This is the first week of Spring and the new season of shows are busting out all over… (I know, that’s supposed to be June, but I couldn’t resist), and every year, there seem to be more and more and MORE shows going on that one needs to try to get to see.
This spring is no different.
Last week, I managed to snag a ticket to the completely sold out run of The Addams Family produced by LYTE at The Palace Theatre. I love that show. I saw it on Broadway with Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane and I thought it was tremendous good fun then, and I’ve now seen it performed by two delightful younger casts and enjoyed it both times. It’s a fun, silly, campy romp that doesn’t ask you to think much, but still delivers with some clever quips and great melodies. The set was FANTASTIC and the costumes were great, but the enthusiasm of the young people on that stage was what made it feel like spring was on the way for me. In particular the performances of Gomez, Morticia and Wednesday Addams – I found them all delightful, but these characters have the best lines in my opinion and these talented youngsters delivered!
This week, a truly wonderful play, (with music) opens at Original Kids. I really wanted to be involved in this production – and I mean really – you can imagine after seeing it twice on Broadway and twice at the Shaw Festival that I must have a special place in my heart for this show, so you can bet I’ll be picking up my ticket in short order for their production of Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel of sorts to Peter Pan with many theatrical twists, surprises and ridiculous humour to keep you laughing as you read the script, let alone when energetic youth get to perform it! You’ve probably not heard of this little gem very much, but I guarantee, if you make the effort to head out to the market this week, you won’t be sorry – the script its that good.
After these two vastly different productions, even more delightful fare is on the way – there’s never any shortage of shows in this town – but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the delicious little production of Anne & Gilbert – the Musical, that I’m working on for OKTC. Again, you’ve probably never heard of the show, but you will recognize the characters, their story and the feel of the music! This Canadian tale takes over from the end of the Green Gables story everyone (should) knows so well and follows Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe on their further education and romantic entanglements. It is going to be running in rep with the original musical during April. This is a new thing for OKTC. They’ve worked in repertory type situations in the past with their Playfest, but not with musicals and not with two shows so closely related. I can tell you, without the staff and facilities of the Shaw or Stratford Festivals at our disposal, we are working quite diligently to make the shows technically blend well into one space – for almost a month. Be sure to get tickets to each show, so you can get your fill of Anne and let us know how well we succeed!
Ever since Facebook started offering a look-back on memories from each day, I’ve been checking the postings and, in general, they’ve all been really fun and up-lifting. Posts of my recently departed kitty-cat do cause some pangs, but I still love looking at pictures of him, so that outweighs the sadness.
The biggest thing I start to realize with all these memory posts are the patterns in my theatrical creations and how they coincide with certain times of the year. Not just my work in theatre, but also my friends and I love when our memories coincide.
I haven’t done a March Break show in quite a while, mostly because I really need the break at that point of the year, but I’ve done a few May shows for OKTC in the past year and THIS year, I’m working on a show for April for them, (Anne and Gilbert) and ANOTHER show for June for my school (Xanadu).
Fingers Crossed… I don’t need to cross my fingers, I know they are going to be great. But I also know that NEXT year, my memories will fall at a different point and still be ever so poignant.
Last year, I was inspired by my friend, Kerry Hishon to do a year in review… and this year I waited with baited breath for her post. It didn’t disappoint. So now, I am going to attempt another of my own to reflect on the highlights from year that was… and what a year it was.
Like so many years in the past, my January began slowly. I was in recovery mode after a very eventful December. Isn’t everyone’s?
But in all seriousness, I directed, (and choreographed) and epically funny production of The Trials of Robin Hood by Will Averill. It had a tremendous cast and crew who adored the process, the product and each other. They, and I shed many tears upon the closing of that gem.
But, I didn’t have much time to recover, as I was already busy choreographing a delightful production of She Loves Me. It was a bit of a bucket list show for myself and my friend, Kristina, as she and I had been talking about our love for this gem of a show for many, many years. It was also one of the first productions I ever saw on Broadway. My work on that also partially inspired a past blog I wrote on the Copywrite of Choreography…
And if that wasn’t enough… I began work on another Original Kids production of Once Upon a Mattress – GTKY, an edited version of the full musical that was made for young performers. No rest for the wicked, right?
February saw many more rehearsals, the start of a new semester and the beginning of my work to support a production of The Little Mermaid at the high school where I teach. I had been tasked with choreographing a few of the numbers, (the biggest ones, yes…) and creating a number of puppets to add dimension and magic to the whole production. This took ages… and ages… and though many people offered their assistance, it became quite apparent, that because I cannot open up my brain and show others the workings of my thought process, that trying to explain what I think, I might want to do and translating that into discussion for how a person might help me realize that… is a futile effort.
March was pretty restful – in the sense that I didn’t travel anywhere and March Break and Easter were all in that month… but there were rehearsals and rehearsals and, oh yes, more rehearsals!
I also managed to sell some items that I wasn’t needing or using anymore. This allowed us enough savings to put money together to replace our aging refrigerator. That was a joyous experience. You don’t know how important that one device can be to the overall happiness of your kitchen – until you change it.
By April, I had a number of projects in very good shape, lots of teaching on the go and my husband had a pile of combat related projects that he had been supporting. It came to the point that we had to choose how and where we’d support the different productions we’d been helping. He got to see Heathers and I didn’t, I got to see Mary Poppins and he didn’t… that sort of thing. But it was an active time of year that kept us hopping, leading up to …
In May, we took students on an amazing trip to Walt Disney World! I’d been trying to make this happen for my students for years and we finally had approval and everything worked! It was a tremendous trip. The kids were great, the parks were great, the weather was – hot! But we had a superb time visiting and learning and pointing out to our performing arts students all the skills that they had, or were learning, that were being used by cast members all over Disney World. It was truly incredible. I look forward to doing that again.
June is the winding down time of the year for teaching, but it is also like a break neck race to the finish to get as many things crammed in as possible before the exams and the clean up and commencement.
This year, my seniors planned a Drama Nite, to showcase their talents and perform for family and friends in our school’s courtyard. It was a great evening. It was a HOT evening with a lot of sunshine and the threat of thunderstorms, but I was immensely proud of the final product and the work my kids did to make it happen. They really pulled together on that project.
Aside from all that, I began rehearsals and planning for a dream show, that I will tell you more about later.
July had us travelling. My husband and I went to Great Britain for three weeks. We were primarily in Wales, Cornwall and a few days in London. It was a wonderful trip. A gift from my parents that meant a great deal to the two of us. The portion of the trip to Cornwall was planned by my husband as he has done the research into the history of his family and discovered that his lineage is entirely from Cornwall. He enjoys research, planning and lists. He’s exceptionally good at them. What we discovered he doesn’t enjoy, is driving on the left-hand side of the road. I, on the other hand, don’t mind it. I really enjoyed driving in Great Britain. I found it quite sensible and easy. The navigation, I left to him. He was exceptional at that.
By the way, I love Cardiff. I really do – and if you do, (or if you haven’t been there, go!), you can show the world how you love Cardiff, buy purchasing items from http://ilovesthediff.com
August saw us visiting family, friends and attending special events. We had four weddings through August and September. It was wonderful to celebrate with special people.
Not everything in our year was happy, of course. Many sad things happened, but the only one I’m going to mention is the passing of our beautiful and loving cat, Willow. He left us in August. That kept us busy for a good while. And we still think of him, daily.
By all accounts, September was pretty normal. There were rehearsals, for that project that was alluded to earlier. There was the return to school and all materials that are associated with that. There were two large purchases – a vehicle for each of us. Original Kids rehearsal starting up and general life. It all seems like a blur. Good thing there’s Google Calendar to help to remind us of what we have done!
October is where life started to ramp up! The Performing Arts kids at my school planned and performed our best Haunted Hallway to date – sold out! Our theme was a graveyard and their characters were the best so far, and so was our transformation of the simple drama room, into a spooky environment. They built a tree, used shadow puppetry and had tombstones, dead leaves and corn husks to help mark the path of our visitors to the event.
We also hosted The Young Americans at our school in October. It was a pretty amazing event. I have seen their work and been a part of the experience in the past, but no one else at my school had. My colleague deserves an immense shout out for her organization of the whole event. She hadn’t been involved in any visit by them to another school before and yet she took the task on and planned the whole thing with style and grace. It was an incredible experience for our school and our kids. I look forward to when we can host them again.
Also in October, my production of Silverwing took to the stage at Original Kids. It was a wonderfully weird little play that the kids completely embraced. They performed beautifully and expertly this adaptation of a Canadian novel, that really was a film adaptation. More playwrites need to learn that taking a novel and just putting into play format does not really make it a play. Usually, it just makes it an awkward film script that needs an editor. Sheesh.
In November I started to get memory posts from Facebook about doing puppet workshops with TAG at Original Kids with Kerry Hishon… so, I just showed up and did more workshops! No, not really. But clearly there’s a theme to how my year goes because right when I was scheduled to do workshops for Kerry this year, my memory feed reminded me that I’d done these sorts of workshops for her in the past. Isn’t that interesting the way life has patterns? Speaking of patterns, in September of 2016, Brock, (that’s my husband) and I, went to see an Opening Night performance of Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers SIX YEARS TO THE DAY from the Preview performance of our life changing production. That is life repeating itself. Ripples and spirals…
December saw me moving stuff – literally – in a moving truck, into The Arts Project to set up for my bucket list production, (that I alluded to earlier) of Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer. I saw this show in New York City in 2008 on a trip with Original Kids and I was amazed by it. It has stuck with me and sat in my brain ever since. I have been waiting for the perfect situation to come along so I could direct this play. In July, Brock and I extended our stopover in Dublin, so that I could visit some of the areas where the play is set. We were in a pub that is mentioned in the script and met the owner. She said she used to be friends with the playwright. The first part of December was about set up, final rehearsals and the Opening Gala. The second week was about savouring the whole thing before it disappeared into thin air, and the final weeks of the month were filling time between remembering the sweetness of the process and production and real life. Sure, there was a holiday assembly and a pretty sweet Coffee House in there, plus some Christmassy celebrations and a wedding anniversary, but since the show is set on Christmas Eve… it permeated almost every waking moment of December. It is a production of which I am immensely proud. I am pleased that I had wonderful friends to help me make it a reality.
Lots can happen during rehearsals and even more can happen during the run of a show. I’ve had to go on for ill performers. I’ve had a performer have kidney stones – he still went onstage – it was thrilling (NOT). I’ve watched my actors perform in the dark due to power outage (both thrilling and terrifying). These are extreme examples of things that can happen… but what you really need to be ready for is what the show does to you as you watch it take on a life all its own.
Directing a show is very challenging, fun and rewarding. It is cathartic and it is all encompassing. Gene Kelly used to get asked who was his favourite dance partner and he would answer Jerry the Mouse from Tom and Jerry. There was no way he was going to pick one person out of all the beautiful and talented people he’d performed with over the years. When he received his Lifetime Achievement Award, he admitted that you had to be a little bit in love with each girl in each movie in order to make it work. I think it is also true when directing a play… on a larger scale.
I can muster up some feelings for even the worst actor for a few moments on the stage, but if I’m going to direct something, I need to dig into the script and fall in love with many aspects of it – the humour, the dialogue, the characters, the locations – anything and everything to get me involved with bringing it to life. There are times, of course, when I’ve been assigned a show that hasn’t had as much draw for me as other productions, but whenever possible I really do dig into the material to find reasons for loving a show. And then I cultivate that feeling in the attempt to give it all I possibly can.
So then, when friends ask me, “What’s your favourite show?” How can I possibly answer that? I’ve found something to admire in each production and trying to rank them or decide “who” is the best is really an impossible quest. Rather, I can describe how they each made me feel. For example: The Three Musketeers was a fine French dinner with wine and good friends, Follies was a beautiful crystal necklace, Oklahoma! was a rollicking party and The Trials of Robin Hood was a big bear hug.
During my most recent show, The Trials of Robin Hood, I had all of these questions asked of me, and I had all of these musings. There were a few actors in this show who had worked with me before and I was so pleased to have them around again. There were several actors I’d never met prior to this production and I’m now very pleased to call them friends. What you never can expect is how a show will change you during the run. Watching Oklahoma! was like watching something someone else had created – I had to remind myself that it was my work on that stage. Watching, (and performing in) Robin Hood made me feel closer to a show than I had felt in a long, long time.
After the show is over, and cleaned up and you’ve had a little time to reflect, you can start to see how you may have been changed by the experience. I’m still not sure for this last one, but it was different. They all are – there’s no way to pick a favourite. So don’t try…. and don’t ask me.
So… You are into rehearsal and things seem to be going well – or are they?
Sometimes this happens… you think everyone’s happy, but they aren’t. And they aren’t telling you. There can be lots of reasons for this, and there’s actually no point going into all those reasons, cause you’ll never list them all, but the point is – you need to have your Spidey-Sense tingling so that you are aware if there are disgruntled members of your cast/crew. You might not be able to do anything about it – but awareness is the key.
Illness can do it. If they feel sick, or tired or worn out or under-appreciated, (or any other version of illness that you can imagine), that can affect their mood and contribution to the project. Remember, any show should be uplifting, not a drag, no matter whether it is professional or amateur/volunteer. If someone is coming to the process and for whatever reason, they’d rather not be there, that will affect the positive atmosphere. Be ready to question it, and then, be ready to do something to affect change. That can be hard part. But, believe me, it’s worth it!
Lots of things can contribute to the atmosphere, and while it may seem like a big deal, you do need to pay attention to, and manage, the atmosphere. Plan an outing, arrange a potluck, ask people out for drinks or bring in some snacks. Even the smallest thing can make a really big difference, so do the little stuff, cause it can help you in the long run.
When you start a show, you have happy thoughts about the final product… how the show will be a HUGE hit, the tickets will be selling like hotcakes, (why do hotcakes sell so fast anyway?), and the cast and crew will be ready to go on tour for the rest of their lives.
But here’s the thing… stuff happens. It always does.
Some of it you can deal with, but much of it you cannot. You just have to be ready for it because “it” will happen. So, what do you do?
Well, first off… you need to know what might happen, so here’s a few ideas of what you can expect.
First of all… the cast you begin with is likely not going to be the cast who will finish. Someone will get sick, get married, be transferred, get a new job, get another show, move out of town, or just be disgruntled with the production and leave. It will happen. There is probably no way to be prepared for it, but you need to know that it will happen and often with the actor that you don’t expect to lose. Audition, choose the best, treat them well and cross your fingers that nothing happens in their life to mess up the process. But be ready – cause it will.
Secondly… people will get sick. They will have conflicts with the schedule – sometimes many more than you ever thought possible – or they’ll have something big happen in their life and it will mess up your schedule. Just be ready – that’s all you can do. It isn’t their fault. They didn’t make this happen. They’d probably rather be at rehearsal than dealing with pneumonia or going to a funeral or visiting emergency. Stay calm and trust the theatre gods that they are on your side.
Third… you are going to get tired. No matter your plan, no matter how well you manage the other parts of your life – YOU – the stage manager, the director – whatever you are, are completely human and susceptible to fatigue. It will happen. Be good to yourself and take the time you need to recover because you are useless to the show if you get sick or can’t function.
That’s the big deal, right? Staying on top of things. So be ready. Get yourself psyched so that you are ready for the challenges of the process – cause it is totally worth it.
When you’ve made it through the auditions, the callbacks, perhaps another round of callbacks and maybe a surprise where they ask you to read something you weren’t expecting… you then have to reflect on the process – and you will, because you won’t be able to stop thinking about it. (You’re thinking about it now, aren’t you?)
First of all, you need to feel proud of what you accomplished, no matter the outcome. Maybe you’ve been successful and got the “part of your dreams”, or maybe you got offered a different role, or perhaps you are still waiting to hear, (that’s the worst), or the final option… we know what that one is, of course. Regardless, you’ve got to congratulate yourself. I mean it. Do it now. Give yourself a pat on the back, the audition process is one of the most difficult things you can do and you need to recognize that you did something many people never do. So, go ahead, I’ll wait.
Good. Do that for yourself regularly – because when you audition, you get a show, (or not) and then, eventually, the show is over, so you know what? You audition again. So you have to put yourself through that again. You will get better at it, each time – it all takes practice. Keep it up, keep working on the audition process and remember to congratulate yourself every time you manage to make it through another audition. Find something good in the process or you won’t keep going. And that’s the most important thing, to keep going.
So, you’ve made it through all the auditions and now you have to prepare for the callbacks… What the heck, you say? More auditions – yes… sorry, more auditions.
So, if you are behind the table, what do you ask them to do? What do have prepared for them? What are you looking for from these talented people? Do you have a list prepared? Are you ready to make the tough decisions? Do you even need to have the callbacks? And if you decide that you do, can you ensure that the process is rewarding for your actors and everyone else involved? Cause it isn’t an easy time, so at least make it fun!
FIRST – be sure you have some material ready from the show (this goes back to making sure you read the script, right?), material that is challenging, fun and will show you what you need to see to make your decisions.
SECOND – have that material prepared and ready to share with your people. Is it digital? Copies? How many? Do they need accompaniment? Can you provide it for them to prepare? What is the easiest, and classiest, way to share this with your people? Whatever you do, don’t make it difficult for your actors to prepare. Ensure that they have a really good experience getting ready to sing, dance or act for you. They might not make it to the finish line, so you want them to at least have a good time at the race.
THIRD – be ready to make choices. The choices are tough and if you agonize over them too long you will start to second guess yourself. This is dangerous. Go with your gut. Return to your list of a dream cast, return to your notes and continually tell yourself…. “I have to judge them based on what they showed me today at these callbacks.” That’s all you can do. Then, make the decision and be ready to back it up.
So, what if you are on the other side of the table?
FIRST – celebrate!!! You’ve been asked to a callback. That’s impressive. No matter what the role or what you were hoping for from the audition team. You impressed them enough that they wanted to see more, so feel good about that.
SECOND – prepare! No matter what your hopes are for the show, prepare yourself to show your best performance and in your best light. You might not get the role, you might not even get the show, but if you impress, it could bode well for your future. You could be offered a role from the very first audition the next time the team sees you – people remember good work and professionalism.
THIRD – have a good time! The audition is your time to play. To show off your skill and to explore a character you may or may not get to play. Have a good time and don’t consider the outcome, you can’t control that, you can only control what you put into the audition and how you feel about it. Make it the best you can and be proud of whatever comes from it!
So, people… what are you waiting for? You’ve got to get ready, don’t you?!?
People always think about the folks up there showing they can sing, dance, act or whatever… but it is just as hard and nerve-wracking for the people who are casting the show – the ones who supposedly, “hold all the cards!” It isn’t easier on that side of the table at all!
Here’s a few tidbits of advice from my experiences….
1) TELL PEOPLE!!! What’s the point of auditions if no one knows you are having them? You need a lot of people for any show – even a simple little two hander. You want choice, right? You want selection? You want word of mouth? TELL PEOPLE! Don’t hold secret auditions. Don’t have them on a tough weekend, like a holiday or when the super sale at the mall starts… pick a good time – far enough in the future and PROMOTE IT!
2) Tell people what the show IS! Sure it might have a title they recognize, but maybe it is a different version, or maybe you are planning to set it post-apocolyptic, (please don’t), or maybe you want TWICE as many actors as normal… if you don’t TELL THEM…. they won’t come.
3) Hold the auditions at convenient times. Evenings and Weekends work for community theatre – and make sure to mix that up. Don’t do just a weekend or just the evenings. Give people multiple chances to get out to see you. You need them, don’t you?
4) DON’T hold the auditions too far away from the show. You are only hurting yourself. If your show is in December, seriously, what is the point of auditions in January? So much can happen to people in between the time of the audition and when rehearsals start. Heck, they might even forget they are in your show! About 4-5 months before your show is fine, with rehearsals starting shortly after you cast it – but remember, if they don’t know about it, it doesn’t matter when you hold the auditions.
5) TELL THEM WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE!!! If it is singing – tell them what style. Provide examples if you can. Do they need to dance? Tell them. Be ready to teach that. Do you want a monologue? Comedy routine? Improv sessions? Don’t be afraid to shake it up and do something different – just be ready to answer their questions – cause they’ll have them!
6) Make your requests make sense for the show. Don’t ask for a WICKED inspired power ballad if you are doing a Shakespeare, and if the show is comedic, what IS the point of a classical monologue? Seriously, know what you are looking for when you prepare that audition statement.
7) Sit down with your team and discuss your dream cast. When I say dream cast – I mean it. Dream big! Who would you cast from all time of all the famous actors you and your team know? Build that EPIC cast list, (with options) and know what it is you are hoping to see walk through that door. Be ready though – cause it just might! OR – even more exciting – something you didn’t expect will show up and knock your socks off!!! Be ready for that.
8) Prepare your banter. Know what you plan to say to each candidate and be ready with that. Have questions. Read their sheets/resumes/questionnaires. They took the time to come out and fill out those forms, have something you’d like to know about them. Be curious. Be genuinely interested in them because they are genuinely interested in you and your project. It’s the least you can do.
9) Be ready for the hard decisions. Here’s where it gets tough. The person you thought would really “bring it” might not. The unexpected will happen. Be prepared with challenges for your actors so you can know who is really going to deliver and make the project exactly what you want it to be. Don’t waste their time. They are there, working in front of you and delivering their level best. Challenge them. Have the callback materials ready – KNOW what you want to see. Then have the guts to make the tough decision and stick by it. Whatever happens. It isn’t easy. Art is never easy.
10) This should really be the FIRST thing you do… and I shouldn’t even have to put it here, but I do, cause you’d be surprised…. READ THE SCRIPT. Read it again. And then read it a third time. Make sure EVERYONE on your team has a copy. And do your best to give them time to read it. Discuss it. Have questions ready. Solve problems with it before you even audition. And if, for some strange reason, you don’t have the script and you are heading into auditions… what are you doing? Wait. Get the script. Read it. It’s the only way to be certain you are ready for the project and your people who are investing their time are also ready.
These are just a FEW tips. Do you have more? Mention them in the comments below.
After a MUCH too long hiatus, we are back with a reflective podcast on the production of Avenue Q that Matt and Ceris saw in Toronto. Don’t worry, Matt was on the recording controls so Ceris could focus on the drive.
Listen in, and comment on our plans for the future as the team hopes to not be away from the airwaves quite so long!