Greetings from the guy playing Howard

Hello.  I’m Gary Simmers.  I’ve been an ensemble member of Eclipse since the 99 season.  It is my privilege to be playing Howard in the upcoming production of Boy Gets Girl.

I’m really looking forward to the group discussions following this show.  This is a tough subject to wrap your mind around.  I think that men in the audience particularly will find themselves reflecting on past “unfortunate” situations.  I know that as I’ve worked through the production during the rehearsal process and seen what women encounter in the great ritual of mate selection, I’ve been made more and more aware of how aggressive and frankly, unsettling my own behavior has been in a few past events.

Over the course of the run I hope to share…..full disclosure….of these events.  It is my hope that this will in some small way start a more open discourse on these matters.  Some items you may agree with…some may bother you tremendously… some may make you look inside your own past and say “I’ve been that guy.  I never realized that I was doing that.”  I know all three of these have been places I’ve visited during this process.

I think at the end of the day, I’m a pretty normal person who has ended up in a few unanticipated life situations.  I also think that is normal.  I look forward to chatting with some of you over the next few months.

Gary

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10 Responses

  1. Gary, I am looking forward to full disclosure of your nefarious past–you may have missed the company retreat fireside confessionals, but now we know there’s info waiting to be exposed! ;-)

  2. Hi Gary-
    I am interested in hearing more about how portraying a character in “Boy Gets Girl” has made you rethink past situations in your own life.
    Also, I would be interested in hearing more, from yourself and the other actors, about rehearsals-what happens during this time period that takes Gilman’s words from paper and creates a final product?

  3. Thanks for your reply. I am working on a post or 2 that will show up as we move into the run of this production. You are correct that there has been a good amount of soul searching during this process.

    I’ll be gad to solicit answers to any questions you might have about the process of putting a show together from the cast at large. If you’ll do me the favor of putting a few items together that you would specifically like asnwered, I’ll be glad to present them for you.

    Thanks again for your reply.

  4. I’ll look forward to your future posts on your personal experience with this show.

    So far as how the words get turned into a play I can watch. My questions start with:

    How do you know how to say a line? Often times when I have read a play and then go see it-certain things sound alot different than how I thought it sounded.

    Who gets to make the decisions on how everything looks and sounds and moves. I know there is a director there but does he/she have the-be all end all- in the decision to how a certain sentence sounds? Or where an actor gets to move? What if the actor disagrees with what the director says?

  5. Emily,

    Thanks for your questions. I’ll tackle them 1-by-1

    You said: How do you know how to say a line? Often times when I have read a play and then go see it-certain things sound alot different than how I thought it sounded.

    To answer your question….I don’t know really how I decide to say a line. One of the biggest parts of the rehearsal process is a good deal of talking …about the world of the play, the motivations of the characters and what the individual actors “take” is on the scenes and the emotional arc and journey of the piece. All of this is filtered through how the assembled cast, director and designers see it. Out of that process comes a natural progression of what is important to our production and how we want to go about the process of telling this story. In this case the Director is indeed “directing” the process. They do ultimately shape the finished product.

    As for your comment on plays looking and sounding differently than how you imagined them as you read them…I think that’s part of the fun! I go through the exact same thing when I see a show that I’ve either read or performed in previously. Part of the human element in the performance art is what baggage a different group of artists will bring to a production.
    There isn’t really a definite “right” way to do a play. I may disagree with your choices, I may think they run counter to what I thought was important when I first read the play, but by the end of the evening, I definitely have learned something about this world I may not have considered previously. In my personal opinion, that is a tremendous part of the human experience…that with one set of circumstances…many different paths can be chosen. This is one of the things that really gets my juices flowing as a human, not just an actor.

    Now on to the next question:

    You said: Who gets to make the decisions on how everything looks and sounds and moves. I know there is a director there but does he/she have the-be all end all- in the decision to how a certain sentence sounds? Or where an actor gets to move? What if the actor disagrees with what the director says?

    I want to temper everything I’m about to say with a very simple fact of life in the performance world: The Director is the “Bottom-line decision maker.”

    Having said that, this is still a highly collaborative art form. A smart director will listen to and watch the Actors and Designers.

    For example: If I’m the director, it may be very important to me that as you exit the stage, you slam the door. It might be equally as important to you that as you exit, you do not slam the door.

    A good director and a good actor will both try each others suggestion with no bias toward either scenario. Out of this may come a higher understanding that one of the ideas works better for the scene and production. It may also be that there is a third alternative that will become apparent as you try both…something that you and the director will be equally passionate about. If a compromise cannot be reached, then I think it is the Actor’s responsibility to yield to the Director’s wish. They are as you say in the question…”the-be-all-end-all” in this process. I’m only looking at the world through the eyes of my character. The director sees the entire finished product. We have now had our disagreement…you (the actor) now need to take my direction and make this a part of your world. Now…in doing this, I may now start to see that your real impulse as a human is to walk off the stage and not slam the door..as the Director I need to make that observation and decide if it is really that important to me that the door gets slammed.

    I had a simlar scenario when I was working on “Talley and Son” last year. The director desperately wanted me to lean-in to a character as she exited the stage…a character who had basically just made it clear to my wife and family that we had had an affair and that I had Fahtered an illegitimate child with her. My thought was that she ahd just ruined my life…why would I want to lean-in to her? My impulse was to move as far away as possible. After trying this for a few days, the Director pulled me aside and we talked about it some more. He finally decided that if this was an important element of my characters inner life…I shouldn’t do it. That was collaboration at its finest. It’s really no different than how we choose our battles in everyday life….you win some, you lose some…and some you don’t fight because it’s just not that central to your existence.

    All of the above can be applied equally to any element of the production, lights, scenery, costumes, sound. It all starts with collaboration and give-and-take. The ultimate goal of all parties is finally creating a finished product that everyone will be proud of.

    Wow…I really got off on a tangent there! Thanks for your questions Emily. I’m a long-winded person…but I suppose you’ve noticed that by now.

    Keep ’em coming. I love to see the interest.

    Gary

  6. As you mentioned the designers as part of the collaboration process-how do those elements come into play? How do the designers and director come to a conclusion on what works-do the designers attend rehearsals to see what works then create their product?
    And does it happen that sometimes a design doesn’t work at all for the production somehow?

  7. Emily-

    I’m sure Gary will be back to weigh in on this question as well, but I wanted to share my thoughts quickly, having been on both sides of the collaborative process (I’ve designed lights frequently, and directed several shows with Eclipse and other companies).

    It’s similar to what Gary’s describing in terms of the actor / director relationship – i.e., the director always has the final say about anything (although in theatres that focus on making money that may not always be true – producers and investors may have a lot of influence too – but that’s a completely different topic), but a good director (in my opinion, at least), will encourage a working environment that’s truly collaborative, and explore all the ideas that designers bring to the table.

    What the director does, then, is to establish the overall aesthetic world of the play – they’ll start by talking to the design team abstractly about what the play’s about, what colors, textures, sounds, etc. the play evokes for them, what theatrical style the play needs to adhere to (naturalism, absurdism, existentialism, etc.), and so on – this becomes the “vision” of the play, and the designers use this as a starting point for their ideas.

    Designers and directors meet several times before the actors begin rehearsals, so they’re ready to articulate to the cast what the design elements will be like by the time we come together for a first read through of the script. Of course some things will change, as the designers watch rehearsals and see things develop differently than they expected, or as practical or financial constraints emerge, or as new and better ways to express the vision come up, or whatever.

    I’m sure it happens frequently that designs end up not working for productions – I’ve seen quite a few productions (without naming names) where the sound design seems obtrusive, or the lights seem too moody, or the costumes are from a different time period than the play claims to be taking place in … my favorite example was a simple logistical problem – in a production I saw years ago of Noises Off, where the onstage “set” has to turn completely around between act two and act three to show the backstage area, the set designer built the entire two-story house on stage before realizing the first night of tech rehearsals that it was about two feet too wide to be able to clear the walls of the theatre and turn around. It took a couple of days to dismantle, resize and rebuild, but they ended up opening on time and the set got a tremendous ovation opening night.

  8. Are there directors that have a very definate preconceived notion of what the play is suppose to look like before meeting any of the other members of the collaborative team?
    Moreover meaning are there directors that don’t allow the actors or designers make any decisions for themselves (see Gary’s comments about actors making some decision with director approval)?
    I can imagine something getting stuck because a director or designer refuses to change something from the original plan.

    And I can imagine describing the colors and sounds of a play. But textures?

  9. “And I can imagine describing the colors and sounds of a play. But textures?”

    Yeah, we can get a little weird and artsy sometimes – but it’s true. And when I say colors and sounds, I don’t just mean the tangible colors and sounds that appear on stage; I’m also talking about the abstract feelings that you start to get after reading a script thirty times and spending three months thinking about it. If you can find ways to describe those feelings in the vocabulary of textures, it can help communicate to your designers the aesthetic qualities that are kicking around in your head. Telling the costume designer that a play makes you think of a sandpaper-like texture will probably end up affecting the costumes the actors end up wearing. (Not that all the actors will be wrapped in sandpaper, but maybe that a corduroy jacket is chosen instead of a cotton one. Or something – I’m not a costume designer)

    Your first question could be the subject of a life-long master’s thesis – and probably is. The short answer is that it’s a matter of balance, and everybody figures out what kinds of artists they like to work with and what kinds of artists they don’t.

    I’ve worked with directors who are very specific and demanding – and I’ve been frustrated by some of them and really enjoyed some of them. I’ve had both positive and negative experiences with directors who are laid back and accommodating, too.

    The important thing is that everybody who’s working on a play understands how everybody else is interpreting that play, and there are lots of ways to acheive that. But if an actor thinks a script is a light comedy and a sound designer thinks the same script is a gothic tragedy and the director thinks it’s an existential dream ballet, somebody’s going to have to get them on the same page or it’s going to be a weird show. That’s ultimately a director’s job, and it means that every director needs to find some way to do that.

  10. just left performance of “BGG.” hadn’t heard of R Gilman. Looked her up. Ran across your site. figured guy who played howard might help.

    what do we do about fantasizing about women? It ojbectifies them. It sexualizes them. They are people, too, with their own reality, I know. That given, it’s still hard not to notice and think about physical differences—and, dare I admit it, imagining about the differences. Honest question. I’m happily married.
    Dale

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