THIS. This is why I can’t get any sleep.
No, not the photo. It’s the month or two before a show opens up. The first few weeks aren’t so rough, things seem to go very well and very easy. Everything is clicking along. There’s always that honeymoon period where it seems like the show will go off without a hitch.
Then you get to that hump. It’s usually around the time of getting everyone off script. I dread this from the actor’s perspective – I hate learning lines and I’m terrible at it. Blocking does not stay in my head. So I feel their pain when it’s time to put the book down, but it has to happen.
I get frustrated for them just as I get frustrated myself when I have to get off book. As director I start to feel it pile up because there’s twenty people trying to remember their lines and their blocking, and did we add them to that scene? The pace of rehearsals slows. We simply can’t get through as much as when everyone was reading from their scripts. Only now they have to start grabbing each other, smacking each other, and fighting with weapons.
It’s at this point in the process that Time turns against us. Rehearsals fly by, and sometimes we don’t get as far as I’d like. Sometimes we don’t get to people’s scenes, and they wonder why they were called that night. With an outdoor show that rehearses outdoors, you lose time when you have to go inside – your building closes a half hour before your outdoor rehearsal would have.
All of that is normal. This time, we’re adding Circus to the mix.
Don’t get me wrong – I live for rehearsal. Rehearsal is therapy. Rehearsal is social time. Rehearsal is time for honesty with people who won’t judge. Rehearsal is tradition, it’s ritual, it’s sacrifice (of time and energy), and it cleanses the soul. I am fully aware of how pompous all of that sounds, but it’s true.
Even during the rough period of getting off book, rehearsal makes me feel whole because I can see the final piece coming together. Whether it’s by small steps or big steps on a given night, there is always some progress toward showtime.
So even with a thousand details and things I want to work with 20-some actors, I live for it. But I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about it. Planning, strategizing, trying to figure out how weather works and if I can predict it or not. Trying to figure out what certain actors understand and what other don’t based on different backgrounds and experiences. Trying to remember to email someone about tiny hats, or flags, or what is that shirt made out of, or when can we work that one fight scene?
Last night I really couldn’t sleep because the Circus was coming.
I have to admit that knowing that we would have our first rehearsal actually working circus artists into scenes kept me up. They have a different process. They train alone or with tight partnered units usually. They’re not used to a long rehearsal process because they’re always performing and training. Would they have patience for our process? Would they understand what the hell we were saying? Would they think it was funny? Would they be bored? Would they care?
Would it be distracting to have people performing circus stunts onstage while actors are performing the play?
It was the not knowing. The first-timedness of it all. The part that excited me so much about undertaking Errors, and the part that I’ve secretly feared this whole time. We built it up quite a bit, after all! We’ve almost raised $3,000 in two weeks. If this didn’t work, where would we be?
Tonight we got our first glimpse. We got to run a full scene with a snake dancer, a poi spinner, and a fan-dancing bearded lady. And it exceeded my expectations massively. We got to talk with aerialists and plan, and imagine.
I now know that it will work.
Circus actually adds to the comedy and the story. The concept crystalizes. Ideas that the actors and I would not have had presented themselves easily once circus artists took the stage with us.
The fear is now entirely gone. But now I’m going to lose sleep because of all the new ideas that are presenting themselves.
We are constantly looking for and inviting people to join the ride that is Bare Theatre.
It’s been quite a ride. In the last seven years, we’ve performed 15 of Shakespeare’s plays, four collections of one-acts, and 2 SPARKcons. We’ve performed in at least eight different venues around the Triangle, in Durham, Raleigh, Cary and Holly Springs. We’ve performed outdoors, in an art gallery, and in an original slave quarters cabin. There has been a lot of stage blood and no less than two inflatable, um…creatures.
This past year, we took a break from Shakespeare, which we used to perform almost exclusively. I think this was necessary – it was time to get out of what was becoming a comfort zone. That’s not to say we had mastered his work by any means, but we were getting very familiar with it and in such cases it can be easy to form habits.
We embarked on a series of projects that took us from Christopher Durang to Eugene Ionesco, from “Hot Greek Porn” to “Hitler Youth Knife.” We also delved into the Works Progress Administration’s Slave Narrative Project with Let Them Be Heard – a project for that appears to just now be beginning (more on that to come)!
These have been incredible experiences that had us exploring clowning in the streets of downtown Raleigh and digging down deep into the roots of racism in America. I know I personally have learned a lot about theatre, and audiences, and about putting on a show in general.
This year, we want to go big.
For our return to the works of Master Shakespeare, we will be performing two comedies that Bare Theatre has not done before. The first – coming this May – is The Comedy of Errors, an early screwball comedy of mistaken identities. The second – slated for September – will be As You Like It, an epic love romp through the forest of Arden.
For these two shows, we knew we wanted to experiment with a different venue and we wanted somewhere in Raleigh, where most of us live. We had an incredible time doing The Winter’s Tale at Sertoma Amphitheater in Bond Park a few years back, and it seemed like booking shows in Spring and Fall would be great times for outdoor theatre.
And we’ve wanted to perform at Raleigh Little Theatre’s Stephenson Amphitheatre for a while, too – ever since a group of folks who would later form much of the core of Bare Theatre performed As You Like It on that very stage in 2005.
This is a big venue. Research tells us this place holds somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 audience members – a far cry from the intimate black box of Common Ground Theatre, a space we love and call home. The stone walls and raked wooden stage are perfect for Shakespeare but the question becomes, how do we fill it?
Collaboration is the answer we came up with. Many months ago I conceived Errors as a circus show, but I knew that to really pull it off we would need actual jugglers, hoop dancers, acrobats, and the like. Luckily, sharing the streets of SPARKcon with circus artists has introduced us to the amazing talent involved with Cirque de Vol Studios. Enter Sara Phoenix and the crew at Cirque de Vol.
How to fill a huge stage? Take an already big cast and add circus. We’re now exploring having a silk aerial rig onstage, as well as lyra and possibly a slack rope. Throw in a few fireballs. Make the city of Ephesus, the sole location of Errors, a circus town with a marketplace filled with tricks, stunts and artistry.
This is an ambitious project. Certainly it’s the biggest show I’ve ever attempted. I already need to thank Sara and Cirque de Vol as well as Charles Phaneuf and Raleigh Little Theatre. Without their help this wouldn’t be happening.
It is happening, and it’s going to be one crazy show. Stay tuned!