On a typical Friday night the parking lots are empty. All of the restaurants in the food court are closed down with metal gates keeping would-be food thieves from entering. CSUN is reduced to an enormous vacant plot of land resembling a once human-populated squirrel preservation.
It isn’t completely empty, though. As the school year’s first weekend rolled around and the majority of the student body met with friends to lessen the agonizing contempt for summer’s demise, a small assembly of die-hards stayed behind. They are a select group of students from the theater department, chosen to represent the culture-wing of CSUN.
In the long institutional dark hallways of Nordhoff Hall, it’s the voices of stage performers reading their lines and singing their melodies that bring this otherwise drab building to life.
The Little Theatre has been the rehearsal site for “Ol? for Hollywood,” a Latino sketch comedy that pulls no punches with its hilariously offensive combination of deplorable raunchiness and unrestrained humor.
Friday’s rehearsal started with an audition. Brandon Mackey stepped onto the partially constructed stage. A towering 22-year-old 6’5″ junior transfer student from Ventura County Community College, Mackey came to audition for the part of King Kong, the illegal immigrant.
Director Cris Franco prompted Mackey to walk bigger, keep his chest out, take up more space, grunt human phrases the way an ape would grunt them.
Afterward, Mackey shared his thoughts on the experience. He said it was a fun comeback to acting after a lengthy hiatus.
“I haven’t done it in a long time. I didn’t even know what the hell I was going to do,” he said.
But I did it man. I came yesterday to see if I got called back for one of the other roles, and of course I didn’t. But then bam! Right there next to it I saw a sign up sheet for this, it looked like an emergency with blinking lights and stuff on it. It said you must be over six feet and the characters name is King Kong, and I said ‘Oh shit, I can ace that one. So I signed up and here we are.”
Mackey said he was hopeful that his size would ultimately work in his favor.
To a certain extent it did, although Mackey did not get picked to play King Kong, his size made him a close second out of seven people.
“Brandon was very, very good, and the size was impressive,” said Franco. “It was really hard.”
When describing why the directors and stage managers instead chose the slightly smaller CSUN freshman Anthony Espinoza for the role, Franco said, “He had the voice, the size and the grace to pull this off. You have to be big and graceful.”
According to Franco, Espinoza had previously starred as the cowardly lion in his high school’s production of “The Wizard of Oz”, and during that time he developed a booming roar that the directors thought would be perfect for King Kong the illegal immigrant.
The auditioning process is only a taste of the pickiness and attention to detail that is being paid to every segment of this play. In this case there’s more effort put into making sure that the actors and actresses play their characters correctly, considering that “Ol? for Hollywood” is a sketch comedy and most people are playing multiple characters with unique expressions and designs.
Nobody epitomizes this more than junior CSUN student-turned-excessive game-show host and pathetic dating prospector Robert Cisneros, 20. While he had the acting down, there was a little pre-show wardrobe conflict.
Cisneros was rehearsing for “Lowered Expectations.” In this skit he plays Armando, the former chauvinist turned “sensitive guy trapped in a macho body.” The part was convincing, but it was hard to watch him talk about attending “women, sex, and power meetings” while wearing a T-Shirt with a picture of “The Warriors” on it.
Cisneros wasn’t off the hook, though as a result of his obvious lack of feminine knowledge, he underwent sensitivity training from director Armando Molina, stage manager Kelley Hewes and Gomez. They informed him about the little jokes in his dialogue that were obviously going over his head, such as “you’ve come a long way baby,” “I take Midol to get high,” and why it’s funny to want to hear the “biological clock of every woman in the world” after sex. Gomez even showed him where to clutch himself in the event of a sudden onset of sympathy cramps.
Even for a goofy play like this, a painstaking attention to detail must be exercised to ensure that the directors’ vision is projected to the audience as closely as possible, even when there are two directors with two distinct styles of working.
Molina, a man who has almost dedicated his entire life to comedy since being “hatched” in Columbia, is silly at times- especially when administering liberal usage of the term “that’s brilliant” in classic director fashion.
Franco on the other hand chose to give an analysis of himself and Molina. “Armondo is this legit, Meissner type of guy, and I’m a TV hack.”
The necessary attention to detail doesn’t just apply to the actors. “Ol? for Hollywood” has so many people working on so many different tasks to make sure it comes together as smoothly as possible.
Senior Ryan Jordan, 25, is the sound designer for “Ol? for Hollywood.” He estimates that in the past month he’s dedicated about 100 to 150 hours to creating the play’s sound effects and cues.
Jordan says that so far he has written about 150 sound cues and that he plans to write another 15-20. After he finishes with that, he plans to condense it all down to 130 cues.
“Intellectually it’s all on target. I’ve done all the brainwork, I know where I need to be,” Jordan said. He went on to say that the hard part was actually researching and finding the right sounds.
With a final deadline just 10 days away, Jordan says the plan right now is just to “find as much as possible and hope Cris (Franco) likes them.” He added that that shouldn’t be too hard since the play is meant to be “over the top and corny and cartoony.”
Everybody working on this play understands that the other people around them are working just as hard too. Jordan made it very clear that his duties pale in comparison to those of Hewes.
“The stage director has a thankless job,” said Jordan. He pointed out that the stage manager has to be extremely organized. Hewes is, among other things, responsible for getting the cast organized, helping them with their lines, and making sure the blocking is done correctly. Blocking is a term which refers to the positions of the actors on stage; where they enter, where they exit, where they stand, whether it blocks the light of another character, whether the audience can see their faces well enough.
According to Jordan, she is also responsible for making sure all the lighting and sound cues are on target while the show is playing, and “if an actor gets arrested before the show, she’s the one who has to go bail him out.”
It is Hewes’ first time as a stage director, she worked as assistant stage director for three shows in the past.
Hewes described the type of work that she does with the help of her assistant stage manager, Ashleigh Gomez.
“We basically make sure the directors have everything they need. So we have the scheduling, figure out the schedules, make sure everyone knows when rehearsals are and what not, that type of thing. A little bit of everything, there’s a lot of little stuff,” Hewes said.
To the audience, those little things that the stage managers, directors, actors, stage hands, costume designers, prop designers, scene designers, lighting designers, supervisors and choreographers do are easy to overlook. It is all of those little things that make a play fluid and whole.
“It’s an amazing process,” Franco said. “There are a lot of angles because ‘Ol? for Hollywood’ is such an original show.”