus and Michael and Phillip are ringmasters without control of their beautiful freaks. To emphasise this, characters are introduced gradually and each had their own agenda. Regardless of how innocent or manipulative they are or appear to be, conflicting motivations add to the tension that threatens the impending nuptials.

So how does an actor convey as many details as possible when they enter half-way through the play or perhaps in the final act? This is where all the time devoted to character development takes effect. But it can only be achieved through the professionalism of the actor.

There is a common saying that there are no small roles, only small actors. As clichéd as the saying is, it is unequivocally true. As I discussed last week, characters such as Simon (Hayden Gridley) could easily be dismissed as two-dimensional eye candy. As long as he looks the part, nothing else matters, right? Of course not. To pursue the role of Simon like that would be an insult to all involved, especially the audience.

Jeffrey Bryant Jones and David McNamara rehearse an intense moment as father and son, while comic relief Anna Reardon and Hayden Gridley watch on as Tally and Simon.

Similarly, the role of Father Rob serves his purpose narratively—the boys need someone to marry them, after all! I specifically asked assistant director/producer Phillip Hunting to take on the role. A gifted actor with an analytical mindset, Father Rob allows me the opportunity to see Phillip perform. Admittedly, It is my selfish way of keeping him on stage despite his creative trajectory leading him behind the scenes. With Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning we both win—and so does the audience.

What is wonderful about having Phillip as part of the team is that there’s a creative who can wear multiple hats at once. When writing the play, I read through some scenes with Phillip and I took his feedback on board, taking on some suggestions and declining to use others. And then there’s his role as producer. It is his first time wearing this particular cap, but he’s wearing it well. With the support and guidance of Fulya Kantarmaci and myself, Phillip is putting in an astonishing amount of effort.

In a single rehearsal session, he will be alongside Fulya as they discuss paperwork, the budget, and fundraising one moment, and will then be observing a scene run-through to give me or the actors feedback the next. Shortly thereafter, he’ll jump in the performance space to rehearse his scenes. For Phillip, it is not simply about reciting lines—anyone can do that—but it’s about Father Rob’s body language, mannerisms, and the way he delivers his words. Sure, on paper his motivation might simply be to perform a marriage ceremony, but Phillip is creating a character with a backstory, all of which are explicit in both performance and aesthetic. It is a wonderful thing to see unfold as a director and an even greater thing to experience as a trusted colleague.

And yes, the character of Phillip is named after him. Both Phillips are pop culture nerds, but the similarities mostly end there.

Our trusty producer/assistant director/actor Phillip Hunting isn’t the only person juggling multiple roles. A number of the Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning cast are in a number of shows this year. (Keep updated with what these incredible artists are up to by liking and following our Facebook page.)

Jeffrey Bryant Jones as Graeme returns the chaos into a heartbreaking reality, but Anna Reardon and Hayden Gridley’s observations as Tally and Simon provide moments of laughter.

Another member of our team I would like to acknowledge this week is Jeffrey Bryant Jones. Cast in the role of Graeme, Jeff’s enthusiasm for the concept of the show and his acknowledgement of the importance behind its key message have never waned.

Not only this, but Jeff’s dedication to his contribution to the show is a reflection of a strong work ethic. As with Phillip, the role of Graeme is (on paper, at least) minimal compared to his colleagues. But the gravity of Graeme’s entrance into the narrative takes Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning to a whole new level.

The impact of Graeme on the unfolding chaos is not lost on Jeff. It amazes me how much time and thought he has put into creating this complex character. From forming a backstory and playing with costume options, it would be easy to think that Jeff lives and breathes this production. But no. One of the things I enjoy doing at the beginning of every rehearsal is hearing what Jeff has been up to in the past week. The feedback usually revolves around auditioning, rehearsal, or filming either a commercial, a short film, another play, or a combination of all the above! It is both a phenomenal and inspiring thing to watch unfold.

It is professionals such as Jeff that makes you want to work harder, because he is respecting your show by putting in the hard yards. Actors with so-called ‘bigger’ roles have put in far less effort. So, yes, it’s true what they say: there are no are no small roles, only small actors.

When you see Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning, you will know what I mean.

To find out more, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And of course, feel free to explore FREDtheALIENproductions.com for the latest on Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning.

Wayne Stellini is an executive member of the FRED the ALIEN Productions team. He has written and directed episodes of UNI-Bums, and produced FRED’s stage debut, The Writer, in 2016.

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