Tuesday, August 3, 2010

v2, d134: WOF #5: Top Bottom 7

Unrelated, but awesome:

First off, remember this? You do? Good. You'll be glad to know there's been some resolution.

Okay, now as I said yesterday, for every great experience you get in theatre, you get a less-than-great experience. (Actually, you probably get far more of the latter than the former over the course of a career) And since I used some time and space to commemorate the more memorable of my experiences yesterday, I think it's only fair to show the other side of this fantasy/reality of professional theatre.

I've always said that, in this art, every experience (excepting abusive or exploitatious experiences, of course) is good experience, even if it's a bad experience. But a few of these shows have really challenged that particular point of view...


#7: Through the Looking Glass, A. D. Players, 2008

I love Alice. I love the Alice stories. I love Alice Through the Looking Glass. I did not love being in this production of Through the Looking Glass. There were some unfortunate circumstances, and the director didn't really seem to like the story at all. I tried to give it a go, but the negativity from the rest of the cast was just infectious. As soon as the show started, pretty much everybody onstage or backstage was just waiting for it to end. The few audiences we played for really seemed to enjoy it, though.

I hope I don't get fired.

#6: The Adding Machine; Oklahoma Baptist University, 2003

I have to say, The Adding Machine was a dang impressive show.  Everything visually, conceptually, musically, was awesome.  We decimated Elmer Rice in the process, but what we put together was pretty neat.

That said, it wasn't very fun.  At least, not for me.  There were twelve of us who played these drone/automaton worker-types.  We dressed identically and wore these creepy-as-heck clear plastic masks and spent most of the show in some sort of perpetual, machine-like motion in the background somewhere unless we were in the scene (and we each played 2 or 3 minor parts).  It was very post-modern.  Very Metropolis.  And very weird. 

As a performer, I found a lot of the stylized stuff we were doing to be quite cool at first, because it was so different from anything I'd tried before.  But it soon became really monotonous.  And we still had four weeks of rehearsal and two weeks of show to go.  It was also kind of depressing to be a part of, since we were painting a particularly bleak portrait of the world.

Anyway, Adding Machine wasn't bad, and I'm very grateful for the chance to have been a part of it, but it was definitely a headache, and I know I'm not the only one who was glad when it was over.

And here's my "big scene!" :

#5: Pollyanna, A. D. Players, 2006

I was the co-set and prop designer for this show.  This was to be sort of my "training" show in how to design at our children's theater. The set I didn't really have too much of an issue with, but I'd never done props before.  That was sort of the other co-designer's specialty, so he was going to show me the ropes, show me the places you go to find stuff, that sort of thing.  Keep in mind, I'd been in this massive city for all of six months at this point and was lucky enough to know my way from my home to my work to my church to Wal-Mart.  This was going to be a great opportunity not only to learn a new skill, but also get to know my new home.

Then, the other co-designer left, and I was left to fend for myself.  The set was pretty much finished, leaving only the prop work to do, and nobody to mentor me.  Plus, this show's director was quite particular with her--well, everything.  Which is totally fine.  I think that can be a great thing in a director.  But it's a painfully frustrating thing for an intern first-time prop designer who's already flustered and in over his head.  I spent hours in my car, lost down streets that had decided to go one-way at the most inopportune of time, trying to chase down a specific quilt that didn't exist, knowing that I was letting everybody down.  After seven years of constant scene shop work, I think this is the show that really burned me out on it.

There is a happy ending, fortunately.  As the year went on, I won an award voted on by the company for my props work on one of our mainstage shows, and our next kids show was more prop creation than running around and collecting, and that experience was really fun and, I felt, pretty decent work, so when I did leave the shop it wasn't on a down note.


Actually, I'm pleading the fifth on this one.  I'm probably already pressing my luck with this blog.  I'll just say this: coins were being vomited and children were being scooped up like wildflowers.

#3: His Strength, Our Weakness, OBU, 2002

I don't know why I was a part of this one.  I think somebody asked me, and I was nice, and I was a freshman, and I wanted people to like me.  We had sort of a traveling faith-based drama unit at my school.  That year, it was called Harvest Players.  We did a script called His Strength, Our Weakness.  It was a combination of choral odes and long monologues by Biblical characters.  It was kind of boring, and I didn't feel we were doing it very well.  I was pretty embarrassed to be a part of it.  I had also been thrown into it pretty last-minute because someone else had backed out.  I remember a meeting in the our department head's office with the whole cast, and while I don't remember too many details, I do remember there were quite a few tears.  We performed it for a few churches, and they seemed to enjoy it, but this is the show that effectively turned me off to the idea of "Christian drama" for years.

But obviously, we've made up since then ;-)

#2: Kiss Me, Kate, Horsefeathers and Applesauce, 2002

It's a shame no H&A shows made yesterday's list, because those were some of the best summers of my life.  This ended up being a really strong show, but it was a NIGHTMARE getting it up.  It was the fourth show of our summer, meaning rehearsal felt a bit rushed anyway and everyone was already tired when we started.  Our directors were a couple of guys from a New York revival house, and they wanted everything to be exactly like the recent Broadway revival of Kiss Me Kate had been.  Great.  Except we were not Broadway.  We had a tiny performance space with no wings or fly.  Didn't matter, they wanted everything on stage.  Our green room was so crowded with set pieces, there was no room for actors.

But the show's director was possibly the worst individual I've ever worked with/under/for in theatre.  He and his boyfriend (the choreographer) were total good cop/bad cop, and the director was the bad cop.  He cursed us out all the time.  He called everybody to every all-day rehearsal, regardless of whether or not we were in the scenes they were working.  This would normally be okay, but at H&A the actors all have tech responsibilities when not in rehearsal.  That meant nothing was getting done during the day, so all the extensive set and costume and lighting work started at 10 p.m.  (Sets had it easier than anybody else, because we did have a couple of full-time set people)  We were yelled at for being tired, we had wrists slapped for missing spike marks, we got notes like "What the F*** were you doing in this scene?" read in front of the entire company.  He made actors cry.  He turned the nicest, most tactful woman in North America into a vicious, fire-breathing dragon (not literally).  And after he'd storm out on us, the choreographer, who was SUPER nice, would come in and try to smooth things over with everyone.  We never got a full run of the show before we opened because we had to stop for cussing and because the traffic patterns backstage thanks to his super-complicated set changes would derail everything.  When the show opened with "Another Openin', Another Show," I stood backstage with tears in my eyes, partially because we were finally opening and partially because, well, "Four weeks you rehearse and rehearse, three weeks and it couldn't be worse. One week, will it ever be right? Then out of the hat, it's that big first night!"  Indeed.

Here's the story I usually tell to communicate the kind of guy we had running the show: We had a manually-operated roll drop that weighed about 250 pounds.  We had taped out on the floor where it should go.  One of our dress rehearsals, the drop was delayed slightly at the end of a song.  The note, predictably, said "Where the F*** was the roll drop??"  I knew exactly why it hadn't come down, because I was on stage at the time: actors don't understand spike tape.  There was someone standing directly in the drop's path, and the drop operator (the droperator?) waited for them to move before lowering it.  I suggested the possibility (somehow, I think I always stayed on this director's good side), and he replied with "Drop it anyway."  He was dead serious.  Every single one of us just stared.  It was deathly silent.  "I guarantee you, they'll never stand in the way again."

Another cast member spoke up.  "Yeah," he said incredulously, "because they'll be dead!"  Joel turned to the man.  "Exactly," he said. 

Here's a shot of the offending roll drop.  "Shrewsical: The Musical!"  Joel thought it was hilarious. (I'm on the left in the red bowtie)

#1: No Time for Heaven, Wellington Community Theater, 1996? (I'm a little fuzzy on the date)

Oh, man.  At least Kiss Me Kate had a strong performance at the end.  No Time For Heaven was just bad.  Bad, bad, bad.  It was the only horrible experience I ever had in all my shows with WCT. How bad was it?  At one point, two of the actors were standing outside the building where we were going to be performing in three days (my church's basement, incidentally) discussing the possibility of simply not doing the performance, figuring it would be better in the long run to cancel than to put on a terrible show and scare away audiences forever.  What they didn't know was that the director was standing at the base of the stairs, grinding her teeth together as she heard every word they said.

What went wrong?  For starters, our female lead was an older woman who I always loved in all my WCT experiences, but she had to carry the show.  And she couldn't remember her lines.  Sometimes to the tune of "We just cut ten pages of dialogue.  Now what do we do?"  Our "grandpa" was probably in his twenties.  We just grayed his hair.  We couldn't get our usual performance space, so we used the tiny stage in the basement of my church, which was in need of some repair anyway.  (Still is, to my knowledge)  For that reason, we couldn't actually build much of a solid set, and the stage was too small.  This means the walls shook every time someone opened or closed a door.  We had a prompter during the performances who was just off-stage.  She was louder than a few of the actors, so from time to time you'd hear this woman's voice coming from one of the shaking walls.  Only thing is, she was dyslexic which, again, there's nothing wrong with.  But it's an unfortunate condition for someone reading your lines to try to get you back on track to have.  Especially if the audience can here her anyway.  Then there was the cast: we didn't hate each other, but we weren't exactly bosom buddies, either.  I think the stress of the show really played on everybody.  It's the ONLY community theater I've ever done where there was no cast party afterward.  My sister and I didn't even say goodbye to all of the actors after the last show.  Everyone just cleaned up and left as quickly as possible.

Looking back, I find it hard to believe some of these things happened.  I'm grateful for each experience, though.  I learned something through every one of these assignments.  Sometimes you learn more from a disaster than you learn from a success.

Speaking of disasters, here are some runners-up: Charlotte's Web, Wellington Recreation Center (I directed a kids' class), 2000; South Pacific, Horsefeathers and Applesauce, 2001 (the set consisted pretty much of four giant potholders that had to be individually weaved.  Not an exaggeration); Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Horsefeathers and Applesauce, 2000 (Drunk choreographer, MAJOR backstage drama/teenage hormone crap); Life is a Dream, Oklahoma City Theatre Company, 2004 (dreary, plodding, three-hour take on what is an engaging and often-humorous script; an extended run, generally for houses of less than twelve); It Could Be Any One of Us, OBU, 2005 (senior "I'm over it" show); Medium Rare, Wellington High School, 1998 (Director's philosophy of theatre: "That play has boys dressing up as girls, doesn't it?  That's always funny, we'll do that one").

So there you have it.  The best and the worst.  It'll be tough for anything to crack either of these lists in the years to come, but I look forward to finding both the show that tops Hero Squad and the one that is more hilariously painful than Kiss Me Kate or No Time For Heaven.