You know how it is, the endless performances and appearances that make life such a grind. This weekend, for example, I had two galas to attend, both on Saturday night.
Fortunately, they were right across the street from each other. Backstreet Arts, the dream of Kim Ramey, opens its doors next week, and started its gala at 7:00. Newnan Theatre Company, my old stomping grounds, started its gala at 8:00. So this was not a problem, despite the fact that as a performer I was supposed to be backstage at 6:30.
The purpose of the NTC gala was to announce the 2017–2018 season, i.e., the season that begins in August and runs through next year. I will be directing Rick Elice’s Peter & the Starcatcher, the dazzling, touching story of how a nameless orphan boy became Peter Pan. It auditions a year from now and opens March 8, 2018. Mark your calendars.
Here’s my intrepid cast, who performed the Prologue and a slightly modified Scene One:
We had a great time slamming it together in two rehearsals, and the audience seemed to love it. I’ll be blogging about my progress in preparing for the full production over at Lichtenbergianism.com, where I will be showing how the Precepts of Lichtenbergianism are used in practice.
I would offer to share with you the entire season, but for some reason involving schlepping back and forth between the two galas, I didn’t quite catch the whole thing.
Backstreet Arts was actually a two-parter. There was the gala on Saturday night, then an open house on Sunday afternoon. The following photos are from the open house.
The gala was swanky and elegant. The open house was casual and open to the public. Those of us who are going to instruct/assist/encourage anyone who walks in the door set up sign-up sheets for everyone. The space is large, clean, beautifully appointed.
And look at these cookies!
Here’s my little set-up:
I got five or six cards, and I’m sure that once Backstreet is fully open for business, we will slowly build a walk-in clientele from Bridging the Gap, the back of whose building we occupy.
And that’s what I did with my weekend.
You should do these things.
NTC Season Gala
This Sat, Jan 21, at 8:00, the Newnan Theatre Company will announce its 2017–18 season. I will be directing the big spring show, [redacted]. No, the name of the show is not [redacted]. The name of the show is literally redacted, since it hasn’t been announced yet. But I am directing it next year and will be directing a scene from it for the Gala. (I will also be appearing in it, since apparently there are not eleven males who could give up four nights in their total life to do this scene. I’m not bitter or anything. Yet.)
Backstreet Arts Gala
Backstreet Community Arts (full name) is ready to open its doors, and to celebrate they too are having a gala. And how convenient is this? It’s across the street and about the same time as NTC’s! (Both were trying to avoid competing with Newnan’s Burns Supper on the next weekend, and so they ran headlong into each other.) That’s Sat, Jan 21, at 7:00—so you could start at Backstreet and end up at NTC. I understand there will be a signature cocktail, which I did not create.
Backstreet Arts Open House
Then on Sun, Jan 22, 2:00–4:00, Backstreet will have an open house so you can come and meet the artists who will be offering classes/workshops for the target population. At both events you can give money to help support this group’s mission, which is to provide space, supplies, and instruction for those in our community who would not otherwise have the opportunity to express themselves through art.
I will be there because I will be starting the Backstreet Writers. Inspired by some of the work of Temporary Services in Chicago, I want to see if I can provide a venue for people to tell their story. That’s all I have at the moment; since I don’t know who will be interested enough to attend any seminars, nor their skill level, nor anything; all I can do is say that I’m doing this thing, welcome anyone who shows up, and then meet their needs however I can.
You will recall that this project is actually one of my Lichtenbergian Proposed Efforts. I will write in more detail about my thinking about this tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a photo of me that Kim Ramey took up against her angel wall:
You see why you want to be there.
First, a clarification. These are technically not “Lichtenbergian goals.” In our official ritual/agenda, they are “Proposed Efforts.” A subtle difference, and a valid distinction: if we don’t get around to doing one of them, we haven’t missed a goal. We just didn’t get around to it.
With that in mind, here are next year’s Proposed Efforts.
I’m carrying forward my 2016 goal to finish Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy and find a publisher for it. It’s just sheer laziness that prevented me from achieving that this past year. As I move forward, I will continue posting chapters to this website (although see below about Lichtenbergianism.com) and about my efforts to implement the strategies outlined in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published [EGGYBP].
I will also continue building Lichtenbergianism.com, both through the blog and the introductory material.
One of the strategies in EGGYBP is to establish yourself as a speaker/workshop leader, both of which I am extremely qualified to do. I’ve already started putting out feelers and hope to start this aspect of the project soon.
Backstreet Arts writing project
Another carryover: work with Kim Ramey at Backstreet Arts on establishing a writers’ group for her audience. Basic journaling, story posters, whole books, compilations of stories—I’ll start wherever I can and go from there.
SUN TRUE FIRE
Not really a carryover, but if I’m going to compose at all, it might as well be this piece.
[REDACTED] at Newnan Theatre Company
Since it has not been officially announced, I won’t name the play I’m directing for the 2017-18 season at Newnan Theatre Company. Suffice it to say that with auditions in Jan 2018, I will spend most of 2017 preparing for the show.
For this production I am going to pull what we used to call a “full Dale” and which everywhere else is called “standard operating procedure,” i.e., full designs for costumes, sets, and lights, with individuals who are not me in charge of production. Production meetings; crew recruitment; maybe even classes to teach people how to do these things. Reach out to sewing fanatics via Jo-Ann perhaps; reach out to the artists at Backstreet; find people who aren’t involved and drag them into it.
3 Old Men
I want to continue to lead 3 Old Men, of course, but now we have another goal for the year. Burning Man’s theme for 2017 (Aug 24–Sep 4) is Radical Ritual—how can we not at least attempt to plan to go? So there’s that.
I also want to continue as Placement Lead for Alchemy and Euphoria, now that I’ve had greatness thrust upon me. Especially if we move to new land again: I want the opportunity to design a burn that becomes a home for years.
This one just developed last week when I was trying to explain the music I had used in the labyrinth for the Tour of Homes, Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night. Years ago I had tried to get in touch with Mr. Kline to see if he’d allow us to do an Unsilent Night parade in Newnan, but never heard from him. When I looked the music up to show people, I was super pleased to see that Unsilent Night now has its own webpage, and that indeed they were encouraging parades all over.
I’ve already made contact and started a Facebook group to begin planning for the event next December.
Establish a routine
I got out of a daily schedule this past summer and fall, so I want to reestablish specific periods of work each day.
Seven goals, some of which have massive subgoals themselves. We’ll see how I do.
Astoundingly, I have not been blogging about this year’s production of A Christmas Carol, my musical retelling of Dickens’ classic.
To be honest, it’s been a scary rehearsal process, starting with the first night of auditions. Why? Because instead of the 20 or so adults I needed to perform the roles and sing my not-very-easy songs, I got eight little girls and a handful of teens and adults, most of whom had not done theatre in a while. And on top of that, several of the adults dropped out the first week of rehearsal; I’m sure they were daunted by the prospect (as you will see). I’d hate to think they thought it was not going to work.
Usually in community theatre when one does not have the cast one needs after auditions, one gets on the phone and recruits people. But I was not in the mood, and on top of that I was up to my earballs in designing the nation’s largest regional burn at the time, if you will recall.
And so I made a fateful decision: we would use the performers we had and screw all those people who didn’t bother to come to auditions. This meant, of course, re-envisioning the entire piece.
I decided to invent a frame story—I know, I know, but hear me out—about Natalie Fairgood, a spoiled, horrible little rich girl, who was born on Christmas Day and resents it because she feels as if she never gets enough presents. That’s why, she says, she celebrates the week after. This year she’s having a sleepover with all her friends, but she’s been forced to invite her mother’s personal assistant’s daughter, Jessica.
When the show opens, Natalie’s grandfather shows Jessica into Natalie’s bedroom and chats with her a moment before leaving her to wait for the other girls, who are somewhere in the huge house. When they enter, Natalie immediately begins taunting Jessica, ending in a meltdown because Jessica is holding one of her dolls.
Grandfather intervenes, and when he offers them storytime to chill them out, Natalie demands a ghost story.
“I have just the story,” he says. “I read it every year, and I’m reading it now. I’ll read it to you.” They all sit, attentively, and he begins: “Marley was dead…”
Figures emerge from the shadows and begin to narrate as well, and soon we are back in Scrooge’s tale.
As the show progresses, the girls go from being passive listeners to Grandfather’s reading to observing the action directly. Soon they are taking part in the story, using toys and costume pieces from Natalie’s shelves as they become guests at Fezziwig’s party to shoppers on the street to Young Cratchits.
By the time we reach the Finale, they are fully empowered to join Grandfather in telling the story themselves, and that’s the point: we celebrate the power of story, how we listen to stories, become part of them, and in turn pass them on to the next listeners. Hearing a story changes us. Telling a story changes us.
And by the end, both Scrooge and Natalie have changed. And so have we.
Script now available upon request.
Fellow Lichtenbergian Jeff Bishop asked me for a photo to include in his new history/compilation book on Coweta County, and I found to my chagrin that I had very few physical photos of my regime as artistic director of the Newnan Community Theatre Company (as it was then known), and the online photos I had were of low quality.
Sic transit gloria mundi, indeed.
However, I did find this photo:
Here I am, singing Count Almaviva in my own translation of Nozze di Figaro, titled Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. This was in the fall of 2002, fourteen years ago.
Mercy, what an accomplishment! I had decided two years before that I would leave the position of artistic director at the end of the 2002 season,1 and I wanted to go out with a bang. Figaro had been on my bucket list for years, but actually producing it was always sort of out of the question.
But it was clearly a case of now or never—when else would I have the chance? Who would ever give me a shot like this? Me, that’s who.
So over the course of 18 months, I worked and worked on translating the thing. It was actually fun, working out the punchlines — this opera has punchlines — and the rhyme schemes.
Then we had auditions, and wouldn’t you know it, no one suitable auditioned for the Count. I was forced, forced I tell you, to take the role myself.
I found a reduced orchestration, from the National Opera of Wales, and hired a tiny orchestra. Dave Dorrell designed a gorgeous set of fabric drops that made the set changes easy,2 the usual gang of angels and elves made the costumes (especially the Act IV masquerade, in which the four principals found themselves dressed in their 18th century parallels). We pulled together the missing chorus members and got to work.
And how did this ultimate vanity project, an 18th-century opera buffa masterpiece, fare with the audiences of Newnan? Sold out, start to finish, standing room only, thunderous applause. It was exhilarating.
In order to identify some of the performers in some of the photos I pulled up, I dug out the program and was struck by my Director’s Comments. I will leave them here:
I always thought that someday I should like to direct opera. Perhaps one day I shall, but in the meantime, what we’ve done with Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro will serve.
What have we done? We have taken the world’s most perfect comic musical work and approached it as if it were a brand new script intended for our audiences. When I translated da Ponte’s libretto, I kept an ear out for natural sounding English and made sure that that the humor was ratcheted up to the level where it would be funny to a modern audience, not just quaintly amusing. Likewise in our staging, we’ve applied all our experience as musical theatre performers to the score and text, pointing up the jokes and playing out the sheer humanness of the characters.
For they are human, splendidly and foolishly so, as the title of Beaumarchais’s original play suggests: The Follies of a Day. Everyone sings in the Act IV finale, “Day of fools and night of madness,” and by that point, they all understand exactly what that means, about the others and about themselves as well. And through them, we see ourselves.
Who hasn’t had to deal with the Count, convinced that everyone and everything is out to get him when he is the author of his own problems? Who hasn’t been Cherubino, young and in love with love even as he is tormented by the sweet newness of it all? (And who hasn’t written really bad love poetry, like Cherubino’s Act II song, “Ladies, confide in me”?)
With any luck, we haven’t had to suffer like the Countess does, but if we have, she shows us how to get the courage to take charge of our own life. Figaro and Susanna show us the value of humor in a relationship, even at the moments of highest stress in their lives.
And don’t we all hope that forgiveness and completeness are possible? Don’t we all wish that our problems would resolve themselves in a shower of fireworks and joy in a moonlit garden? There’s the ache in the brilliant comedy: despite what we think might happen after the curtain comes down and the sun comes up the next morning, for one moment there is redemption, summed up in Mozart’s perfect little world.
That’s our goal tonight, to bring you safely through all the lunacies of these wonderful characters to the final haven of the garden, and to send you out into our own night with that perfect joy now a part of your life as it is a part of ours.
Dang, I write good, don’t I?
1 We ran Jan-Dec in those days; most of us were educators and opening a season along with school would have been stupidly stressful.
2 Fun story: I had in my head that I wanted the color palette to be a muted 50s kind of style, based on my favorite childhood book, The Color Kittens. I didn’t have my original copy, so I ordered one from Amazon and was astonished to find that it was illustrated by Alice & Martin Provensen, the illustrators of William Blake’s Inn!
Oh, look, a not-rant!
Enjoy it while you can.
So, last month sometime, a bunch of Lichtenbergians were whooping it up in my living room, and I posited that we really ought to do something for the 400th anniversary of Bill Shakespeare’s death, since we missed the 450th anniversary of his birth two years ago, and now we have this to look forward to:
Now to wrangle the Lichtenbergians into actually getting something prepared.
Interestingly, as I post this as a challenge to various people on the FacePlace, I find myself hesitating to enter into the spirit of the thing and talk smack. (For example, the original title of this post was ULTIMATE SHAKESPEARE DEATH SMACKDOWN. [bitches], and I chickened out.) So if nothing else, it will be an interesting acting exercise for me.
Mark your calendars.
I’m sitting here in my room in the Springer Opera House—yes, that’s a thing—waiting for the first rehearsal of Born Yesterday, the Garson Kanin comedy that closes out the Springer’s season, and I’m being very good, waking at 6:00 a.m. and actually working on Christmas Carol.
I questioned whether to bring my own coffee pot since there’s one in the communal kitchen here, but then I realized that if I open that door before 9:30, I’ll start being sociable with my fellow cast members and never get any work done. So I’m glad I have my coffee set up in my bathroom; I’ve actually been productive this morning.
I’ve picked up where I left off some weeks ago, starting to get “The Cratchits’ Prayer” re-orchestrated. As I’ve said before, none of this process is very hard since most of it is just deciding where to copy and paste the music that’s already there. But there are issues—and always have been—with this piece, in that the harmonies twist and turn and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten them right. I reworked them last year and I don’t think I solved the problem, so this is the time and the place where it all comes to an end. Eventually.
This blog post is, of course, in the spirit of TASK AVOIDANCE, one of the nine precepts of Lichtenbergianism: I got to a certain point in the music and decided to stop working on it for a bit.
Today is Tuesday. The first runthrough of this show is Sunday. And then in another week and a half, we open. Let that sink in: we have fourteen days of rehearsal (Mondays off) and then we open.
Let me be the first to say that, never having done this before, I have some anxiety about my ability to learn these lines in the allotted timeframe. It helps that one of my fellow cast members, an actual professional actor, said the same thing at dinner last night. It’s a matter of age, mostly. Those lines just won’t stick like they used to. In Into the Woods, I flubbed scenes in ways I never had before. Of course, in my defense, most of my scenes began with the line “And so the Baker…,” so it’s no wonder that I couldn’t keep them straight.
Feh. I will not only survive, I will prevail. But I do see a lot of evenings spent chiseling those words into my brain.
Ah well, back to Dickens.
OK, so I’ve not been very productive. But I have accomplished some little bits.
First, you must know that I’ve been working on re-orchestrating A Christmas Carol for next December’s re-premiere. I haven’t shared any of that because it’s not very interesting, but here’s a taste:
Past’s Arrival | mp3
This bit of underscoring takes us from the chimes of a neighboring church to the Ghost of Christmas Present’s teasing appearance, to their transportation to Scrooge’s past: the countryside, Martin and Oliver having a snowball fight, and then fading into the schoolroom.
The process of preparing sound files for December is not at all the same as simply re-orchestrating the show from an 11-piece ensemble to a full orchestra. Because I’m not actually working on documents for live musicians, there are lots of shortcuts and omissions. For example, if I transpose a harp sequence up a octave, I don’t bother moving it from the bass clef up to the treble clef because who cares? No harpist is going to have to decipher what I’ve written, and the computer doesn’t care—it will play the notes exactly where I’ve put them whether they look correct or not.
Repeats are another area: many of the pieces have vamps (bits that loop until the scene moves on) or repeated verses/choruses. For live musicians, repeats save paper and are easier to read. But the printed repeat signs are irrelevant to a computer program that I’m going to instruct to “loop this waveform until I tell you not to,” and so I’m leaving those out. In the above sample, there is a vamp on the flute part that you won’t hear because that will be taken care of in QLab, the multimedia sequencer I’m still exploring.
I’m in the middle of pondering whether it is going to be better to try to “slice” the repeat (with varying degrees of smoothness or accuracy) in QLab or to export each section of a piece separately so that the repeated section is clear and easy to click on. This may become critical in rehearsal, of “A Reason for Laughter,” for example, as we try to get Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig in and out of their verses, or in “Country Dance” when we’re trying to learn new sections of the dance.
I also have been taking repeat signs out of pieces like “Country Dance,” where it’s just easier to string all the jumpbacks (from A—>B—>A—>C—>A) out into one long piece rather than deal with all my quirky repeat signs. In fact, I’ve stopped working on the music to blog here because the challenge of untangling “A Reason for Laughter” makes my eyes cross.
Anyway, as far as slicing vs. exporting multiple files for each pieces goes, I have lots of time between now and November, so I can play with all my options. (Who am I kidding? I’ll take the complicated way because it will make life much easier in rehearsal.)
I have gained an assistant:
She is currently trying to keep me from typing—WHAT IS THE DEAL EVEN I SHOULD BE PETTING HER ANYWAY—and did you know that pencils, pens, and erasers make great rolly toys, especially if you knock them to the floor?
She’s been with us for a couple of weeks now but has so far refused to divulge her name, and she is the only cat I have ever met that, when you pick her up, goes limp in your arms and settles in for a cuddle. She’ll shift, turn over even to get more comfortable, but ask to be put down? Nope.
This is not the cat I was looking for—I prefer tabbies—but she is such a sweet-tempered beast that we were afraid to tempt fate by giving her away. I’m trying to get used to cat hair everywhere again. The turbo-purr helps.
Rehearsals continue for Into the Woods. You will have to believe me when I say it is not bragging to claim that my performance will be a tour de force—it would be for anyone handling the roles of Narrator, Mysterious Man, and the Wolf. Generally, the Narrator/Mysterious Man are combined roles, but the Wolf is played by Cinderella’s Prince. My playing all three requires some very quick changes indeed, and so the audience can not help but be dazzled by my facility, speed, and grace. There is one moment where I—as the Narrator—facilitate Milky White’s escape from the Baker’s Wife, only reappear seconds later as the Mysterious Man; I expect it to provoke laughter.
I am quite enjoying the chance to sing “Hello, Little Girl,” however. It’s delicious, nasty fun.
The show opens March 19 and runs for two weekends, Thu-Sun. Details here.
Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy is going well, if by “well” you mean “successfully avoid writing abortive attempts for Seven Dreams of Falling while not accomplishing an awful lot.” I sit in my writing chair—that’s an official thing—and start free-associating on one of the 9 Precepts, and before I know it I’ll have two pages in a minuscule field notebook almost filled. It’s exhausting.
So far, I don’t have any brilliant new insights to share from my writing; I’m still in the “dumping” phase, wherein all those things I’ve said and thought about the creative process over the years are finding their way out of the recesses of my brain onto the page. I’ve also begun collecting relevant bibliographic support, so that’s progress of a sort.
Finally, a look at the labyrinth:
A panoramic shot from the west side looking back towards the entrance—not our usual vantage point. The winter rye grass makes for a lovely oasis of green, although I’m sure I’d be a better hippie if I learned to appreciate Nature’s own withered brownness.
I am eagerly awaiting warmer weather!
So the books for Into the Woods came in and I signed for my copy. As I took it over to my pile of stuff, this slipped out:
A blessing for community theatres everywhere, I suppose. One buys them in batches of six and everyone gets to show off/advertise their production of whatever and add to their ever-burgeoning collection of t-shirts.
Music Theatre International was my go-to source for musicals back in the day, since they had shows that were at the time not the huge, overblown, everyone-knows-this-one shows like the Rodgers & Hammerstein Library’s offerings. We did A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Fantasticks, Into the Woods, Lucky Stiff, and She Loves Me while I was in charge, and since then NTC has done a lot more from the collection.
Two things struck me about this flyer, though. One is the relentless march of commodification of theatre. Yes, I know the purpose of theatre is to separate the customer from his money, but Broadway musicals in particular are now more product than production. Not only can you buy these t-shirts, but if you go to the touring productions you can buy hats and cups and wine glasses and CDs and posters and trinkets and all kinds of be-logo’d crap, just so you can identify with this product. You’re not there to enjoy the creative work of a team of artists, you’re there to sign on to Team Phantom or Team Poppins.
The other thing that struck me was the listing of shows on the back of the flyer. In a little side box, we are offered t-shirts for the School Editions of the following shows:
- Avenue Q
- Les Miserables
- Miss Saigon
- Sweeney Todd
School editions. For schools. For students to perform.
I will be the first to admit that I have done shows with teens that pushed their sensibilities and their understanding of the world around them.
However. Whenever I selected a show it was the thing itself, not some bastardized version of it—nor did I bastardize it. That is the problem I have with the “school editions”; I don’t care if the kids do shows with sex, violence, and cannibalistic critiques of capitalism in them, but I do care that those things are watered down. Because: MTI is not doing this watering down (with full permission and often cooperation of the artists) so that more children can explore the beauties of first-rate musical theatre, but because they want to make the sale. Cha-ching! More t-shirts!
And of course, they’re making the sale to schools/communities who cannot handle their little darlings saying damn or fuck or explaining how the internet is for porn. To those communities, I’d say stick to Rodgers & Hammerstein. Although naturally they probably will want to avoid South Pacific with all its miscegenation and stuff.
(I’m still trying to wrap my head around how you make any of those shows tame enough for sad little communities. Miserables, Saigon, and Rent still are about prostitututes; Ragtime is still about black people and blowing stuff up; Sweeney Todd still involves meat pies. All of them are condemnations of the power structure and of rigid, self-righteous moral codes, which alone would get them cancelled by many communities. Eh. Who cares? Get off my lawn.)