What's the deal with 1616?
“Oob!” may be Shkspr's funniest line, but that’s all I’m saying about that.
21 years ago, Emily Fisher, wife, mother, socialite, and celebrated patron of the arts, was beaten and stabbed in her Central Gardens home. The murder, and the harrowing trial that followed, quickly turned into a media feeding frenzy. Prosecutor Jerry Harris choked back angry tears as he described and redescribed every aspect of Fisher's murder in painstaking detail. Defense attorneys Glenn Wright and Loyce Lambert were no less emphatic in swearing that the case was being tried in the media, and their innocent clients — who were eventually acquitted — were being rushed to a guilty verdict. It was, needless to say, not an easy time for Fisher's children.
in 2007 Rebecca Fisher, Emily's writer/actor daughter launched The Magnificence of the Disaster, a solo performance chronicling not only her mother's murder and her brother Adrian's subsequent overdose but also the icy disaffections that can sometimes pass for familial love in a big white house in one of Shelby County's more privileged neighborhoods.
It's been 8-years since Fisher brought her critically-acclaimed and award-winning show to TheatreWorks, in conjunction with Voices of the South. VOTS has been marking its 20th-anniversary by reprising landmark performances, and The Magnificence of the Disaster returns to Memphis and TheatreSouth for performances April 9, 10, 14, 16, 17.
“A stage space has two rules: (1) Anything can happen and (2) Something must happen.” — Peter Brook
Consider this as an addendum to this week's cover story about the Memphis Comedy Festival, and the indie comedy scene that birthed it. It's hard to address everything in 3000 words, and I thought it might be fun to include a few sentences about Memphis audiences. I also wanted to share an annotated version of Mitchell Dunnam's fantastic cover for this week's Memphis Flyer. Mitchell plugged a lot of local comedians into a parody of the movie poster for National Lampoon's Animal House, and this is the key to figuring out who they all are.
Comedian Tommy Oler had barely started his set at RockHouse Live when the heckler started yelling at him. An older gentleman, later identified as one of Elvis' former attorneys, yelled, "You suck!" He wasn't a very good heckler. That and, "You still suck!" was pretty much all the material he had. Oler took it all in stride, suggesting that his comedy might improve while his critic wasn't getting any younger.
RockHouse Live is cave-like, and committed to darkness. The Wednesday night open mic, hosted by Amanda Walker can sometimes leave audiences wondering if they should laugh or call 9-1-1. "Even the bartenders heckle you," MaryBeth Poppins says. "Like, if you tell a joke about daiting and you aren’t telling it bad enough, they'll correct you. Or jump in with their stories. It can be obnoxious." But, if you're a comedian born, insults can also be inspiring.
Poppins is a very serious (and seriously funny) stand-up hobbyist literally created by the Memphis Comedy Festival. A comedian insulted her, as comedians will, and she thought, "I can be funnier than that guy." Bada-bing, bada-boom. And open mic nights — an important part of the comedy ecosystem — are like a box of chocolates in the wild west. You never know what you're going to get. And what you get can be rowdy. Open mics are places where you can see experienced comics like Rob Love or Harold King working out the kinks in their freshest material back-to-back with newbies, schmucks, and punchbowl turds. It's like Blacksmith Comedy's Benny Elbows says, "At open mics you really start to see how much craft goes into this. When you see somebody out there being funny it's easy to assume they've always been funny. But most of the time that's just not the case."
Dear “Love Letters” Casts,
Well, the show is finally up and running!
I’ve told you all how much I love the work you are doing. I couldn’t ask for more committed, talented folks to work with.
It has been a new experience for me to direct three casts simultaneously, especially in a show like this that is not quite a “normal” script.
It occurs to me that people might be interested to hear what the experience has been like for you, as actors. We talked about this some during rehearsals, but I wondered if you might share how this show has been different because of its structure? Was anything easier? Was it all more difficult? How did you approach your characters and your relationship with your partner, given that there is no blocking and no eye contact?
Would love to hear what you think!
Doing this show is like doing Suzuki method with your ears. You have to listen so very carefully to not only what your partner is saying but also how they are saying it. I focus very carefully on the sound (music) of Pamela's voice — like I might attend to the sound (music) of a woodwind instrument. I think this helps with the on-stage intimacy that these characters need to have if the audience is going to believe the 48 year trajectory of their friendship.
Pamela and I got together for our own rehearsal prior to opening, and we met at Republic Coffee to read the show. Because we had an audience (of coffee drinkers) overhearing us, it forced us to seek a slightly more hushed, intimate, private conversational tone in how we read. We both really liked the discoveries we made in the process and brought it on-stage for the first time for F&F and then again for opening.
How have I connected to Andy? Easy — from the standpoint of someone who has ever had a deep, abiding friendship with another who you could have been romantically intimate with but instead stayed emotionally intimate. Cross-sex friendships (like Melissa and Andy's) are very special, but exceeding difficult to maintain as the friends find romantic life partners — the emotional intimacy of the friendship puts a lot of stress on the romantic lives of those people. And we see that play out in the emotionally wrenching change in Melissa and Andy's relationship toward the end of the show. So yeah, if you've ever had a very close cross-sex friendship (that's different from your romantic relationships), it's very easy to connect with Andy's experiences in this play.
I love how the three of us women are so different, yet it is not surprising to me that we
are all three cast as Melissa. That is one of the loveliest things about the incredible writing in this piece to me. It has such universal truths that we can all find ways to connect with them- especially if we have "lived" a bit.************************************************************
The most challenging thing about finding Melissa (for me) has been discovering when the cracks in her shell are invisible and when she is fully exposed. She is a dichotomy. She's extremely complicated and simple at the same time.
Another challenge has been acting while sitting in a chair and not being able to "play" with Chris (who is playing Andy) in the way I'm used to playing with actors onstage. We don't look at each other. We are reading the letters so I am responding to what he has written and the way I (as Melissa) hear his voice as he's reading it. It is freeing because I am not bound to movement and focused completely on his voice and what he is saying and what I am saying. It also requires a different kind of focus than I use in a typical fully-blocked play. I think of myself as a character actor who uses my body quite a lot when I become the character. This performance limits my ability to use my body and forces me to rely more on my voice.
Yet another challenge has been defining the quick transitions within the letters. You have been a great help with that. Each time I read it I find new ways to connect with Melissa and what she is feeling and I fall a little more in love with both Chris and Andy every performance - especially when he surprises me with a little caress on the back of my neck just before we begin the play. It's a memory I will always cherish.
My bestie was asking me if I was excited to open the show and I found it difficult to answer. Trepidation, dread, shame were probably much more appropriate responses, but mostly an overwhelming need to ‘get it out’ of me. I’d say the most difficult part of the process has been diving into places that are usually kept covered and on a back shelf. If it isn’t obvious, I’m a method actor.
I had an immediate visceral reaction to the script. I made the mistake of reading it at work and was a hot mess, crying my eyes out in my cubicle. Damn you, A.R. Gurney! It should have come with a warning! I
connected with Melissa on a deeply personal level; in fact, there are several lines that barring a name change, I have actually written to a past love….I knew I had to play her.
It is rare that I get upset about not
being cast, but with this one…well, thank God, you made the right choice! The opportunity to play Melissa couldn’t have come at a more perfect time in my life. And I’m not sure if I’d have been able to do the role justice any sooner in my career.**********************************************************
My favorite part of the show? That’s easy. It’s listening to my wonderful cast mate, Sam, speak declarations of love so beautiful and heartfelt you’d have to be made of stone not to be moved.
As to the first question, my acting process always starts at a place as close to myself as possible, so the question of how I connect with the character on a personal level is always the first one I ask.
For this character, it was his relationship with his father. Like Andy, I had a father who instilled in me a very specific set of ethics against which to measure my choices in almost any situation. I also lost my father at almost the exact age that Andy lost his. I think that there is an undercurrent of resentment in Andy's relationship with his father that I can't relate to personally, but overall, that relationship was a way into his story for me.
As to what makes this show a unique challenge, a couple of things stand out. A wise
director once told me that acting starts at the end of your nose. So much of a performance is watching, listening, and reacting to your fellow actors in a scene. For this show, one of those tools is taken away. I can't look at Melissa and react to her physical cues, so that means I have to listen that much more closely. For that reason, you absolutely CANNOT check out mentally for even a moment with this show, and as a result, for a play where you're just sitting in one place reading for two hours, it consumes a surprising amount of energy.
Another challenge unique to the epistolary format of the play: Andy says that letters are a way of presenting your best self to another person. In that way — particularly in a lot of Andy's correspondence — the letters are unreliable narrators, and are loaded with subtext that is often quite different from the words that are actually being spoken.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! Here’s to a successful run! Enjoy!