It’s Showtime!

A sneak peak at some of the notes I sent to our two casts before public performances begin…..

 

“Trial by Jury”

I’m gonna be honest with you. I’ve never directed this show before. I’ve never even seen another production of it. So I really have very little idea of what people might be expecting when they come to see this cherished little G&S chestnut.

What I do know is that you have a delightful show in your possession. It sounds gorgeous. It has visual variety. It has lovely individual character work. And it has solid, finely nuanced ensemble work. It is a gift for your audiences which you must lovingly unwrap with every performance.

“Thespis”

What an honor it has been to work on this rare diamond! Alan’s original score is stunningly brilliant; and we are all lucky, lucky people to be able to have any part whatsoever in bringing it to life on the stage for the very first time.

Unlike “Trial” which — delightful as it is — may be a well-known entity to many, “Thespis” will be a brand new adventure for our audiences. They won’t know what they’re in for as the house lights dim and the overture begins.

It will be an exciting new adventure — like I said last night, “Buckle Up Buttercups!”

 

Public Performances begin tonight and end with this Sunday’s matinee.

Get your tickets here!

 

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Buckle Up Buttercup!

We’re blazing through tech rehearsals while you’re still deciding which performance to attend!  (Our 24 part orchestra is sublime, by the way!)

Only Four Performances! This Thursday through Sunday.

Get your tickets here!

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What We Do For Love

Tech week can be difficult.  A lot can go wrong, and it can be easy to lose sight of just how very much has gone right.

Tonight’s first tech rehearsal was rife with mishaps and technical difficulties, but also rich with the culmination of many, many weeks of hard work.  The set came together beautifully.  Staging is working out as planned.  And both shows are in really good shape.

But we’ve still got some problems to solve and lots of hard work to do before opening night — and beyond.

With that in mind, I just sent the following note to our cast and crew….

 

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.

Look at me — sending you a Bible verse during tech week!!

Let’s take a moment to remember that we’re all here because we love what we do. Every single person you encounter onstage, backstage, in the wings, in the booth, in the pit, and in the audience is here for love. Gilbert and Sullivan did it for love 146 years ago and, miracle of miracles, we’re still here; and still in love.

We must love it. Why else would we do it?

A character in the play I was just in spoke a resounding truth: “Love is always harder.”

It takes work to love. Hard work.

I encourage you to let the love for your craft push you to work ever more diligently toward perfection. Let the love drive you forward. In every note you sing, every line you speak, every step you take. Love the craft, love the hard work you’ve done, and love the moment you’re in.

And I encourage you to also let that love color every interaction you have with each other onstage and off. “Love is patient, love is kind… It always protects. always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

We are lucky, lucky people. And we have a long, yet fleeting week ahead of us. Work your asses off and love every moment of it.

“Love never fails.”

Get your tickets here!

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Sometimes More is More

A word of advice to actors everywhere:  learn your lines, lyrics, blocking, and choreography as quickly as possible — so the real work can begin.

The goal isn’t just to be ready for opening night, but to be prepared far enough in advance to allow time for working, re-working, tweaking, and re-discovering everything many times over before you share it with an audience.

Because the first choice isn’t always the best one.  And the director’s original vision might’ve been all wrong.  Or perhaps just not completely right.

In the course of running through both “Trial by Jury” and “Thespis” this week, a little section of “Thespis” has been persistently bugging me.  Earlier, I’d chalked it up to actors learning lines and staging, since that phase of rehearsal can always seem a bit tentative.

But, now the actors have their lines down and it still hasn’t felt quite right. Every night I’d watch it and it would bug me and I’d mull it over.  And then we’d run it again the next night.

Everything was working fine as it was.  All the actors were saying and doing what they should.  But something was missing.  The whole section just felt flat.

Then it hit me that it needed another layer.  There was just too little going on.

So last night I brought the chorus of Olympian gods onstage to join the scene.  And suddenly what had been abstract became beautifully specific!

Diana and Apollo bemoan the aged state of the gods — and now the gods are there to moan with them.

Mercury complains of being overworked by the gods — and now the gods are there to take umbrage at his claims.

Mercury lists off the items he’s brought back from Earth — and now the gods are there to fight over the spoils.

What had been wistful, unfocused and a bit sleepy is now entertainingly enlivened with a pointed, bickering energy.  It’s fun!  And it’s just what we needed.

The original blocking and delivery for Diana, Apollo, and Mercury have remained exactly the same — but now it’s underscored by a chorus of Olympian gods.

And who wouldn’t want to be underscored by a chorus of Olympian gods?

Get your tickets here!

 

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The World is a Stage, The Stage is a World — of Entertainment

Tonight we had complete run-throughs of both “Trial by Jury” and “Thespis. Both went very well! But we’ve still got some rehearsing to do.

Our main focus with “Trial by Jury” is perfecting ensemble unity.  The chorus basically functions as one character and truly needs to act as a unified whole.  Timing and coordination are key.  And repetition is really the only way to get there.

As we continue to refine performances in “Thespis,” we’re focusing on sustaining energy, vocal support, and an ever-evolving performance style.  “Thespis” is written somewhat like a vaudeville show, with a widely varied cast of characters performing in a range of different styles.  So it’s a bit of a three-ring circus, cavalcade of entertainment. Each shift in style needs to be clear and strong; and executed with an effortless grace that only repetition and rehearsal can bring.

So we’ll run both shows again tomorrow.  And tomorrow, and tomorrow….

We have another run-through Friday night; orchestra rehearsal Saturday; sitzprobe on Sunday; and then we load into the theater on Monday.

We’ll have technical rehearsals on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and will be ready for our first performance on Thursday.

Tickets!!

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Catching up on a Once-in-a-Lifetime Event

So, I’ve been a bad blogger.

Since my last Director’s post in the spring, we at the Durham Savoyards, Ltd. have had auditions; we’ve cast both “Trial by Jury” and “Thespis”; we’ve had countless production team meetings; and we’ve been in rehearsals for weeks and weeks.

Both shows are now completely staged and choreographed, and we’re currently in the process of fine-tuning for our one weekend of performances: October 12-15 (right around the corner!).

Last night I added some final bits of choreography; and tonight we focused on character study and scenework in “Thespis”.  Lovely, nuanced work all around!

Thursday and Friday of this week will be spent on run-throughs of both shows as we prepare to move into the theater for tech rehearsals next week.

As we make these final preparations for performance, the one thing I want to tell you above all else is that Alan Riley Jones’ original score for “Thespis” is absolutely brilliant!  I have to continuously remind myself that we’re working on the world premiere of a brand new score and not a Sullivan original.  Seriously folks, it’s that good.

In case you’re not aware of the situation here….  “Thespis” was Gilbert and Sullivan’s very first collaboration — well before they were known as “Gilbert and Sullivan.”  It was created as a Christmas-time production and not expected to live beyond its initial run.  So no one thought to save all the paperwork.  The libretto (Gilbert’s words) remain, but the score (Sullivan’s music) has been largely lost to history.

Our long-time music director Alan Riley Jones has devoted the better part of a decade to composing and orchestrating an original score in the style of Sullivan — and he has done a bang-up job of it!

In addition to Alan’s original compositions, you may recognize the few bits of Sullivan’s music which did survive: “Climbing Over Rocky Mountains,” which was later used in “Pirates of Penzance;” “Little Maid of Arcadee,” which was a popular hit back in the day; and “The Sun Whose Rays” from “The Mikado,” which we’ve inserted as an interlude because it just seemed right.

We can only offer four performances of this sparkling musical masterpiece.  October 12, 13, 14 and 15.  You don’t want to miss it!

Tickets

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The Fine Art of Focus

I talk a lot about “focus” when directing a Gilbert and Sullivan production — or any live theater, for that matter.

Theater is completely different from film or television.  When a story is unfolding on a screen you certainly see the actors’ work — but only the bits of it that the director and editor want you to see.  There are wide shots and close-ups; and all sorts of other ways to guide the audience’s attention.

In theater, the audience has the option to look at whatever they want whenever they want.  That’s why we have to use all the tricks at our disposal to guide their focus.

Lighting is a big help.  Specials and follow spots are great ways to tell the audience where to focus their attention.

Staging is also a good tool. The actor who is downstage center, or on the highest level of the set, is generally the one you should be watching.

But most of the work of directing the audience’s attention falls squarely on the shoulders of the actors.  And it can be a mighty difficult job when upwards of forty people are on the stage.

I like to tell the cast they always have the option of pulling focus, throwing focus, or stealing focus. No matter what, when you’re onstage you’re doing one of these three things.

Pulling focus is perhaps the easiest.  Step forward, raise your hand, make a sound — any of these will draw the audience’s attention.  The key here is that only one actor, or one cohesive group of actors, can effectively pull focus at a time.

Throwing focus is often the simple act of not pulling focus.  Looking at the actor who is pulling focus will help to throw the audience’s attention to that actor.  And sometimes just being still and silent — actively not pulling focus — will suffice.

Stealing focus is the bane of the stage.

Stealing focus is essentially pulling focus when you shouldn’t.  If you’re pulling focus to yourself at the wrong time, you’re stealing it from another actor.

Overzealous reactions can steal focus.  Erratic movements can steal focus. Self-involvement can steal focus.

If there’s an actor delivering a monolgue while thirty chorus members watch, and someone upstage left decides it’s time to scratch her ear, or brush the hair out of his eyes, or shift position to get a better view of the action, or whisper something to a castmate — that person is stealing focus.

Mistakes also steal focus.  Sadly, an actor who doesn’t correctly execute otherwise unified stage movement or choreography is stealing focus.  Even going up on your lines can steal focus — anything that makes the audience think of the actor rather than the character. It’s an accidental and unintentional steal, but it’s stealing nontheless.

Why am I taking the time to write about pulling, throwing and stealing focus?  Especially when we’ve just closed a show?

Because my own skills in this area are about to be put to the test.

I’m currently rehearsing to perform in a production in which my character is onstage for the entire show.  He enters at the beginning and, while other actors come and go, he never exits.  But he’s not the star by any means.  While he is featured in some scenes, he is merely in the periphery of others — not gone, but not actively participating.

He also doesn’t necessarily “see” nor react to the scenes he’s not in.

So I’m currently exploring the fine art of Not Stealing Focus.

I can’t fall asleep.  I can’t scratch an itch.  I can’t sneeze.  I can’t take a drink of water. I can’t yawn.  I can’t laugh at a funny moment onstage.  These all seem like simple enough objectives, but any one of these actions would certainly steal focus.

What’s more, some audience members will undoubtedly look at me while I’m on the periphery.  So I can never relax.  I’ll have to be at least mildly interesting so they don’t wonder why that lifless lump is sitting over there.  But I’ve got to be unintersting enough for them to quickly forget about me and focus their attention back on the play.

My objective is not to be frozen, but suspended in a state of quiet stillness.

Of course I also have to be attentive and ready to strongly pull focus when the time comes.

I give my Durham Savoyards cast a hard time about controlling focus onstage.  I’m always calling individual actors out for stealing focus; and suggesting ways to be gently active and interesting while throwing focus where it needs to be.

So I’m especially grateful for this opportunity to practice what I preach.

The show is “Marjorie Prime” by Jordan Harrison;  Running April 27 through May 13 at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham.

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