Ok, so I have owed my trusty readers (hi, Mom!) a post for about a month now. I do apologize for being so absent from the blogosphere but it turns out Fringe took a lot more out of me then expected and when the past few Mondays rolled around I just didn’t have it in me to compose something witty and exciting for a post and so I didn’t … I actually did start 4 different posts and if I could figure out a way to back date them I would totally post them but since I can’t I’ll just say they started like this:
POST 1 (that didn’t get posted) – so, we’re about to open In the Ebb at HERE Mainstage and I can’t wait for you all to see it.
POST 2 (that didn’t get posted) – so, we just opened In the Ebb at HERE Mainstage and I think you guys will love it!
POST 3 (that didn’t get posted) – so, the reviewer from nytheatre.com didn’t get it. Though he thought In the Ebb was beautifully written, Camilla “has a poetic soul” and I have “a true talent for staging”, he thought the show was boring and he didn’t find the themes universal or connectable (yes, I made up that word but that’s the gist of the review – fear of loss apparently isn’t a universal theme – oops, I guess that makes the worrier in me a bit of a freak). ANYway, I would have said in the post (had I gotten around to posting it) that I would be worried that the review would have kept folks away, but I can now say in hindsight that we had decent audiences (not Jane Austen’s Persuasion sized audiences but decent all the same) and everyone I talked to seemed to love it so, to quote Mrs. DiSalvo in Act II – “I guess we did ok.”
POST 4 (that didn’t get posted) – so, the reviewer from California Litereary Review TOTALLY got it. Now THAT’s what I call a review. I found this one much more reflective of the work we did on stage. Though there were a couple of typos in the review (Saul Steinberg instead of Stewart and Ian DeNio instead of Ien) I felt that this reviewer actually got what we were saying. He caught the beauty in the words and the performances, and he ALSO understood Camilla’s humor finding much of the play “extremely funny even as it peers into the abyss.” I do wish that the people who “got me” were the only ones who also got to review me, but again to quote Mrs. DiSalvo, “you don’t get to pick.”
which brings me to this post:
POST 5 (that WILL get posted) – So now Fringe is over. It has been such a whirlwind. Going from Persuasion directly into In the Ebb is not necessarily the way I’d recommend doing the Festival for the first time, but on the flip side, it was nice to just go from show to show instead of hanging around waiting for my next project to begin. It means I completely bypassed my “post show depression” after Persuasion. Of course that could also mean that I’m due for a double whammy on the depression front now that In the Ebb is over, but hopefully I’ll slide into something else really exciting – like adapting Within Arm’s Reach for the stage. Anywho, here’s what I learned in Fringe:
1) Before you have a cast, reading the play out loud at a very slow speed is NOT going to give you an accurate representation of how long the play will run in performance.
- Fringe requires you to give a running time in your application, and though you still have time to change that after you get accepted to the festival, the date when you do have to give them a hard – set-in-stone – run time will most likely be at least a month before you’ve cast the show, let alone done a first run through and have an accurate sense of the run time. I had originally thought the run time of the two one acts (one fewer act than the first time I did this show) would be 75 minutes INCLUDING a 10 minute intermission. I discovered 2 days before my tech that we were running about 95 minutes WITHOUT an intermission. That was a weekend of frantic cuts trying not to cut scenes but still lose 20 minutes from the show. One day, I vow that I will do this show in its entirety.
2) A certified Flameproofer is your best friend!
- Fringe requires that all set pieces be certified flameproof. Although my set was stuff that was most likely already flameproofed (Ikea chairs and rehearsal cubes) I needed proof and that means tags from purchase (which ain’t an option since I purchased the chairs years ago for use in the first production of In the Ebb). One option was to cart the stuff out to New Jersey and have the Fringe-recommended vendor test the stuff and if it wasn’t fireproof then I could leave it there for 3 DAYS – yup DAYS – and then head back out there and pick it up. Then I found someone who was Manhattan-based and let me tell you – finding someone who can come to you and flameproof your set and give you a certificate proving that it’s flameproofed is a whole helluva lot better than having to cart your entire set out to Jersey.
3) Get yourself some good, talented, reliable friends.
- Throughout the years I have connected with some people who I can’t imagine stumbling through life without. Sarah and Ian, for example, not only said I could borrow one of their DINING ROOM chairs for a WHOLE MONTH, they didn’t bat an eye when I said I would have to chemically treat the chair so that it was officially flame proofed. When I asked if I could rent his rehearsal cubes for 3 weeks, Richard was all “why don’t you just borrow them” and, Jen, once again, offered up the Chevy Blazer to be used and abused for whatever I needed, which it turned out was a lot of set, prop and costume transportation.
4) Work with talented people you trust and love – again and again and again.
- My crazy talented sound designer, Ien DeNio, crazy talented lighting designer, Sam Gordon, crazy talented projections designer, Zeljka Blaksic, and crazy talented company manager, Carrie Keskinen, all re-upped with GTTP and I literally could NOT have done this show without them. Their talent, skill, and professionalism made this show work! And their ability to roll with the punches (see Number 6) meant that we were able to function within the stressful time-compressed world of Fringe.
5) Make sure you cast riDONKulously capable and talented actors who work well together!
- I’ve known for awhile that I’m pretty good at casting. I can usually see in an audition what an actor will be capable of and I usually have a sense of whether a group of actors will work together well. It’s a wonderful thing, a real honor, to get the opportunity to bring together 7 strangers and watch them, through rehearsals, turn into a family. This most recent family included: Crawford M. Collins, Leah Gabriel, Mary Goggin, Michael Komala, Stewart Steinberg, Montgomery Sutton, and Lisa Crosby Wipperling.
6) Hook up with a group that is calm under pressure and be ready to figure out technical aspects on the fly…
- So, for those of you who don’t know, the way Fringe works (in fact the way most theater festivals work) is that you are really assigned only one chance to be in the venue before your show opens and that chance is your tech rehearsal. In the case of Fringe, your tech rehearsal is only 2 times the length of your running time (see point #1 in this list and the importance of determining that run time well in advance of rehearsals) and you must must must run through the entire show without stop so that the Fringe folks can time you (with a stopwatch) and know for certain that you’ll fit in your allotted time. Since tech for a normal show is usually at least 3 days and often as long as a week (it’s called Tech WEEK for a reason, folks) having only 2 and a half hours in the venue to tech your show can make for a tricky situation. Add to that the complication that, because of Fringe scheduling, our tech day was actually a full week before our first performance, there was a high amount of stress on that particular 2.5 hours. What’s more, because we were the first group to tech in the space, we spent what should have been our hour and 15 minutes that was set aside for a cue to cue (where we actually go through the entire play just looking at and listening to each lighting, sound and projection cue) figuring out why the projector wasn’t working and how lights in the theater (whose layout we were supposed to be given in advance but weren’t) were going to run our lighting design. SO, having the cast and crew that I had – a group of people who just went with the flow and didn’t pull any diva crap (though it was well within their rights to do so) and just buckled down and did the job – what’s that Friday Night Lights phrase – “git ‘er done” – well this group GOT ‘ER DONE!
7) Get assigned the prettiest venue at the festival and luck out on the awesomest, chillest, terrific-est venue director on the planet.
- So, as a Fringe show, you get no say in the venue you’re assigned. Basically, the festival organizers have to figure out how to get 187 shows into 19 different venues for at least 5 performances each in a 16 day span. Each venue has to be technically capable of sustaining each show (does a show have projections, does it need fly space to drop set pieces in and out, does it need a proscenium arch, etc.) They also have to account for scheduling issues (for example, is the production company coming from Japan and not arriving in the states until 4 days after the festival has started). It’s a lot to juggle, so basically what you get is what you get and you make due. Well, somehow, I lucked into the most beautiful venue. HERE Arts Mainstage is a theater that if I were just renting, I honestly couldn’t afford for years to come. It’s a 99 seat house with a stage so big that an actor actually has to cross it (like take several steps) when moving from stage left to stage right, instead of just turning around. And the lighting grid allows for different areas of the stage to be lit while other areas are in darkness – giving actual areas of playing space instead of having the whole stage lit by default because the stage is so big that once you turn on a light you see everything. And then, as if the performance venue weren’t enough of a gift from the Fringe Gods, we were lucky enough to get assigned a venue director (a liason (supplied by Fringe) between the production company (in this case, GTTP) and the theater) who was amazing, supportive and super chill. I can not say enough good things about Christian De Gre, Artistic Director of Mind the Art Entertainment, who, while being such a terrific venue director was also overseeing his own production at the festival. The only bad thing about working with Christian, was that the nature of Fringe meant I didn’t get any time to just sit and chat with the guy – a problem I hope to remedy soon.
8) 15 minutes is a both a lot longer and a lot shorter than you think it is.
- So, because there are 187 shows in 19 venues in 16 days, on any given day, you are never the only show performing in your venue. What that means is that there is often as little as 30 minutes in between shows. Because 15 minutes before any given show has to be spent getting audience in and sitting down and 15 minutes after any show has to be spent getting audience out, as a production company you only have 15 minutes to bring everything you need into the space before and clear everything out after. We were lucky in that our set pieces (my trusty ikea chairs and our 3 rehearsal cubes) were being shared with other shows in the venue so we were able to leave them in the space, but all of our props, costumes and, you know, 7 actors, had to get in and set up in the 15 minutes before and taken down, stored and out in the 15 minutes after. I did purposefully keep the set as minimal as possible, but that first time, in tech, when we literally had a stopwatch on us, the chaos of setting everything up and taking everything down was nervewracking…then again, it turns out that even that first time when no-one knew what they were doing (“someone grab that chair and stow it”, “who grabbed the ice tea”, “where did the nun’s veil go? Do you have it?”) we were done and out the door in 6 minutes, so we got really good at running that load-in and load-out like clockwork. Again, it helped that I had the cast and crew that I did (see points 4 and 5 above).
9) Simplify more than you think is possible and then simplify some more.
- So, as I mentioned above, we only had the 15 minutes to get in and out and our tech rehearsal was…not as thorough as I would have liked, and…the script was longer than I realized. In the end we cut a lot – from lines in the script, to number of props, to complexity of set design, to lighting, sound and projection cues. And just when I thought, “I can’t possibly cut more, I can’t possibly make it more minimal,” I went through a whole other round of cuts and, to be honest, it was still an amazing, wonderful, vivid show. I always go back to that first time I saw Patrick Stewart do A Christmas Carol on Broadway – one guy, a chair, a table, a stool and a podium – he created a world that we as the audience got to live in for a couple of hours. It really is true that if the writing is there and the performances are there, you really don’t need anything else. This world ofIn the Ebb, was vivid and alive even without matching chairs and that one additional sound cue or lighting change. The audience still got it (well, except for that one reviewer but you can’t win ‘em all, right?) and it was still a captivating – Tahiti – Production.
10) When you’re at your most certain that everything will fall to s**t, it somehow all works out.
- My favorite, favorite, favorite quote about theater comes from the movie Shakespeare in Love. The exchange goes like this:
Henslowe: Allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Fennyman: So what do we do?
Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
If I have learned one thing in my years in professionial theater it is the truth of that exchange. It’s not that you don’t do the work and it’s not that you don’t plan and prepare and rehearse, but in the end you have to trust in the magic of theater because how imminent disaster turns into live performance is truly a mystery but, no kidding? 99 times out of 100 it really does…and on that hundredth time? Well that’s what you plan and prepare and rehearse for – Anyone can have an off day.
Oh, and along those lines I also want to quote one more movie for point number 10.5. This one from Galazy Quest – “Never give up. Never surrender.” In other words, in this case, I mean:
10.5) Perserverence is everything.
- There are so many times in this business when it would be so easy to just say, “that’s it, I’m outta here.” It’s a tough business, which so far, has not paid any bills for me (and thank you to the people in my life who support me in all different ways (emotionally, spiritually, physically and monetarily) and allow me to continue doing it – I literally couldn’t do it without you), and so often it would just be easier to throw up your hands and walk, but I swear, it’s worth it. You struggle, and you strive and sometimes you fail but sometimes you succeed and every once in awhile, someone comes up to you and says, “are you involved in this production? Well, I just want to tell you, that was WONDERFUL! I was so moved.” Or you’re sitting in the audience watching a show you created and an audience member who you don’t know, who is not connected to you in any way shape or form, who walked in off the street, and spent his hard-earned money to see your show, he starts to applaud and gets to his feet to give you a standing ovation! And in that moment you want to cry because all is right with the world, because your life makes sense and what you’ve been put on this earth for is absolutely 100% crystal clear…of course sometimes they don’t clap at all, sometimes they come up to you and say, “I didn’t get it” – you want to cry then too but for a whole different reason. But no kidding, if you stick with it, you’ll get used to walking away from the latter and you’ll be able to fully appreciate the former. I say this a lot but – no kidding – never give up. never surrender…it’s worth it in the end.