Saturday, May 22, 2010

v2, d74: Leaving Wonderland

Well, my show closed today. I got to house manage for the final performance, which had a disappointingly small but encouragingly enthusiastic crowd of forty-five. Now, I spent the next eight or so months or so analyzing, rethinking, re-staging in my mind to see what things I could have done differently, what things I could have done better, which scenes I should have trimmed a bit more (since I had the playwright's permission), what worked, what didn't, good moments in rehearsal, things I should have tried differently. This'll continue until I get closer to whatever the next directing project is going to be, and hopefully it'll all help make the next project better.

At the beginning of the run, one of my coworkers asked if I was going to be "that" director, the one who watches every single performance and keeps his actors nervous, giving notes through the entire run. Well, no, not exactly. I did watch a LOT of performances, but that's because I think you can learn so much about your work from seeing it play repeatedly for a number of different audiences. I think I picked up something new about my work from just about every crowd I observed.

In a lot of ways, this was a fairly difficult show for me to do. It's the first full-scale show I directed that I didn't also write. It's the first musical I've had to direct. It was also sort of an awkward script, and we had to work in a lot of cases in order to make it nice and tight when the writing was drawn out, superfluous, and largely directionless. Also, the story itself is a challenge. It's more episodic than linear, and no one scene really lead into the next at any point in the story. It wasn't really until the second week of rehearsals that I was convinced I was going to be able to do a good job with it. Then, I had actors getting sick and missing rehearsals or sudden calls from the boss to sit in a meeting during rehearsal time. Challenges!

Overall, I'm very pleased with what we ended up with. I felt like everybody gave it their 100% from the first rehearsal, and nobody used any of the challenges listed above as an excuse for a subpar scene or performance. As an ensemble, we acknowledged our obstacles and worked at them until they worked. Were I to start the process anew, there are definitely things I would try differently. If that weren't the case, then I think I'd probably have to consider this project a failure, because it would mean I hadn't learned anything. But I'm not ashamed with the way we did anything. My goal was to make sure every rehearsal was a step forward, and I believe we accomplished that.

Here are some fun facts:

--The choreography, which I was only barely involved with, was wonderful. It was innovative, it was story-driven, and it utilized each of the actors' strengths as a "mover." There were a few numbers that, as Leah and I would review them before teaching them to the actors, I thought would be too much for our cast to handle, but they always had it down within the first rehearsal they learned each dance. Well, except for one. The one dance that was the hardest for us to get right? "Touch Your Toes." The words are "Touch your toes/Touch your nose/Pat your neighbor's shoulder/Pretend you're warm/Very warm/Now pretend you're colder." Etc. We spent more time reviewing Touch Your Toes than any other number in the show. Strange! But true!

--My favorite rehearsal? We were discussing the Mad Tea Party and having trouble tracking Alice's dilemma in the scene, where the Hatter, Hare, and Doormouse all go off on their own conversations while Alice tries to keep up with all three at once. The table-talk was getting circular and frustrating, so we took a break, and when we came back I handed out some basketballs, a couple cones, and a few throw pillows. I told each of the guys to take some stuff and start playing some sort of game with it and told Alice that, while she was talking to one character, she had to be playing the same game he was, and that she had to change games when she changed conversations. The creativity that resulted was not only amazing, but also highly amusing. As the scene progressed, we saw Alice trying to take a nap, dribble a basketball, and play soccer within about eight seconds of each other. And from a dramatic standpoint, we never had trouble with that scene again. Now learning the lines on the other hand...

--I would tell my actors when we'd adjourn for the weekend, "If you think of a question you want to ask about a scene or your character, please feel free to call me. I know some people are like 'Don't bother me about work on the weekend!' but I'm not one of those people." This show is the first time that actually happened. I was getting into my car at Walgreen's when I got a VERY long text from an actor giving me their thoughts on a certain scene. I'm not going to lie, that absolutely made my night.

--The playwright came to see the show early in the run. She didn't like it. She saw the first half of the show again today and said that it had seen great improvements and I'd done a good job of addressing her comments. The only thing we'd changed? The caterpillar now had six arms instead of its original two. Lesson learned: if your show isn't faring well, try adding a couple of arms. That could be all that you're missing.

Thanks to everybody who worked on Alice in any capacity, from building door frames to making masks to being in the flipping show. Thanks also to everybody who came to see it, especially those of you who had to pay, and STILL came! Thanks for all the encouragements, the comments, the suggestions, and yes, the love.

`Wake up, Alice dear!' said her sister; `Why, what a long sleep you've had!'

`Oh, I've had such a curious dream!' said Alice, and she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers that you have just been reading about; and when she had finished, her sister kissed her, and said, `It WAS a curious dream, dear, certainly: but now run in to your tea; it's getting late.' So Alice got up and ran off, thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful dream it had been.