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.
Let me be clear – our Comedy of Errors cast is incredible. This is an awesome group to work with, and I can’t wait to add in the circus artists!
It’s the casting process that is always my least favorite part of directing. Why? I’m glad I asked for you.
As one of our compatriots recently posted, casting is not about who’s better than who. It’s about finding the right fit. As a director you have ideas about who the characters are, what their personalities are like, and maybe even what they look like.
There are three things that inevitably happen in casting, in my experience:
- At least one role, sometime several, have a ton of actors/actresses who would be perfect. Frustrating, because there are not enough roles.
- At least one other role, sometimes several, do not seem to have any “fits” with what is in my head. Not as frustrating, but it does require a shift in thinking and imagining the character differently from the first vision.
- There are always several roles that have perfect fits and the actors asked want to do the roles – however, they’re in another show, out of town that weekend, etc. This one is the most frustrating!
Another thing I don’t like about casting is that I always feel like I’m in Jerry McGuire – wheeling, dealing, trying to coordinate with dozens of people and get just the right team put together. It’s just not something I feel great with.
However, there is another truth that I experience every time once casting is complete – I always end up with the cast I needed.
It’s so true. For all the heartache I put myself through in this process, in the end we have exactly the right cast in place, every time.
This time is no different. Although we are still short one Antipholus…
Artists who deal in collaborative arts are well-acquainted with complications. “That which can go wrong, will.”
The Beatles and Pink Floyd had their fall-outs, which tore apart their bands. Francis Ford Coppola had a well-documented meltdown on the sprawling set of Apocalypse Now (captured in gut wrenching detail in Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse), and Terry Gilliam is still working on his star-crossed Don Quixote picture (documented in Lost in La Mancha). And then there’s Julie Taymor’s Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark – the biggest Broadway budget-buster ever – which could just turn out to be the biggest flop in theatre history.
Picasso had it easy.
The artistic vision of a play or film ultimately comes from the director. Sure, the original vision is the writer’s, but writers know they have to let go of a script at some point and let someone else either complete their dream, or mangle it entirely. The actors and production designers all bring elements of their own into the picture, but the director is the one who makes the final call on every aspect of a production. As long as the producer says it’s okay.
I love the image of the frazzled director who is beset on all sides by his own production when nothing seems to go right. I say that having been there, although more in the producer’s seat. It can make you want to repeatedly want to smack yourself with a cinder block. And while sometimes Murphy’s Law can seem its worst on film and stage productions, there is one important thing for a frustrated director to remember:
It’s just art.
Don’t get me wrong – I live for art, but it’s still just art. No one is actually dying, just pretending to.
One of my favorite instances of production gone-awry from Bare Theatre’ catalog was when we did The Crucible several years ago. This was back when we were big on using the entrance doors that went directly outside from the stage. Actors were constantly running around the building to enter and exit from different locations. The costumer (who does excellent work and I respect him tremendously) announced when costumes arrived the week of tech rehearsals that several of the period garments could not be washed or even get wet, or they would be ruined.
We opened the show the weekend Hurricane Ernesto made landfall in North Carolina.
In order to not get the costumes wet (and avoid trying to re-block the show days before opening), we set up two canopies over the two outside stage entrances, and prayed that the heavy winds would not carry them off. Heather and I ran around outside in the wind and rain, chasing after actors and holding umbrellas over them until they could get to the canopies.
There are many stories of production issues, and I have become so used to them at this point that they are just funny when they happen. So it was when we found out one of our two venues for Much Ado About Nothing – a newly renovated center for the arts – may have sound issues with the adjacent concert hall, which was booked with large concerts the same time Much Ado runs. Not only that, but there are no stage lights in the space nor will there be at that time…so we would have to rent all the lighting.
Let me be absolutely clear that I do not blame the folks who are managing the center and its renovations. They are working overtime to make the building a success, and they are very passionate about cultivating the arts. These things happen. Just like with a production.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and you don’t know what’s around the corner. This happens everywhere else in life, too. Business, family, relationships – things go wrong left and right and we are not prepared for many of them, despite the best planning. Plus it’s way too early to start freaking out.
I will say though that the chain reaction that can ensue from complications can get a little…uh…”interesting.” How do you cast a show when you don’t know where (and when) it will be? How can your actors commit to a schedule that doesn’t exist? Will we be in a new space the week before our other venue or the week after? How do you tell your actors who’s in the cast before you know?
The answer is, you do the best you can. And trust that the show will go on.