Right and Wrong

Someone posted a quote on social media recently….

“You don’t rehearse to get it right.  You rehearse so you can’t get it wrong” — or something to that effect.

I don’t know who said it, but I believe in the sentiment.  Initial rehearsals are indeed about getting it right.  But, as the process continues, rehearsals become more and more about eliminating the chances that you’ll accidentally get it wrong.  You have to drill everything repeatedly. The lines, the lyrics, the music, the movement….

In the beginning we rehearsed each of these separately.  Then we began putting them together.  It was difficult at first — remembering what you’re saying/singing, how you’re saying/singing it, and what your body is doing at the same time.  But then, after countless repetitions, it started to make sense.  To feel comfortable, even.

That’s when the fun begins!

When the words and movements have become so ingrained that they just flow naturally, you can move on to the next level of nuance and experimentation.  Once the framework is solidly in place you can start to play around in it.

For the past few weeks we’ve been in the process of playing.  We run-through an Act, or the entire show.  Then we’ll break it apart and address any remaining weaknesses and uncertainties.  Sometimes we throw an entire section out the window and re-work it altogether. But this is all done in the sense of play.  Having fun, making it better, pushing it further.

I’m a little sad that this process is now coming to an end.

Tonight will be our final full-cast run-through of the show in a rehearsal studio.  Then we’ll run the show with the understudies in the principal roles on Sunday — an especially fun and exciting way to end the rehearsal process!

Monday will be a first rehearsal with the orchestra.  And then we move into the theater.

The day we move into the theater is when I start to say goodbye to the cast.  They’ll know what they’re doing and they’ll have their systems in place. So, from my perspective, those final rehearsals will be about welcoming and guiding the technical crew as they join the process.

I’ll still watch run-throughs and I’ll still give notes.  But the bulk of my attention will shift to writing and re-writing lighting cues, giving costume notes, working out sound issues, coordinating with the front of house — all the things that simply can’t be done until we’re in the theater.

And then Opening Night will come and I will join the audience.  I’ll watch, laugh, applaud — and possibly still give a small note or two.  But, for the most part, I’ll be watching so many things go right because we will have eliminated the possibility of them going wrong.

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Movement and Meaning

Last night, before the production meeting, I checked in on a choreography rehearsal in the dance studio — where a select quartet of dancers were reviewing what we call the “Rose Ballet.” This is one of the few pieces of choreography I’ve retained from our 2004 production of “Ruddigore.”

A little context…

The character Mad Margaret sings a haunting ballad in Act I about lost love, neglect, and missed chances.  In true Gilbert and Sullivan brilliance, her ballad comes right after she’s been presented as a humorous, two-dimensional charicature of insanity.  Basically the authors are saying “look and laugh at this unkempt crazy woman” and then “now look closer and maybe care a little.”

In a standard reading of the poetic lyrics of the ballad, the message would be that there are two types of women — those men want and those men don’t want, or even notice.  The wanted women (the Roses) are confident and happy while the unnoticed women (Violets hidden in a bed of nettles) are disregarded and trampled underfoot.  A Victorian version of the power of the male gaze.

Fourteen years ago, I choreographed a quartet — the “Rose Ballet” — to accompany Mad Margaret’s ballad.  I wanted it to be lyrical, dreamlike, melancholy, wistful….  Beautiful, confident Roses dancing around a neglected and lost Violet.

I liked the choreography then, and I still like it now.  But it is interesting to revisit the movement from a different perspective all these years later.

Originally, I built the piece around the idea of a rose garden throughout the year. Hibernating, budding, blooming, and petals falling.  The gestures cycle through these concepts repeatedly.

As I watched the dancers reheasing last night, I realized I’d never told them the story.  “Here is where you are resting.”  “Here is where you are budding.”  “Here is where you are blooming.” “Here is where your petals fall.”

It helps when movement has meaning.

It was all well and good until I heard myself saying, “Here is where you remember a friend who was picked.” And “Here is where you are picked.”

I’ve been haunted by that phrase ever since.  “Here is where you are picked.”

Harvested.

I’d never fully considered the plight of the Roses.  Confined to a garden built by and for the pleasure of the gardener, they don’t exist for their own pleasure. They are manipulated, pruned, and encouraged to produce one result.  At which point they are harvested to be displayed and then thrown away at the first sign of fading.

The movements took on new meaning.  Resilience, shame, determination, bondage, strength, oppression, renewal.

The story of the Roses is now just as sad and compelling to me as the story of the neglected Violet.

 

 

 

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Nuts and Bolts

Tonight was our monthly production meeting.

This is when designers, technicians, producers, promoters, etc. all get together to discuss what everyone is doing, problems which need to be addressed, and to outline plans to smoothly move us toward Opening Night!

As much as I talk about what goes on in rehearsals, there’s equally as much going on in the warehouse, in living rooms, in offices, and in various other locales around the area.

The set crew has been meeting on Saturdays for some time now.  They’ve constructed and painted platforms, stairs, railings, backdrops, and the oh-so-exciting wall of portraits!

Likewise, the properties crew has been attending rehearsals, taking notes, and locating or constructing every item the actors will touch onstage. Books, baskets, hand trucks, feather dusters, backpacks, bouquets.  The list goes on and on.

Meanwhile, the costume crew has created sketches, taken measurements, sourced fabrics, scoured thrift shops, had initial fittings, and made alterations — creating just the right looks for three choruses, and 9 princpal actors. We’ve got a large cast — that’s a lot of clothing!

The publicity crew has been focused on creating and distributing promotional materials such as photographs, posters, postcards, press releases, ticket give-aways, etc.  There are a lot of seats in the Carolina Theater and we want to get as many butts in them as we can!

Hair and make-up has created make-up designs, styled wigs, sewn veils and headdresses, purchased masks — everything needed to make our cast look hauntingly beautiful.

Lighting Designs are being plotted, and cued; and readied to be hung, focused, and programmed as quickly as possible.  We have only two fleeting rehearsals in the theater before we welcome our first audience.  And you can’t actually light a show until it’s actually on the stage.

The producers have read all the fine print, managed the budget, signed the contracts, made the deals, haggled the haggles, juggled the schedules and the personalities; and who knows what else?

Hats off to all these hard workin’ folks — many of whom wear multiple hats!

*****

I’ve talked a lot in the past about how the process of making theater is the process of turning dreams into reality.  In the initial stages of any production, everything is a fuzzy fantasy of absolute perfection.  The details aren’t worked out and you’re not quite sure how you’ll make it happen.  But it’s a dream worth shooting for.

Then you start building the thing.  And you get splinters, and cuts, and bruises. Exhaustion takes you by surprise.  You hit dead ends and you are forced to re-invent the wheel at times.  But you keep going.  And you make the thing.

And the thing is never exactly the fuzzy perfection you might’ve dreamed of — because fuzzy perfection simply can’t exist in the real world.  And, besides, you’ve gained focus in the process of building it.  Now it is a brand new thing.  It’s a focused and functioning thing.

It’s a real thing —  which is it’s own special kind of perfection.

 

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Nuance and Re-interpretation

Tonight I focused on scenes and songs with a small group of principal actors.

We re-addressed the fine character work we’ve done so far and looked for opportunities to further explore nuances within scenes and re-interpretations of the text.

In one scene we explored what happens when bashful meets shy.  In another we looked at the clash of unrestrained brazenness with polite decorum.

What happens when you play the subtext? What happens when you re-interpret the text so the victim is in control?  What happens when the predator unexpectedly becomes the prey?

Throughout the rehearsal we focused a good deal of attention on timing, pace, listening, and control.

What happens when you emphasize one repeated word? What happens when you pause in the just the right place and for just the right amount of time?  What happens when you time your actions to someone else’s dialogue?

We then looked at how this detailed work would inform the performance of the songs which followed the scenes.  It was amazing to see how a simple re-interpretation of intent could make the same choreography and vocal delivery so much more compelling.

Of course, this did lead to some altering of the previously staged movements.  But surprisingly few changes were made.  And these smallest of tweaks gave a profound clarity to the story being told.

It was a fun and fulfilling exercise; and I think you’ll thoroughly enjoy seeing the actors reveal the discoveries we’ve made!

 

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Fits and Starts

People ask me how rehearsals for “Ruddigore” are going.  And I say, “We’re at that stage in the process.”

Most theater folks know immediately what I mean.  For others I go a bit further….

Every production comes to life in fits and starts.  Some aspects go smoothly while others struggle to gain footing.  And then, what was going well may suddenly relapse while weak spots become strong ones.

It’s the nature of the beast.

As with any collaboration, each of the players will take turns leading and following; offering assistance and asking for help; succeeding and failing.  The struggle constantly fluctuates between victory and defeat but — as long as we all share the same final vision — we will get there in the end.

So, what am I really saying here?

I’m saying that some actors have their lines down and others are still struggling.  Blocking and choreography are set and notated, but don’t necessarily flow naturally.  Some cast members are still having to nudge or prod other cast members to remind them of when they need to move and where they need to go.  Harmonies and musical cues may be solid one day but then may fall apart a bit the next.

Directors work by fits and starts as well by the way.  I’m still seeing mistakes I’ve made, mis-directions I’ve given, and opportunities I’ve yet to explore.

What we have here is a large group of unique individuals each working towards the same goal.  Each of us works in our own way, at our own pace, with our own handicaps and/or advantages.  And with the same daunting deadline of Opening Night.

Lucky for us: Opening Night is still over three weeks away.

Some of us will be ready tomorrow. Some were ready last week.  Some still need more time and attention.

This has been the case with every single theatrical production I’ve ever worked on.  And it’s one of the many reasons I am constantly in awe of the down and dirty magic of live performance.

Confidence, focus, and talent balanced with patience, guidance, and hard work.

We’re getting there by fits and starts.  And we will be ready for you on Opening Night.

I guarantee!

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Revisiting a Favorite

We open “Ruddigore” one month from tonight with a special Pay-What-You-Can Preview Performance on Thursday, April 12.  Performances continue April 13 and 14 and we close with a matinee on Sunday, April 15.

All this work, and it will be gone before we know it!

I’m both excited and nervous.

“Ruddigore” was the second Gilbert and Sullivan operetta I directed; and now — lo these fourteen years later — it remains my favorite.  Since then I have directed and choreographed the entire G&S canon.  I’ve enjoyed each production in its own way, but there will always be a special place in my heart for “Ruddigore.” I loved the production we created in 2003.  It was lively, inventive, irreverent, and more fun than you can imagine.  Something about it struck me.  And something about it has stuck with me.

While I’m hoping to recreate some of the free-wheeling fun of that production, you must know that with live theater there is no such thing as a carbon copy.  And I wouldn’t want there to be!

That’s the beauty of theater.  No matter how old the script may be, no matter how many times it’s been performed, every performance is a complete original.  And every new production reflects the time and culture in which it was created.

“Ruddigore” 2018 is no exception.

We have a completely different cast of actors in the principal roles; and each of them brings their own unique interpretations of their characters.

We have new designers who are creating new versions of the set, costumes, properties, and lighting design.

We even have a new conductor!  Please join us as we welcome Jackson Cooper to his debut performance at the Carolina Theater!

And it’s a new world.

We aren’t the same people we were in 2004.  Not as individuals, not as a community, not as a nation, not as a world. A lot has changed. And the art we make must naturally change as well.

It’s been an interesting process — re-mounting this beloved show.  In each rehearsal I remember how we did it before; and I look for the essence of that old love I feel.  What about it made it work?  What has held up over time? What is there that we can hold onto?  And what is there that needs to be re-invented or let go completely?

This process has also led me to remember who I was back then.  What was I trying to say?  What was I trying to prove?  And the same editing process comes into play.  What of the old me can I hold onto?  What has held up over time? What can I re-invent?  And what can I let go?

This post suddenly got a little serious and introspective didn’t it?  But self-reflection is a good thing.  And it should be a part of every creative process.  Why do we do what we do?  How do we do what we do? And always: What are we trying to say?

That said.  Please know that “Ruddigore” is a fun, delightful, effervescent hoot of a show.  With some pretty darn gorgeous music to boot!  You will have a good time.  And you may do some self-reflecting yourself.

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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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