He plays a nun, an Air Force pilot, a photographer, a prostitute and 16 other characters in Mo’olelo’s “How I Got That Story.”

But it’s not a cost-cutting move to have one actor incarnate so many people. The play’s written for only two actors. One plays a reporter covering the war in fictional Ambo Land. And the other, Greg Watanabe in this production, plays this multi-faceted “Historical Event” — representing all of the situations and people the reporter encounters.

On top of all of that, Watanabe must be a prodigious sound-maker, too. That means mimicking gunfire, invoking the sounds of planes overhead and even singing the Rolling Stones tune at a local bar the soldiers frequent.

Per playwright Amlin Gray’s peculiar instruction in the script:

Every sound in the play is made, live or on tape, by the EVENT actor. Where possible, the audience should be able to recognize his voice.

We’ve been following the work behind the scenes as Mo’olelo hones and pieces together all of the elements for this play. Opening Night is Friday; the play’s now in previews.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

I didn’t realize until last week’s dress rehearsal what an integral role the sound plays in this play. Recorded sound effects of planes and firefights punctuate action scenes. In a couple of places, music plays as the characters interact.

All of it — even the music — is Watanabe’s voice. It seems to serve to help further convey the dramatic conceit of a single actor bizarrely portraying every person, thing and situation the reporter encounters in Ambo Land, a pseudo-Vietnam.

At dress rehearsal, sound designer George Ye listened for volume levels and dramatic effect. Was any clip too loud? Too soft? Were there any holes, where the action on stage needed the support of backing sound?

Earlier this month, Watanabe went over to Ye’s house and the two got to work. Ye had compiled a few sound files of planes, explosions and ambushes to listen to for reference.

“Then he’d play around,” Ye said. “It was like being in a room with a 5-year-old playing with Legos.”

Ye shared some clips with us. Here you can hear Watanabe making the sounds that signify an ambush:

And here he is making the music that plays in the bar while the reporter character tries to interview a solider. He made the guitar sounds, and the drums, and the singing. The reporter in this scene can’t get no satisfaction with his interview attempt, either:

One recent afternoon before previews started, I asked Watanabe about what it’s like to differentiate the 20 characters and to make all of the sounds for the play:

View more videos at: http://nbcsandiego.com.

Though seemingly much simpler than distinguishing 20 different characters, the search for the right voice for Brian Bielawski’s reporter character has been challenging, too. At the first read-through of the script, Bielawski told me he was having a hard time with how much of his own voice was coming across when he was reading the reporter’s lines.

He said he’d been reading the script, imagining the reporter as a distinct person. Then, he sat down at a rehearsal table to read out loud for the first time, and heard a lot of himself coming through instead of that separate character. I asked him about that a couple of weeks later, once he’d memorized and rehearsed the lines many more times.

You can hear him describe finding his voice in our conversation below (warning: there are a couple of short technical glitches in this clip):

View more videos at: http://nbcsandiego.com.

Catch up on our Arts: Embedded look at this play:

In our first conversation with director Seema Sueko, she illuminated why she opens rehearsals to potential clashes of fiction and reality. Check out our account with photographs from when combat veterans came to rehearsal to help actors portray war more authentically. And read about Thursday’s first preview performance, which Sueko said was a much better experience than the dress rehearsal for an invited audience the night before.

How I Got That Story” began preview performances on Thursday and runs through March 18. Stay tuned for our coming dispatches.

I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

    This article relates to: Arts/Culture

    Written by Kelly Bennett

    Kelly Bennett is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. You can reach her directly at kelly@vosd.org.

    0 comments