We had our first production meeting last night. This is where the directors and producers meet with the designers and technicians to lay the groundwork for all the artistic and technical work which lies ahead. I discussed the production concept; the designers made their presentations; we addressed challenges and unresolved problems; and we had a great roundtable discussion ranging from creative suggestions to nuts-and-bolts technical issues.
I’m happy to report that there is incredible work going on in all areas. Richard’s set design is fantastical, inventive and beautiful; Karen’s costume sketches are simultaneously classic and other-worldly; and the possibilities for lighting, make-up and props design are fun and exciting. There will be many more technical/design meetings to come, but it’s great to get things started with a creative exchange between all the folks involved in the behind-the-scenes aspects of putting it together.
I’ve talked before about this process of moving from fantasy toward reality. When I talk to actors and production staff during design meetings and rehearsals, I will often use the phrase “In real life,” or “In the real world.” By that I mean when all is said and done and our production is in front of a living breathing audience. This choice of phrase seems odd at first, because people think live theater is all about imagination and escape. But designing/rehearsing is where the real imagination lies. We look at lines on paper and imagine sets or costumes. We move about in fluorescent lighting amid tape marks on carpet and imagine we are on a fully realized set. And, more importantly than anything else, everything in these early stages is mutable. We can make drastic changes at this point with the stroke of a pen, or with the most casual of remarks. But every day as we move forward our ability to make changes lessens. We make choices and we make plans, and every day we decide which of those will move forward with us and become manifest for that live performance.
It’s a long process — frightening, exhausting, invigorating.
I begin by reading the script and listening to the score. Images and ideas come fast and furiously (or sometimes not at all for a while) and, initially, everything is a jumble and anything is possible. I’ll contact Alan with musical questions and to get his opinion of my initial thoughts. Then, with a rough focus of concept in place, I’ll prepare a statement for the designers. It’s good to give this to them several weeks in advance of our first production meeting so they’ll have ample time to go through their own creative/interpretive process. Then, the really fun part. The designers come back to me with rough sketches of how they see the production. Of course, I’ve had visual ideas of my own. But there is something magical about seeing another person’s creative take on the concept. Discussions continue. But at this point the focus has sharpened. Some possibilities have been eliminated and others are targeted and waiting to be explored. The most important thing is that now it isn’t my vision. It is ours. Other artists have accepted my general direction and, in their own way, made it their own. And, with this re-tooled and renewed collective vision, we move forward and closer to the reality of this production existing on the stage for it’s brief run.
A word on theatrical collaboration…. the gathering of artists to create a bit of magic onstage. Invariably, I’m surprised by each artist’s individuality, creativeness, and generosity. Just as I’m sure Gilbert and Sullivan would be if they could see us today. To me, that is the brilliance of theatrical collaboration: each artist — composer, librettist, conductor, director, choreographer, designer, technician, singer, dancer, actor — grabs ahold of what he or she is given and lovingly reinvents it. Our job is not to mimic nor to reproduce. Neither is it to rip apart nor to disrespect. But to be inspired and to re-create. Remaining true to the work which has gone before, but forever pushing it forward. Keeping it vibrant, vital, effervescent, and alive.