Thursday, May 5, 2011

Performance of 'Our Life Stories'

The Memory Chair (cont’d) THE PERFORMANCE!

May 1, 2011

Drama rules the day!

Behind the double doors of the auditorium, the very air took on a proprietary status; the stage almost hummed with anticipation. As I watched the chairs being placed so precisely, the props carefully scrutinized; and the staff going to and fro with all the blocks of unifying involved in a live performance; I felt the first flutter of butterflies deep in my stomach. I am sure I wasn’t alone! Eyes appeared bright and eager; smiles graced faces; muted laughter, and low voices held hints of excitement—and also a little fear!

Wrenn led us through a skeletal version of the entire production, meaning we walked the parts, but in speaking…blah, blah, became the vocal credence of each story.

We broke for lunch; I think this was mostly to let us settle inside ourselves. During the last fifteen minutes, Wrenn led us through facial warm-up exercises: the mouth, the tongue, and voice sounds. We stood in a circle, dressed in black, and all eyes were on Wrenn. She ended the meeting saying, “Have fun, if mistakes are made, no one will know! Just have fun!”

The music began, the auditorium lights dimmed, the overhead fixtures illuminated the stage—and we stepped into action mode. Only, we appeared as silent players bursting on stage, mouthing our words to ourselves. Wrenn stopped the performance and urged us off stage. She spoke of a sound problem….

We didn’t know anything else to do, but simply wait for a second cue….

The introduction music opened the show; we began anew with our Life Story segment—with sound this time—and went on with the rest of the performance. We moved with lighter steps, butterflies down to merely a quiver…. I wonder if some kind of divine providence took hold here; it seemed we found laughter in our unexpected predicament; a jocular atmosphere wrapped its arms around us—we, who in our life journey, had met much-like situations and rode unsparing failures, only to see them later turn into—triumphs!

Elizabeth (Willie) Towles

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dress Rehearsal

On Wednesday 27 April the tech crew and I arrived at 9am to set up the stage, sound, lights and slide projector...after several challenges we had almost everything ready set to go by 11:30...The cast arrived at 11am and patiently waited for us to finish up...Our tech, where we put in the 28 sound cues and half of the 120 slide cues mixed with minimal light cues ran till 3:30.  We broke for lunch and resumed at 4:30.  I had thought we would finish up before dark but before I knew it, darkness filled the outside sky and it was 8:30pm.  Alas, seniors don't like to drive at night...difficult to see.  But not once did anyone complain...Not once did anyone say, "I have to go home now or anything to that matter".   Upon my request, all had turned off their cellphones and once finished, found that many of their relatives had called inquiring their whereabouts.   Another adventure for all.  We went through the show twice.  Once for the tech and then a straight run through for the videographer.   The show clocked in at 1 hour 50 minutes.  I had wanted a show no longer than 90 minutes.  I asked who in the cast would volunteer to take one of their stories out of the broke my heart to ask.  Then Don, the videographer said, "I didn't think the show was long at all.  I really enjoyed all the stories" ...and so with his supporting words, I realized I was tired..the cast and crew were tired...and no one could think I said let's go with 'Our Life Stories' as is!     There were still places that I needed to change...staging that wasn't right...spent several nights awake trying to resolve the creative problem.  I think I ate dinner at 10:45 that night after rehearsal!...Creativity takes a lot of time.. I have a t-shirt that says:
'Time is meaningless in the face of creativity!'  How true!  How true!   And now words from our scribe, Ms. Towles....

The Memory Chair (cont’d) Tech/Dress Rehearsal

Wednesday April, 27, 2011

It’s all about the stories!

We’ve been dropped straightway into the journey all artists must go through: the bones of a performance; from the lighting setup, stage markings, seating arrangement, background screen inserts, music lead-ins, and props—and lastly—for us—the ever alertness of our involved director—Wrenn!

Today is one of those days when one must not think of time, or dwell too much on the passing of it; we simply do what we have to do—however long it takes us! We get plugged-in to the full Monty on show business. Hmmm! It was a loooooong day!

Also I must mention the free standing microphone; it becomes our NBF (new best friend); if we move to side stage, the upright black pole with the fuzzy black shaped cone goes with us; it has acquired ownership of our voices….

I think of myself as having some smarts; however, today, I find that I move as though a child, not knowing how to go from moment to moment; it appears we’ve landed in an alien place! For instance: Opening introduction lineup, although it seems a simple thing to achieve, requires several retakes before we work as a fluid group; and as Dave says, “The only thing to do in times like this is to eat…and he pulls out a baggie of goodies.”

As each skit unfolds, words are deleted, or changed, sometimes even a start-over takes place, but in the end, the story always prevails.

The riser steps to the stage look like black cropped piano keys, two on either side to merge at the top flat riser; we tromp up and down, working our leg muscles that had thought retirement meant easy rocking time!

We have lots of breaks; including a lunch time of one hour, in which Don even manages to get in a short nap.

The rest of the day belongs to rehearsals. Then the last enactment: dress the part, speak the words, and put on our professional faces—we are to be videotaped for this final run-thru!

Can Youtube be waiting in the wings?

Elizabeth (Willie) Towles

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Life Stories Class Twelve

20 April 2011
A long day of rehearsing, revising and rehearsing once again...nice lunch break with the ladies at a fabulously delicious restaurant and then back to rehearsing.   I am such a work horse, I forget to take breaks and no one mentioned stopping.  What patience, commitment to the process, dedication and flexibility are present at every class/rehearsal!  And equally important, everyone's support of their fellow actor/writers...All working together in this creative process!  
22 April 2011
I met with Willie and Ted to rehearse, 'The Handcuffs' scene written by Willie.  When we arrived at the Community Center - it was closed!  The skies were hovering with pouting gray clouds and a list mist of rain with promises of heavy showers.  I asked if they would mind rehearsing outside.  Without a moment's hesitation, they both agreed...No whining...both enthusiastic to work outside in the chilly, misty afternoon of a 'Good Friday'.
To the rescue arrived Evan, Technical Director of Matthews Playhouse who offered to let us rehearse in the warehouse/tech shop of the Matthews Playhouse.   What an adventure we had driving down to the warehouse, past the locked barriers.   And then two hours rehearsing in the cavernous space filled with remnants of past productions.    We all joked about Ted and the handcuffs...  Wrenn

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday, April 21, 2011

This is week twelve—our final meeting as a class unit. And ten days till—Showtime!

To open this wrap-up week, Wrenn had us working our voices, exercising our tongues, waking up facial muscles, and laughing as though having heard the greatest of jokes!

We moved next into the enactment of our stories: seven skits were rehearsed, and the last performance was a poem by Lynnsy—of which each of us were given a foam red ball to wear over our noses—the gist of it being the title of her poem: Red Noses. (And as one would expect, laughter broke out again as we saw how changed we all looked sporting a bright red bulb in the middle of our faces).

We broke for lunch, and the afternoon was rehearsal time…and also discovery time: we went waaay over our time allowance. Plays have to be revised, monologues have to be edited, and only a handful of skits escape the editing round.

As Wrenn says, “changes happen, even up to the drawing back of the curtain!”

I wrote this last blog in my mind several times over, and like the line above, changes occurred there, too: my heart fills to overflowing with words; my head tells me to put a lid on them!

So…I am ever so grateful to have shared time with this marvelous group of people; we bring a diversity of circumstances to the table, we come together when our lives have traveled many paths, observed and been a part of history in the making; and we’re now able to tell of certain events as though the story belongs to a stranger, and not of ourselves….

I have learned much, pushed back tears, laughed a lot—and found out that lengthy chair time on a steel bottom seat leaves much to be desired.

See you on stage!

Elizabeth (Willie) Towles

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Two Weeks Till Our Show!!!!

A long nine hour day yesterday filled with laughter, tears, drama, comedy...'Aha' moments and lingering questions...ponderings...and again 'Aha, now I understand'...
The challenge of memorization was holding many back from 'telling their stories' from their hearts...I reminded them that they could hold their scripts...or put their lines on notecards...with scripts in hand, their stories flowed trippingly off their tonges (Shakespeare 'Hamlet') and into our hearts...several times I joined them with my tears and most often I had chill bumps leaping to my skin...Again I say 'BRAVO' to my students for continuing to seek ways to 'make their stories better as well as their performances'...Nine hours nonstop and yet when I returned home I continued to work fueled by the energy of my students and friends.  I only wish I could make a real living doing what I do best...teaching and is my mission in life.  To change lives all for the betterment of humanity.

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

This is the eleventh week of Life Stories class; one weekly session remains, and only seventeen days until—Showtime!

Like last week, our timetable for today is geared toward making our stories come alive!

The hub of action is located at a table in one corner of the room where Wrenn, wearing her director’s hat, manages the moment: getting the ad-libs in place, the gestures, the looks, the pauses, the body language, and the necessary background vocal sounds.

Before I go any further into this blog, I want to give a thumbs-up to our benefactress, Wrenn: the plate of cookies was over the top; many thanks for feeding those of us with a ‘sweet’ tooth! Hey, Don—we had food today! Remember?

Mid-way the morning, posed, costumed pictures were taken of a number of the stories; still shots depicting the essence of the storyline behind the photos.

We were given a diagram of the stage and as each scheduled presentation took place, a character’s floor placement was added to the scripts; also word changes, some added, others deleted; and narrations became action scenes with only certain pivotal speaking words.

As the meetings have piled up, our shared stories have linked us in a unique way; we’ve been gifted with insights into the lives of a roomful of once strangers, who now feel like long-time friends. We’ve abbreviated the usual required time of ‘getting to know each other’ by simply getting inside our heads—and hearts, in a few short weeks.

Next Wednesday is the final class meeting and rehearsals will rule the day: a morning session, lunch, and then an afternoon run-thru. All stories will be performed and given a final scrutiny with many eyes following scenes that are becoming like we own them as a group.

During this last time together as classmates, we get to watch the complete play as it will unfold on stage; we get to see our past tied up in skits, and whether the story is one of sadness or joy, of an accounting of the times, or a confession from the heart, or a glimpse into the ‘winter’ of a life, we will have lived the circle of emotions surrounding our lives—and all this within a 12 week time frame!

Elizabeth (Willie) Towles

Friday, April 8, 2011


For the past two months I have been directing 33 young people aged 7 - 16...thirty three energetic creative and very kind young people of various levels and skills.  Some are performing onstage for their first time...some have been in all three plays I've directed for Davidson Community Players Connie Company.  I didn't like the script but found a way to make it work both for my artistic needs as well as an educational vehicle for the actors involved.  I chose to conceptualize the play in 1945, when the book was published by E.B White.   I saw it starting off on a street in NYC (the script has a narrator telling the story...I wanted the narrator to be a character in the divided the narrator parts and gave them to the various characters in the play)  in early morning with birds and cats entering and then people starting off their day buying newspapers and waiting for the bus...I wanted to put an opening 'swing time' dance in the play and one of my actors suggested May 8, 1945 and the celebration of D-Day, end of the war in Europe!  Great idea!

Another topic we discussed was the importance of women in the work force since so many men were fighting in the war.  The ensemble has done a bang-up job of creating interesting characters and eight year old Dwayne Allgoods a spectacular job of learning a bizillion lines and leading the show with his innocence, strength and energy. Eight of the nine shows were sold out before we opened and the ninth show sold out this past week.  BRAVO Cast of STUART LITTLE!!!

Life Stories Class Ten

The excitement for our performance everyone leans forward watching one another explore the actions behind their stories...all searching inside themselves while seeking the truth of the moment in their words...I wonder if I would take such a leap into the unknown...perhaps if the unknown were something I had always dreamed of doing...of experiencing...Thank you Willie for such astute observations and recording.

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

This is week ten of Life Stories class…only a dozen plus days before the last scheduled meeting fulfills the enrollment specifications….

And change, again, starts the day. We skip the mind and body exercise—the energy in the room is already soaring, and we’ve put on our acting hats that ready us for whatever Wrenn throws our way.

We visited the auditorium where the show will be performed and gathered on stage; centering our minds on the logistics of actually stepping inside an actor’s skin. We went to the dressing area where counters line both sides of the room, and mirrors take up wall space—everywhere—perhaps a last minute aid in getting the inner mind as well as the outer side ready for the role to be played?

I listened to the low buzz of voices as we made our way back to class—soon-to-be ‘stars,’ coming from all directions, elevator, and an assortment of stairways.

Wrenn chose six skits for today’s rehearsal: Carolyn’s monologue about love, Marti’s anecdote of an unsettling relationship; Hess, with a love letter to his wife, Lynnsy’s story spoke of having the freedom to choose; Christine’s read on skipping school at the age of five, and ‘life’ with her grandmother; and also, my story about the break-up of a marriage, and the consequences that follow.

In the remaining two weeks, there is much work to be done: filling our minds with text, perfecting the proper emotion at the right time, staging floor placement for better delivery of script’s message, and last but not least, choosing a costume to fit the action…are we racing headlong into an unquenchable thirst of—‘acting fever?’ Hmm!

Wrenn gave out books that consisted of all the stories to be presented; and we rehearsed the intro of My Life Story is…bringing us ever closer to the day we speak our written words into existence. For…words in print remains an unstirred story until other eyes read them—silent, until a voice gives them a place in a listener’s mind.

And that’s what our play is really about—the sharing of our lives in story enactment!

Elizabeth (Willie)

Thursday, March 31, 2011



I am directing Stuart Little for the Davidson Community Players Connie Company.  It plays April 2,9 at 10am; 1pm, April 3,10 at 1pm; 4pm and April 8 at 7pm.  Tickets are only $7.  Several shows are sold out, so it is advised that you make a reservation.  It is such a fun 60 minute show with 32 actors in a 1945 conceptualized Stuart Little.  
Call:  704-892-7953
See you at the Theatre!!!