Wednesday, March 30, 2011

v2, d313: (Not Just ) Another Openin'

Okay kids, I think I'ma take another one of my bloggy sabbaticals.  Which doesn't mean I've forgotten my two requests, nor that I won't come up with some snazzy prize for Dave and Tarvis for participating in the caption contest, but I am just so stinking tired lately that I'm afraid I'm pretty worthless as a blogger.  And what little creative energy I do have I need to commit to writing a few new scripts for the next couple weeks.  Besides, I done been slippin' these last few weeks as it is.  I also thought that, if I were going to leave good old FOMW bare for a little while, this would be a nice something to leave at the top.

We opened Pinocchio this morning.  I've been looking forward to this project for quite awhile.  Last summer, I was thinking very seriously of leaving my job, and one of the strongest arguments toward my staying was the opportunity to direct this show.  Now, I wrote the script, and while I do enjoy directing my own scripts, that wasn't the main allure of the piece.  Instead, I wanted to do it because I knew it would be a challenge.  It's very different in tone, in style, and in substance from everything I've done up to this point.  And it's a deceptively complicated show.  This is because it's based on one of the strangest books I've ever read, and I wanted to stay true to the intent of the book (while keeping the story from spiraling into the range of "utterly incomprehensible") so I tried to keep a lot of the inherent weirdness in the story.  I looked forward to the opportunity to let my imagination run relatively wild in meeting the creative difficulties we'd encounter to try to pull this one off.

That was a full year ago.  Then, stuff got wacky.  People started leaving the company and went unreplaced.  Casting procedures changed.  Tech weekends were canceled.  I ended up with a pool of about seven actors to cast from, so I reduced my original cast size from six to five and changed my whole concept.  A staged reading was added into the already-crowded schedule, taking out half of my production team for two weeks.
 Oh yeah, and then we had another baby.  Crazy.  And that was just the stuff going on in my life, not to mention my cast and crew!

Needless to say, I got all the challenges I'd been anticipating plus a couple.  I won't say that it's been a stressful process, which is a blessing because it could have easily become one.  No, the process has been fun.  Rehearsals were often the only things that kept me going from nine to five many days over this past month.  Everyone poured everything they had into this show regardless of fatigue, distraction, or other crap that could have become an excuse to do a mediocre job.

Nevertheless, I was actually really nervous going into this morning.  I generally have a fair bit of confidence in my scripts, and I was confident in the work we'd done, but...well, you have to understand, this play is pretty out there.  It's not always comfy and cozy.  It's not what most people expect from the Pinocchio story.  It's not necessarily what people who come to our theatre come to expect.  And for the first time, I started to wonder if maybe I'd let my creative side play just a tad too much on this one.  Maybe I should have pulled back on the weirdness here or there.  Perhaps I should have cut out a couple of scenes or characters.  After all, it is the longest kids' show we've done in my six years here (75 minutes).

Maybe this was going to be kind of a disaster, as one high-ranking member of my company told me it would.

Today's opening audience was a rather large group from the day school of the church that hosts our performances.  That means a lot of three- and four-year-olds.  Like, an entire theater full of them.  Fantastic.  Have you ever tried to hold the attention of three or more four-year-olds?  It doesn't generally happen.  And although the previous night's preview performance had seemed to go over well, that was a crowd composed of at least 50% adults, and 85% of those were all good friends of one particular cast member.  This was our trial run with kids.  And I know I'm old school, but I always care more that the kids enjoy the kids' show than the adults.

"...for when the lights go down, the play begins!"

And we were off.  One way or another, we were (essentially) locked into that room with a hundred pre-K kids and all their chattery, fidgety, small-bladdery wonder.  The opening scene I knew would play well to this demographic, because it features two adult males bashing one another in the head with wood blocks.  Always a winner with the younger ones, and it was today.  Halfway through the scene, we stop whomping for a second to have some story.  And at that point, something truly unexpected and bizarre happened: the audiences stopped roaring in laughter in order to listen to the story!  And when we started up with the violence again, they jumped right back in with their giggles until it was time for more exciting storytelling/narration.  And they listened to that, too!  And as the play went on, it really started sinking in: the pre-K's were totally digging it!  And I mean all of it!  The weird parts, the wacky parts, even the talky parts.  They seemed to really grasp what was going on and responded accordingly, either to the characters, their friends, or their teachers.  Despite the fact that almost all of them had raised t heir hands and shouted "ME!" when asked if they had seen the Disney version of the story, they didn't seem to mind one bit that our little wooden boy hardly resembled the one in their memories at all.

Then, a little boy got up to go to the restroom.  Here we go, I thought.  It's all over.  With this age, once one of 'em goes, they all go.  But nobody else went.  Not until there were about five minutes left in the show (and it's hard to blame a 4-year-old for not sitting still past seventy minutes).  They were still with us.  They still wanted to know what was going to happen next.  They were delighted by the surprises.  They laughed at the oddities.  It worked.  Now, I don't say this because I think pre-K's make for bad audiences; rather, they're generally among the most challenging audiences you'll encounter.  I've seen a lot of our shows that just couldn't hold the little ones for very long.  But we grabbed them early, and we held them for the whole show.

Afterward, sweet Sarah had decided we ought to have a celebration for the world premiere of this new play, so she and Leslie set up a small table in the theater and brought a cake from H-E-B and some leftover punch from another event, and we celebrated.  Cast, crew, and friends who came to celebrate with us.  Fellow company members who'd come to see the show shared their compliments.  Everyone was chatty and happy.  I wasn't chatty, however.  I was sitting atop "the rock" by myself, looking around the theater at everyone sharing this opening morning with laughter, sweets, and praise.  And it just sorta sunk in with a sort of surreal satisfaction.  I looked around at the people who had spent the last month pulling out whatever they had left to bring this weird and wacky piece of theater together, and I thought, with eyes misting ever so slightly, We did it.  We pulled this off.

I won't say this is the best show I've ever written or directed, though I think now that it's pretty dang good.  And I won't say I've never been happier in my art, because that's probably hyperbole as well.  And no, it ain't perfect.  And yeah, I think I'll be making tweaks to the script when it's all over.  And heck yeah, I made some mistakes putting this whole thing together.  But you know what?  I can't imagine feeling more satisfied than I felt in that moment: sleep-deprived, physically exhausted, utterly relieved, and proud not only of myself but of the team, I felt utterly and completely satisfied.  It felt good. 

The cake was pretty dang tasty, too.