This Is Like Childbirth

Mala writes: We’ve been blogging about the progress of The Santa Diaries play on http://www.theSantaDiariesProject.wordpress.com and not posting here so I thought I’d give you an update. The play is now nine days away and I am on a roller coaster of emotions and anxiety. Some parts of the play are fabulous, some still need work. Will the sets and props be ready? Will people be able to hear the actors? Will the live dog poop on the stage? Laura and I are not in charge of any of this and for me, someone who likes to be in control, this is hard.

Then I watch this trailer for the play and get excited. It’s one of the most dramatic scenes in the play and we have such good actors playing the parts of Jessica and Will.

This morning during my yoga class it came to me. Watching this play come to life is like childbirth. By the delivery date you just want it to be over and you fall in love with whatever you get (and forget the pain). On December 16, when the matinee is over and the cast is taking its bows, Laura and I will be produced playwrights and the proud parents of The Santa Diaries.

Hurricane Sandy? The Show Must Go On…

With only 47 days until opening, almost everyone made it to rehearsal yesterday (Oct 28, 2012). Director Tim Weigand was late because he was at Talbot County’s Office of Emergency Services watching the track of Hurricane Sandy and making disaster preparedness videos for the local cable channel. I think the people who came had already completed their storm prep before arriving at the Avalon. We all hope the storm will pass our area without too much damage and Tuesday night’s rehearsal will happen as scheduled. There is still lots of work to do.

One of the longest scenes in the play is when Will (the male lead and LA star) holds auditions for the community play. Everybody in the cast is on stage and the majority of them are kids. Trying to keep everybody focused is a real challenge. I am amazed that nobody is yelling, but from the back of the audience I want to collar some of the older kids and tell them to listen up and help corral the youngest. Being present on stage is crucial and is being drummed into everybody, but it’s a hard thing to do.

Cecile Davis worked with Talley Wilford and choreographer Cavin Moore on a variety of blocking options for this complex scene. Moving people about and then expecting them to stand quietly while she gives instruction about how to do it better is difficult. Some people have to be at the front of the group at a given time and that requires shuffling of the cast. The stage at the Avalon is not large and if people are too far front they are not visible to those in the balcony. Lots of things to consider.

Portia Hughes plays the part of Marley, the imaginary come-to-life stuffed animal (dog) belonging to Tim Darling. This is a great role with lots of physical humor. Portia came prepared for her hands-on-knees role with kneepads. Good thinking, Portia.

We are beginning to hear some discussion about lighting issues. There are times when certain stage areas of a scene need to be spotlighted, and then another and another in quick sequence. People have to be in place when that scene begins and stand quietly until the spotlight is on them. I am beginning to understand why there is a technical week at the end of the rehearsal process. I might be biting my nails at that point.

After most of the kids were released around four in the afternoon, the rest of the cast went up to Stolz to continue rehearsing. They are all to be off book in a week or so and only some are there at this point. Tim Weigand talked about the importance of pauses in dialogue and not rushing ahead. Timing for laughs is something the actors may not really get a handle on until the play is being rehearsed on stage and there are people reacting in the audience.

The actors are getting more comfortable in their roles and Tim, Cece and Tally are encouraging them to try different “takes” on their characters until they find the one that really works. This has to feel risky, but feeling safe enough to try is crucial. There are no mistakes at this stage of the game.

Controlled Chaos and Collaboration

Mala writes:  Watching the table read of The Santa Diaries was amazing even with Director Tim Weigand telling the actors to just read at this point. He said there will be lots of readings before they start acting – that at this point the goal is becoming familiar with the script and other actors lines. He told them they needed to be “off book” by November 1. I think that means they need to know their lines by then.

Laura and I have been working on the script since the beginning of June. I know there will be tweaks, additions and subtractions almost to opening night. Now we are learning about the myriad details involved in getting the script on stage.

Someone had to go through the script and put the scenes on a spreadsheet with all the characters (even walk-ons) down the left side and then indicate which scenes (across the top of the spreadsheet) each character is in. I couldn’t figure out how to print it out, let alone do this herculean job – which had to be done before a rehearsal schedule could be compiled.

Not every actor has to be at every rehearsal which will be taking place in three different places in the Avalon Theatre: on stage, in the Stoltz Listening Room and on the third floor. Some actors will be running between these locations. Tuesday nights and Sunday afternoons are going to be chaotic. Then there are the changes. Tomorrow night the stage won’t be available because Capital Steps will be performing. Main leads only in Stoltz.

This is what controlled chaos looked like yesterday afteroon. I was amazed that the kids actually were getting the dance routine down. Remember, this was the third rehearsal!

I am coming to realize that controlled chaos is how you produce a play. The writing part was easy compared to the details that now have to be handled. Sets, costumes, directing, choreography, and a whole bunch of things that have to happen that I’m not aware of. Let’s not forget the important role of front of house – marketing, ticket sales, vacuuming the theater between performances. Truly, putting on a play is a collaborative effort. I’m beginning to think Laura and I did the easy part.