‘Twas a week before Op’ning, and all through the house,
The cast was in panic, the crew much did grouse…
I don’t know how it is for other companies, professional or amateur, but the final month before opening night, and the last two weeks in particular, really drive home the magnitude of the undertaking that is theatre. Especially since the play polishing with Philip Akin of Obsidian Theatre in mid-April, it seems like the production clock has been running down at twice the usual speed. There have been two build days in my garage (the theatre is too small to house a workspace of its own), the polishing, the move-in and set build, all in addition to the regular rehearsal schedule. The last two weeks, starting this past weekend, have looked like this:
Saturday: Build day #2
Sunday: early morning truck rental and loading, load-in @ theatre, set building, rehearsal, initial set painting
Monday: rehearsal @ theatre
Tuesday (blessed non-theatre night)
Wednesday (tonight): final build & painting @ theatre
Thursday (tomorrow): rehearsal @ theatre
Friday: light hang
Saturday: Tech Weekend officially starts (cast call is 10am, I’ll be there an hour or more early)
Sunday: Tech Weekend continues with either cue-to-cue or a full rehearsal
Monday: Tech/Dress 1
Tuesday: Tech/Dress 2
Wednesday: dark night
Thursday: Opening Night and the ON After-Party
Friday: show night
Saturday: show night
(Sunday: I’m in Stratford for 8:30am for the Festival’s all-day Directors’ Workshop)
And in case it’s not already looking like rather a lot, there are day jobs, and families, and the other typical dross of daily life (eating, sleeping, doing laundry, et cetera) mixed in with the theatrical commitments for good measure.
It’s these final two weeks leading up to opening a show that really test the mettle of a director; of the entire company, really, especially for amateurs since we don’t have the dubious luxury of doing this as our day jobs. Our art has to squeeze around the margins of other life necessities. And sometimes, it comes with one hell of a toll to pay when all is said and done.
It’s at times like this we find out who in any given company has the mettle to match, and who does not. It’s not that we start out assuming anyone lacks the desire for the production to succeed, but the hardcore types are the ones who put their kids to bed then go back to the theatre to finish painting something, or who drive all over town purchasing supplies for the build on their lunch hours or en route to pick babies up from day care. I stopped sleeping about three weeks ago, personally, and spend my late night hours coordinating emails and schedules, plotting changes to music and image transitions, hunting for sound clips, sometimes sighing quietly into a late-night single malt while I try and clear my head.
Stuff gets done, and it’s amazing to watch the speed with which things happen. There was a time not so long ago while the theatre at 9 Princess street was being rebuilt, that KWLT productions (this was in the time before TenBareToes) rented show space from other companies and had ONLY the two days of Tech Weekend in which to move in, build, paint, hang lights, set levels, run the cue-to-cue, and generally maul everyone towards dress rehearsals. Those weekends were exhilarating, glorious messes that I appreciated for what they were and hope to hell I never have to live through ever again. It’s hard enough handling a one-week move-in process, which seems downright luxurious by comparison; it’s a testament to my cast and crew that we get this far and do this much work ourselves — my cast IS a large part of the production crew — without falling to knives at every available opportunity by Tech.
There are great moments of silliness; since Liaisons, my chief grip has referred to her stage crew as “flying monkeys”, and the choreographed intricacy of set changes as “the Monkey Dance”, so it was only a matter of time, really, before the grips were teaching each other how to do a proper monkey dance (after we’d sorted out the what-goes-where part of the set change in question, mind you; we usually remember to handle business before mayhem, though sometimes the two are not as distinctly separate as a director might wish). And there’s always some chaos as we deal with first-time uses of new set properties, and doorways that aren’t now where they were in rehearsal space. But at the same time, there’s nothing like seeing the actors pull their headspace together once they are IN THE THEATRE; there is something so intrinsically different between being “in rehearsal” and being “on the stage” that even without the lights, the audience, the costumes, there is still suddenly far more show there than there was even a week ago.
The whole process, rushing madly past me as it always does at this point, takes my breath away.
Tomorrow will be our final regular rehearsal. This process has been significantly longer than my previous shows; another luxury of working under the TenBareToes banner that I have very much appreciated, and only rarely despaired. We’re still so focused on getting through the final aspects of the on-stage development, that the nearness of that bittersweet moment when I officially hand the show over to Stage Management and stop messing around with things hasn’t really been felt yet. I know it’s coming, but there’s still so much to do between now and then that I’m putting off the inevitable grieving process. (Also, I can’t cry at rehearsal; it will mean I owe the cast & crew the first round of drinks at the opening night after-party if they think the show has finally over-powered me… though at this point, my SM and I may well be the last people standing in that regard; did we mention this play was a powerhouse??)
So we come down to the wire. All the technical details are now in play, or will be in the next 48 hours. The tension across the company builds towards climax and denouement; art imitating life, though perhaps with fewer spoilers. This company has done some truly inspiring, moving work with this production; I honestly believe that, in the midst of all the personal learning and growth opportunities, we have met my own goal of raising the bar, even a smidge, on what “amateur theatre” is capable of achieving in terms of performance quality and acting craft (we have Philip to thank for most of that). If we can translate into performance nights what we’ve frequently managed to create in rehearsal space, then I don’t think anyone will remain unmoved by the magic that is Shadowlands.