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We had a fantastic Preview Performance last night! With a large enthusiastic crowd and focused/tight/exuberant performances all around. We were able to clean up many small issues in our final tech rehearsals and were more than ready for the injection of energy and adrenaline which a live audience can bring.
Official Opening Night is tonight and then we have two weekends of performances ahead of us. Please join us if you can.
I read something recently which I found quite inspiring. It said that one should devote oneself entirely to the work, without any concern for promoting oneself. This thought may seem obvious, but it warrants some serious consideration. You can’t help but bring yourself to your work, so there’s no need to emphasize the “self.” In fact, drawing focus to the self will always impede the work. If you truly focus on the work — on building a strong ensemble, on telling the story, on faithfully performing the music — and if you don’t allow yourself to get in the way of the work, then your personality and your talents will inevitably shine through and will augment the original work of the composer and lyricist in ever-evolving, constantly new, surprising, and exciting ways.
This doesn’t mean to hide within the work. But to truly make yourself — your body and your voice — an instrument which performs at it’s peak ability and with a sharply focused intent. Not just doing the bare minimum to get by, but constantly working to be more precise, more present, more focused, more relaxed, and more consistent.
A key phrase here is “don’t allow yourself to get in the way of the work.” There are so many ways we can get in the way. It begins in the rehearsal process. Not learning the material, not performing to your best ability, not allowing others to perform at their best, not attending rehearsals, not being fully focused and present when at rehearsals, bringing negative energy and/or distractions into the room — these are all lazy and selfish behaviors which lower the overall quality of the ensemble and which get in the way of the work.
We can also get in the way by focusing too intently on ourselves, and by not promoting a true ensemble performance. We blame others rather than pro-actively solving problems. We try too hard to keep ourselves in the spotlight or to stand out in a crowd, we are needy and demanding both offstage and on. We critique the work of others and talk down to our collaborators or, even worse, we make negative thoughts and opinions publicly known. These are all reckless and unkind behaviors which sabotage the integrity of the ensemble and which get in the way of the work.
Another way we can get in the way of the work is by not taking care of ourselves. A sick, hungry, tired, unhappy, or unhealthy performer simply cannot give a peak performance. We mustn’t allow our bad habits or poor judgement to bring down the work of the ensemble. We must take care of ourselves and make every effort to be at our very best.
In short, we should make certain that everything we do and everything we bring to the process promotes the work of the ensemble. At all costs, we must be sure we don’t get in the way of the work. We must be generous and patient with each other. We must take care of ourselves. And be hard on ourselves (but only in the most constructive of ways).
Speaking of “ensemble” here, allow me to point out something else which should be obvious. We are all in this together. But, while we are striving to achieve a unified and cohesive performance, we must all recognize that each of us will travel a unique and singular path to becoming performance ready. We all have our handicaps — physical, mental, situational. We all learn in different ways. And we all certainly learn at our own individual pace. For some people, music and/or choreography may come rather easily. They will need patience as others catch up. They will also need to know how to help when asked, but to back away when they may be intrusive or overbearing. For others, hard work and more time are needed to learn the material. They will need perseverance and diligence. They will also need to know when to ask for help, whom to ask for help, and when to buckle down and push themselves even harder. Still others will miss rehearsals, for whatever reason. They will have to devote themselves to catching up on missed material, and to being completely and fully present and focused when they are at rehearsals. And everyone must know that, whatever obstacles we may have faced individually, we must all be ready to perform at our best when that curtain rises on opening night, and at every performance thereafter.
We are loading into the theater today. And I’m looking forward to these final technical rehearsals before opening night!
It’s a busy time as we move ever closer to opening night.
Several cast and production team members, along with the full orchestra, are featured in a video segment which will air on UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Weekend” this coming Thursday. The show’s Julia Carpenter conducted several interviews and shot footage of a staging rehearsal as well as an orchestral rehearsal. That adds up to about 4 hours of footage which she’ll have to whittle down to four minutes. We’re looking forward to seeing the results.
And I’ve just seen the results of the publicity photo shoot from last week. Photographer Joe Cohn did a fantastic job, the actors were great, and the costumes look incredible. It was a tough decision to choose just a few photos from the 170 or so which were shot, but Producer Karen Guidry and I have chosen a few which we think convey the fun and the flair of our production. Featured in the photos are: Stuart Albert as Major General Stanley; Mary Elisabeth Hirsch as Mabel; Kenny Cruz as Frederic; Elizabeth A. Clark as Ruth; and Jim Burnette, Jr. as Pirate King.
Speaking of costumes, the photo shoot was my first glimpse of the fantastic work Costume Designer Diane Woodard has done on the the costumes. We’d agreed on some general concepts in early production meetings and have been in touch often to discuss new ideas and fabric selections. But finally seeing it all come together is a real thrill. The layers, and colors and textures are gorgeous; and each costume perfectly suits the character. I can’t wait to see the rest.
And, of course, we’ve been rehearsing. Stage Manager Donna Cavallo, Asst. Stage Manager Lyle Bass and Asst. Choreographer Pam Guidry-Vollers, along with Music Director Alan Riley Jones, led a rehearsal on Friday night which focused on cleaning up spacing issues and formations. Special thanks to Set Designer Richard Dideriksen for taping out the groundplan for the set in the rehearsal room. This was immensely helpful in fine-tuning the staging and making certain the blocking and choreography work on the set the way I’d envisioned. We had a great run-through of the entire show on Sunday afternoon. We did stop and start a bit to address remaining issues and to review material. But, overall, the production is in lovely shape. There are some persistant mistakes which need to be erased and a few unsolved problems to address, but we still have over a week of rehearsals, and we will put that time to good use. The fact that we are now polishing material and even adding new elements indicates that we are right where we need to be. We’ll keep working. And we’ll be ready to share our work with audiences March 14-24 at the Carolina Theater in downtown Durham.
We had a fantastic rehearsal tonight in a hot and sweaty (and loud) dance studio. We cleaned up the second half of Act II and focused on many nit-picky details. And we also had time to go back and clean up a special little section in Act I.
During the night we were reminded, once again, that the Director (that’s me) can certainly be wrong. I made inept corrections, gave incorrect advice, and contradicted myself on several occasions. But the facts came out in the end, so all is well. That’s why we have an Assistant Choreographer, a Stage Manager, and an Assistant Stage Manager. God bless Pam, Donna, and Lyle.
I’ll make no excuses. But I hope everyone present will agree that I was swift and apologetic with my admissions of error. We all make mistakes and we all miscommunicate. And that is why we rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. Only by grueling repetition can we know that we’re all on the same page and that we’re truly working in concert with each other. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong — at this stage of the game. But we’ve still got two weeks to resolve all issues and erase all doubts.
I said I would make no excuses, so please don’t take this as one. But the process of letting go of a production can be a bit baffling to a Director. As the cast takes the reins and makes the show their own, it becomes something other than what you might’ve imagined. And that is a glorious and miraculous thing! There are many, many moving parts. And as those parts become unified into a whole it’s easy to lose your grasp of the details. Errors and confusion, of course, stand out. But the new dynamic of an ensemble working tightly together can make you forget the little foibles and simply want to sit back and watch. When this appreciation of the “big picture” is interrupted with a specific question it’s not always easy to remember the answer. So I was wrong on several occasions. While not ashamed, I am apologetic to the hard-working and determined cast members. But more than anything, I’m thrilled with the progress we’ve made. And eager to sit back and watch again.