Chris Coleman's Blog

Adventures in New York Part One

Posted by Chris Coleman | 16 August 2015

Chris Coleman shares his journal entries from the trip to New York to mount PCS's Off-Broadway debut: Yussef El Guindi's Threesome at 59E59 Theaters.
July 7, 2015
Flew in yesterday from San Diego International, and, of course, I picked up some kind of stomach bug. So sat the first day of rehearsal out for fear of spreading it to the cast. 
Was in LaJolla to see Rod and his show Come From Away, the remarkable new musical that became the hit of their season. 
Rod was in the workshop at the Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle last Summer and I had been looking forward to it since then. It’s inspired by the fact that on 9/11, 38 planes from around the world were diverted from NYC to a tiny town in Newfoundland called Gander. There was only one hotel, so the residents had to take folks in. The music is inspired by traditional Newfoundland music (which sounds like a cross between Celtic and Country) – and the entire cast play multiple roles. Christopher Ashley, their Artistic Director (who was at the helm of the original Memphis) did a remarkable job with the piece. I loved it so much that I saw it three times. 
Plans are for it to reprise its run at Seattle Rep in November/December, then Toronto next May, the Kennedy Center, then on to Broadway the following Fall. In 6 different roles, Rod was, no surprise, fantastic.
In NY – I’m staying at East 56th between 2nd and 3rd Avenue: a part of the city I’ve never spent time in. It’s become a kind of second financial district (Citybank and Cantor/Fitzgerald are in the next block), and I’m trying to get my bearings. All I know is that I’m underdressed.
Walked over to the theater this afternoon to see the set in the space, and check out sitelines. It’s a very tight, high, narrow 200-seat proscenium. So a different feel than both the Seattle and Portland spaces; but I think the show is going to feel very hot in there. We’ll start restaging tomorrow.
Alia found a big picture and blurb about the show in NY Magazine – which got us all excited. And seeing the new, cool poster on the marquee outside the theater was pretty darn cool as well.
Got an email from Gray Coleman, the attorney for the Janis Joplin estate who negotiated our contract for Somewhere in Time: “I just got a mailer for your show. Can I come see it?” I guess this is happening.
July 9
First day onstage. Amazing how the set seems to subtly transform in each space. It’s holding up nicely, but in Seattle – because there was so much more distance between the edges of the platform and the audience – the set seemed huge. In this space, it feels tight – clean, more like the Portland feel. Restaging the show for a proscenium audience: not a ton of alterations, but just facing things front that had to be shared to all sides in the ¾ thrust configuration. Also working on finding more nuance in the first scene between Leila and Rashid. It’s a real luxury to have a chance to revisit a show three different times, with nice digestion periods in between for the actors. Things sink in and take on new shades of color.
July 10
Barbara Hort and her husband, Mark, went to see Hand to God on Broadway last night. Brandon and Rose saw it last year off-broadway and came back raving. I read it and thought it a bit harsh for my taste, but after hearing another report, I think I need to go check it out for myself.
Tech rehearsal today: adding lights, sound and costumes. We have a super tight crew here, which creates a couple of interesting issues for us. In Portland, we had only Kristen Munn running the show backstage, but she could cross around the entire space – meaning she could cue actors backstage and then move around to the other corner to assist with a quick change. There is no cross-around possible in this space out of sight of the audience – so we are having to be inventive.
I asked the receptionist at the theater where I could get my haircut in the neighborhood. He asked, “For less than $150? The Bronx.” We are on E59th between Park and Madison. After rehearsal I walked over to Second Avenue assuming I would find something more in my price range. Found a salon (I prefer a barber shop, but whatever). Then got back to my apartment and realized I was missing my eyeglasses: yikes. Went back to the gym to see if I could find them, but no. Oy. I have an extra pair of progressives with me, but they are an old prescription, so only a temporary fix. Hoping the others turn up.


July 11


Rehearsal this afternoon:  tightening up the top of act two (it can play more quickly in this space, because there is less reverberation than there was in Seattle) and Rashid’s energy in the first scene.  First preview tonight:  152 in the house (of 196), so a larger group than I anticipated.  And more diverse ethnically and age wise.   It was a tricky night:  audience strangely quiet through the first scene, then warmed up at Doug’s naked entrance.  But never got to fully raucous.  The actors just a little quiet in volume (I  had told them they didn’t need to be quite as loud as they had been in Seattle and they perhaps went a bit too far).  And not needing to hold as long for laughs here (because the space is less reverberant, you can hear the words more quickly after the laugh).  Rashid got very quiet in the big act two scene:  a first – like he was doing the film version of the scene. Huh? He knew it afterwards and we discussed.


Audience seemed to stay with the story: got super quiet and still during the final two scenes (which is our hope). Strong applause.



Note session afterwards w the actors. They felt it was a very strange one because the front row is closer here than in either of the prior two spaces, so the lights spill onto them, and they are much more visually present for the actors – so it threw them a bit.  It’s all LIVE, so everything affects everything else.


I feel like a cat on a hot tin roof. This is intense.

July 12
Much better matinee house on Sunday afternoon. Much more responsive and the actors delivering with greater confidence. Partial standing ovation at the curtain call. In the ladies room at intermission, Barbara Hort overheard a few ladies in their 70’s: “I like the dark guy.” Lady 2: “I like the lighter one.” Lady 3: “I like them all.”
First ad in the NY Times this morning which was fun to see. Peter Tear warned us you have to have ‘nerves of steel’ with their sales pattern, because purchases happen so late in the game. Nerve wracking.
July 13
Spent the day off cleaning the apartment, wandering through central park (spent 45 minutes watching these 4 guys tumbling for the crowd they had assembled: pulling a 4 year old kid out of the crowd, and then doing flips in the air over his head. Crazy fun.
Rereading Joseph Campbell’s book, The Transformation of Myths through Time. I must have read it 25 years ago, but loving revisiting it. So connected to how Barbara writes about the stories we work on (following the notion that myths play the same role for a culture that a dream does for an individual: offering psychological material that we may be unaware of consciously.) Rod finally landed home from San Diego: sent me video of the dogs. JAW started today.
July 14
Alia shot an episode of Elementary today with Johnny Lee Miller. We knew it was going to be cutting it close, but she didn’t actually make it to the building until 6:30 for a 7 pm curtain, sooooo . . . a little hair raising. She was pumped because besides getting to shoot the scene (her second on the show), she got to meet Ian McKellan, who is a friend of Johnny’s.
Strong show tonight, with an even more responsive house. Quinn and Karan felt like they were bad, but I think it’s because they are starting to play some things more quickly, so sometimes felt like their brains weren’t staying up with their mouths.
We also learned today that the NY Times will be doing an interview with Yussef, and the Wall Street Journal will run a feature on Monday. Step by step.
July 15
Dinner with James Bundy, Artistic Director at Yale Rep and Dean of the Yale School of Drama. He’s been there 13 years, so we compared stories about our trajectories. His daughter got her psychology degree from Lewis and Clark so he has spent some time in Portland. He asked, “Is it as pleasant a place to live as it seems?” I assured him that it was.
Interesting hearing about the things on his mind. They’ve made huge progress in lowering their students’ debt load: the university reinvested a huge chunk of earnings from their endowment a few years ago, and the Drama School chose to take their piece and increase their overall financial aid package. It’s still based on need, but the average student now graduates from their grad program with a debt of $20k (in contrast to over $100k at Harvard and NYU). That’s huge for someone who is going to try and make a living in the theater or related businesses. 
James was the Managing Director at Crossroads Theater in LA (the company that Bill Rauch founded) from 1986-88, and then realized he really wanted to be in the creative driver’s seat, so went through the Yale directing program. He was Artistic Director at Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival before moving to his current position. 
He shared that one of their biggest issues right now is space: they have 9 old, out of date buildings that desperately need to be remodeled or replaced. At the rep they use union actors, but most of the designers are 3rd year MFA students (which is great for the students, but might provide some challenges). He described it as being like a teaching hospital.
Audience the most responsive thus far tonight. A woman afterwards stopped me and Alia because she had to tell us how much the play had affected her. She was very excited, but quite visibly shaken. 
July 16
Lunch this afternoon with Gray Coleman, the Entertainment Lawyer w Davis Wright Tremain in NY (he’s head of their Entertainment Division) who put our contract together for Somewhere in Time. We met as he was repping the Joplin Estate during “One Night w Janis”, and the common last name bonded us. He’s originally from New Orleans. He negotiates the contracts for many Broadway shows (including Curious Incident, Fun Home, and Hamilton this season). He’s quite a raconteur, and loved sharing the tales of how he and his husband ended up buying the apartment in the French Quarter where Tennessee Williams wrote Streetcar Named Desire.
An interview this afternoon with Inessa for one of the radio stations in Portland, Portland Radio Project, then drinks at 6 with Sarah Stern, the Artistic Director at the Vineyard Theater. Sarah has been to JAW before so is already a PCS fan, but hadn’t seen a full production. The Vineyard gave birth to How I Learned to Drive, The Scottsboro Boys, Avenue Q among others. Sarah was their long time Associate and only stepped into the AD position in the past year. She is a fan of Rodney’s (as she befriended him during the original run of Scottsboro Boys), so we got to catch up on that front. And they have just had a huge hit with Brandon Jacob Jenkins new play, Gloria. Her husband is a writer and professor and they have a home in upstate New York, so trying to manage the commute (which is about 2 hours each way) sounds like something they haven’t quite figured out.
I found out just before the show that Charles Isherwood, the critic for the NY Times was in the house tonight. Yegads. That’s slightly terrifying information. I had asked not to be told which night he was attending, but Chris Brislin couldn’t contain his excitement. I expected he would come a little closer to opening, but whatever. Here we go.
The audience was pretty quiet in the first scene (they tend to sit back and watch a little more than in Portland and Seattle for a bit); but then cut loose when Doug came in. Really got raucous in the first act, with some of our largest responses yet. Second act was very strong. Yussef arrived this afternoon, so was with us for the show. So – we gave a really good show, and now what will be will be. Oy vey.
Sarah was very complimentary afterwards. I asked if she had any notes for me, but she said, “Are you kidding? I was just gripped the whole time. I had no idea where it was going. It was fantastic.” Glad that a peer I know saw it the same night as the Times. Yussef, was understandably, about to shit his britches once he heard Isherwood was in the house.
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