Jenntertainment's Weblog

Adventures in children's theatre.

Oh, The Thinks You Can Think! March 5, 2012

Filed under: The Show Must...You Know... — jenntertainment @ 12:08 pm
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Seussical the Musical!

Our most recent Main Stage production, Seussical, has finally come and gone. This is one of my all-time favorite musicals, and as soon as I saw it on our season I knew it was going to be a blast! I’ve directed the junior version before, but never the full-length, and not on this scale. For me, Seussical was like another Joseph…Dreamcoat. I was slated to be choreographer, not director, yet the entire show is music. This time, unlike Joseph, the director agreed to share directorial credit with me. I know it sounds small, but if I’m going to basically stage every moment of the show that the audience is paying to see, I’d kind of like for them to know I had something to do with it. 🙂

Credit decided, we split up the work into two halves. She designed the costumes and props (of which there were hundreds), we designed the set together, and I choreographed the show with her input. I think it was because of this clear communication and collaboration from the very beginning that the show went so beautifully. Everyone was on the same page, everything got done on time, and every piece fit right into place. Amazing!

Since the theatre has grown so large so quickly, the Artistic Director and I have had to sort of “divide and conquer” the different programs that we offer. It’s been almost two years since she and I worked on a show together, and I think we’ve proven once again that we work exceptionally well as a team. My strength is in the big picture, and her’s is in the detail. Together, with the help of our amazing design team and volunteers, we are able to put on a well-polished production that our community can be proud of!

The question, of course, is how do we repeat this process with other people? Can we put together a production schedule template to assist other directorial teams in the same theatre? Can we, through organized processes, create the same kind of success with other productions? Can we learn to improve upon our weaknesses and share our strengths? How do we create successful collaboration for ourselves and others in the future?

No, really. How do we do this? Anyone? Beuller?

Collaboration, like any partnership or marriage, is an intimate process. In order for it to work successfully, both (or all) parties have to be willing to stand up or lie down for certain causes. There must be an equal give-and-take of power, decision making, and compromise. Some people say that in a compromise nobody gets what they really want. In my experience, the very act of having to explain and defend your artistic choices can be a powerful, powerful tool. If I can succinctly answer the question why do I feel strongly about this? then the idea is a go. If I can’t define it, then it probably isn’t a strong choice, and despite my willful obstinance, it probably doesn’t mean that much to me anyway. As long as both parties understand this concept and are willing to play by the rules, you can make great progress together. By getting rid of the ambivalent, you enhance the good!

I seem to have gone off on a bit of a tangent. My point is only that, in my opinion, this show worked because this partnership worked. Because of our cohesion, the cast and crew were all well-informed and well-rehearsed, which made them confident. Their confidence transferred into strong, energetic performances that enthused the audience and garnered us fantastic reviews via print and word of mouth! Every member of the cast was proud of the work that they had put in to this show, so they talked it up! They put out posters (more than we’ve ever run for any show!), sold program advertisements (more than we’ve ever sold for any playbill!), put us on Facebook and Twitter, sent emails to their friends and family, and marketed the show for us with their own enthusiasm. You just can’t buy that kind of publicity.

As a result, we had a nearly sold-out run of thirteen performances, which is pretty fantastic for a community theatre production in our area. Dr. Seuss’ famous characters are beloved by young and old, and it was wonderful to see our audience filled with several generations of the same family, all enjoying the same performance together. I love beyond words that we are dedicated to creating entertainment that the entire family can enjoy. I hope that our productions inspire family conversations. I hope that the experiences they have in our theatre seats lead to them spending more time together doing things that they all appreciate, like reading books together, playing dress-up, doing arts and crafts, asking questions, and thinking thinks! I hope this for every one of our performances, but on some productions, the likelihood seems so much higher.

So here’s to you, cast and crew of Seussical! Thanks for all the thinks. 🙂

 

How’d That Happen? and Other Phrases I Use Daily November 7, 2008

     This weekend, the theatre is doing a production of Willy Wonka, Jr. Like all of our class shows, it only runs for four performances, evening shows on Thursday and Friday, followed by matinees on the weekend.
     As we all know, the emotional high of Willy Wonka or Charlie & the Chocolate Factory is the finding of the sacred golden ticket. Every time I watch the snow scene in the movie I feel my insides squeeze together, as if there was some chance that Charlie wouldn’t find the ticket, wouldn’t get to tour the factory after all and that the movie would stop abruptly with a sort of ‘well, you can’t expect a bar of chocolate to solve all of your problems, now can you?’ sort of attitude.
     Knowing this about myself, blocking the famous reveal scene was my favorite part of the rehearsals. Charlie comes down center singing a reprise of Think Positive. The music drops to the suspenseful low hum of violins, Charlie closes his eyes and turns away his head, opening the bar of Wonka chocolate towards the audience so that they see the ticket before he does. He peeks open one eyeball, spies the golden shimmer, and then the stage bursts into color while Charlie sings the classic song I’ve Got a Golden Ticket, which I love even despite the grammatical inconsistency of ‘I have got’ a la ‘You’ve Got Mail.’
     In preparation for the show, my stage managers, Megan and Tyler, and I made three dozen fake chocolate bars to be used throughout the performances.  We cut cardboard, spray painted them silver, printed Wonka labels and wrapped them around the ‘chocolate bars.’ They looked pretty good, if I may say so. Charlie has to unwrap and taste three real bars before he gets the golden ticket, so we also had to buy 16 giant bars that he could actually eat, change the wrappers on all of them to make them look like Wonka bars, hide golden tickets in 4 of them (one per show), rewrap them and discreetly mark the outside so that we knew which ones were the lucky winners. 
     Charlie got to put our chocolate bar system to the test during the final dress rehearsal on the same afternoon as our opening. Figuring out which bars were to go where was like a college-level mathematical equation. One real bar has to be wrapped in newspaper and carried on stage right by Mrs. Bucket for the birthday scene. The second bar has to be hidden under Grandpa Joe’s pillow. The third bar is a gift from the Candyman to Charlie, so it has to be preset in the candy cart on stage left, a genuine chocolate bar amongst a cart full of decoys. To complicate matters further, the fourth and final bar that actually contains the golden ticket is also on the cart, set at the beginning of the show. He and the Candyman have to know which bar to pick first or else the whole scene is blown. Let us not forget the other 36 phony bars littered around the prop table. When we got the formula right in dress rehearsal, I almost fell out of my chair. How’d that happen? We must be the masters of the prop universe! 
     Since we used the bars in dress rehearsal, we know that we have to make another set of four to last us through Sunday’s performance, but that’s no big deal. We have everything set, everyone costumed, every light focused and we are ready to rock! From my perspective, the show is going great. I honestly could not have asked for more from these kids than the beautiful performance that they gave last night. There were things that were always wrong in rehearsal that the cast nailed on their opening, the audience laughed in all the right places and applauded every time we introduced a new character. All August Gloop had to do was walk on stage and he got an ovation – not bad for your first time in a show. Charlie gets one candy bar, then two. Things are going great!
     Of course, you know what’s coming. We’re in the pivotal scene with the Candyman now. The cart is on stage, filled with lollipops, candycanes, goodie bags, false prophets of chocolate and only two real candybars, indistinguishable from the audience. Charlie finds the coin on the ground and tries to return it to the Candyman. He refuses and gives Charlie the third chocolate bar as a reward for being such a nice kid. Charlie takes just one bite, decides to share the rest with his family and puts it in his pocket. Then he decides to buy one more for himself with the shiny nickel he’s just discovered. My intestines are quivering, I’m so excited.
     As the Candyman reaches for the chocolate bar, Willy Wonka (who acts as a narrator and constant presence in the first act) smoothly walks on stage to place another bar in the display and then exits.
     I did not block this to happen. This is not part of the plan. My tummy hurts.
     Relax, Jenn. Megan has it all under control. Clearly, they forgot to preset the golden ticket bar on the candy cart, so she had Wonka walk on stage at the appropriate moment and conspicuously place it right in front of Charlie. The audience will think that Wonka is manipulating the contest, providing Charlie with just the right bar at just the right moment. I kind of wish I had blocked it that way. The other two actors appear to not have even noticed that Wonka was on stage with them, either out of confusion or sheer panic, I’m not sure which. So far, things are great. I tell my intestines to stop tying themselves in knots because the problem at hand has been solved. Then they make one tragic, unforgivable mistake.
     The Candyman does not hand Charlie Wonka’s bar. Instead, he still reaches for the original, completely ignoring the new arrival. Its like watching him choose a felon from a lineup. Why, oh, why must my emotions be so closely connected to my digestive tract? If this were a movie, everything would have been happening in slow motion with Charlie screaming a loud, bassy ‘nooooooo!’ The Candyman shoved the bar into Charlie’s unwilling hands, turned on his heel and exited, leaving an open-mouthed Charlie alone on stage full with the knowledge that he is about to reveal to the audience…absolutely nothing.
     The suspenseful music is playing and my digestive system has come to a complete stop. I fully expect for Charlie to sing something along the lines of ‘I don’t got a golden ticket’  as the show plummets into the dark pages of theatre lore. Decades from now, people will be sitting around at cast parties telling scary show stories, holding flashlights under their faces and saying ‘you remember that show in Savannah where Charlie didn’t get to tour the factory because they forgot to set the golden ticket?’ Young actors will gasp in terror and seasoned veterans will smile and nod. Of course they remember.
     Charlie closes his eyes. What else could he do? He turned away, more out of fear than faithfulness to my blocking. He faced the chocolate bar towards the audience. He lifted the paper flap on one side, hesitated, and slid the bar out of the foil. The audience is leaning forward in their seats and I am standing at a 45-degree angle as though I have not had my V-8 today. The audience bursts out into spontaneous applause as Charlie, in a completely genuine display of surprise, looks down to see a golden ticket in his hands! I think I actually yelped. Then he sings:
‘Look what happened! See what happened? That’s what happens when you’re thinking positive!
I’ve got a golden ticket….’
    
The song continues, culminating in the act one finale. I rush backstage to find my stage manager and Charlie both utterly speechless. There are three golden ticket bars on the prop table. We only made four and we used one in rehearsal this afternoon. How’d that happen? None of us has any clue, but we all know that years from now, at some distant cast party, the lucky kid who played our Charlie Bucket will sit down and say ‘I remember the time…’

 

My Uniform May 30, 2008

I run the field trip program at ‘work,’ which involves marketing, booking and performing in our educational mini-musicals that we offer to schools in our region. It is the theatre’s top-grossing program and our best community outreach tool. This year alone we hosted over 6,300 pre-K through 8th-grade students from 8 different county school systems in Georgia and 5 systems from South Carolina. An estimated 70% of all students had never seen a live play or musical before and, of the small percentage of students who had, only around half had experienced live theatre outside of their school or place of worship. So not only are these kids experiencing what its like to see live theatre, they are also performing in front of their peers, learning facts and figures about their chosen school subject AND wearing silly hats. I love this program.

That said, there are days when you just feel like a dumbass wearing a bee hat and singing about pollination. I’m the one who sells people on the great benefits of this field trip – but I’m also the one who has to wear a little bonnet and apron while I talk about good nutrition in Hansel & Gretal Eat Right, so that when I finally arrive at the witch’s candy house, I don’t eat any of it because the witch doesn’t offer me any healthy food choices. The shows are great learning tools for kids, but sometimes the reality that we are adults playing Sherlock Holmes and Watson in a science show called Geology Rocks! (get it?) is a little painful. ‘Sedimentary, my dear Watson,’ gets very few chuckles from 2nd graders. 

So, I was in a field trip this week about the establishment of the 13 Colonies, playing George Washington.  (That’s right, George Washington.) About halfway through the show, George gets arrested by the History Police for speeding through the Revolutionary War, so I get a good ten-minute break from the show and the kids. This particular day, I heard the front door open, so I stepped out into the lobby to see who it was. As luck would have it, it is my favorite UPS man bringing me some dance costumes. He comes to the theatre probably twice a week, knows my first name, recognized me at the mall one day…we’re tight. Which is why I was really surprised when he gave me this funny raised-eyebrow look when he saw me. I said hello, signed for the package, asked how his day was, all of the social niceties. Then he very politely asked me what the hell I was wearing.

It was then that I realized – I was dressed in breeches, waistcoat, jabot and a tricorner hat with my hair pulled back in a ponytail by a little black ribbon. I also had trick handcuffs on my wrists, as I had just been incarcerated for trying to make history fun. The kids on stage were getting really close to my next cue and I knew that I didn’t have time to explain to him my entire reason for being…so I just said the first sensible thing that came to my head:

“This is my uniform.”

Without missing a beat, my delivery guy said “maybe you should work for UPS instead.”

As I sprinted towards the stage, hands cuffed before me, I thought that he kind of had a point. I’m a 23-year-old girl dressed up like the Father of our Country, acting out hypothetical-at-best historical moments with third graders who are taller than me. Then I went on to say my bit about the Bill of Rights (its the perfect resolution to our living Constitution!) and I thought…nah. At least my uniform has lace.

 

Shakespeare in the Park! May 19, 2008

Filed under: The Show Must...You Know...,Uncategorized — jenntertainment @ 8:36 pm

What an event! 🙂 🙂 🙂 When I think about it, I just can’t stop smiling.

For those of you that aren’t here, this year’s Shakespeare in the Park was a collaborative effort, involving all sorts of different performing arts organizations in our community. Our fearless leader, Jin Hi, had the terrific idea to give the arts community a theme (love) and let us choose scenes, soliloquys and sonnets to interpret and present however we wanted. When the ideas started pouring in, she divided the show into acts, Act I focusing on Love at First Sight, Act II as Lust and the others as Conflict, Resolution and Commitment. With so much freedom, the show ended up as a wonderful conglomoration of different styles and interpretations – some classical, some contemporary, some totally off the wall – so that this year there was something for everyone to enjoy. Shakespeare became accessible and enjoyable, at least in part, by everyone in our community. There was a hip-hop translation of Romeo & Juliet’s first meeting that flowed seamlessly from an urban dialogue to the classical text and back again, there was a modern ballet of three key scenes from Othello with the most beautiful pas de deux I’ve seen in a long time. To set the new mood, each act began with a sonnet, performed in the original text, and then reinterpreted by a freestyle poet. There were scenes set as Tennessee Williams’ dramas (the lover’s quarrel from Midsummer’s), James Cagny-esque film noir (Much Ado ‘would that I were a man…’), 1950’s beat poetry (Hamlet’s ‘get thee to a nunnery,’ feauturing yours truly), punk rock (Taming of the Shrew), and many, many others. It was a true celebration of music, dance and spoken word, all performed on one perfectly clear, full-mooned night in Forsyth Park. Magical.

Did I mention that the kids rocked the house? Because…damn…they did. No, their scene had no great ‘meaning’ or ‘message’ and yes, it helped that they had their own cheering section front and center, but I really believe that they gave a great performance. I know I need to stop gloating, but I feel really proud that I pushed this project through, despite people trying to discourage me from being involved at all, much less with the kids. I know that they had a life experience this week that they will never forget – and who turns down free publicity like that anyway? For the most part, they handled themselves with great aplomb, both on and off the stage, and I would do it again in about twenty seconds, roadblocks and all.  

What I appreciated most about this experience was the way that it truly brought our arts community together on one project that we could all enjoy with equal representation. Backstage was just beautiful, filled with people of all different backgrounds who all love the same basic principles of theatre and community. I reconnected with old friends, hung out with my current favorites and made many new acquaintances that I hope can turn into great friendships, possible theatre collaborations and even potential coworkers. Being involved in Savannah Shakes both on stage and off for several years, I feel like this was a great homecoming for a lot of people. Having Alan as the prologue (breathtaking) and Jim as the epilogue (heartwrenching) was so moving to me and to many others who have a history with this event. I hope that it continues and thrives, with their blessing.

I also hope that everyone on the planet gets to experience some of the amazing sensations of this week. Firstly, nothing compares to that entirely humbling feeling you get of standing on that large stage in front of that invisible crowd…by yourself. You can feel yourself standing in light, but all around you is darkness and stretched out in front of you are flickering candles, going back, back into the night. You’re outdoors, so there is nothing for your voice to bounce off of, and it just kind of looks and sounds like you’re in a vacuum…yet you are completely and totally aware of the sensation of not being alone. Oooh…powerful stuff. Secondly, I hope that every performer who hear’s Prospero’s soliloquy (‘we are such stuff as dreams are made on’) gets chills up and down their spine, knowing that every word he speaks is the truth in the most joyous and most sad of ways. Theatre is an ephemeral art. Every moment has the potential to pass by in a second without any meaning or anyone’s notice. Or it can linger in your mind and in your heart, preserved perfectly in a safe place for all time. Mmm.

Lastly, I hope that everyone gets to know the kind of genuine cameraderie that existed back there, crossing over age, gender, cultural and racial barriers.  We all went out there to do what we do…together. And that means a great deal.

 

 

Dancing Naked Would Be Easier April 7, 2008

Filed under: The Show Must...You Know... — jenntertainment @ 5:55 am

It is finished. I am finally done ordering dance costumes.

That is, until they arrive and don’t fit anybody and I have to send them all back.

I do wonder how many hours I spent looking through catalogues, magazines and web site after web site, all to costume 14 dance numbers for two performances. This is only the second dance recital that I’ve put together, so I am definitely a novice at costuming for multiple body types and age groups, trying to get each costume to fit the emotion or style represented by its dance and making sure that the costume won’t inhibit any of their movement. Try it some time. Its much trickier than I would have thought.

Firstly, there’s the fact that dance costumes are unneccesarily expensive. Everyone is very high-tech now with their ‘specialty fabrics’ and mesh linings that wick away even the slightest trace of ‘moisture’ or patent-pending formulas that instantly make you look 6″ taller and 10 lbs lighter. ‘A midnight stretch halter in superior moisture-wick technology fabric with ballet cut legs and 1/4 length handkerchief skirt accented tastefully with scattered diamond points to create a magical look. $72.’  Let me break that down for you; black lycra leotard that absorbs your sweat with a torn-up looking miniskirt covered in paste rhinestones. Hell, for $72 just give me some bedsheets, scissors and a bedazzler and I’ll make you something really ‘magical.’

Secondly, I’m trying to find costumes for young ladies to wear in front of their parents. While almost every 14-year-old I know is perfectly comfortable wearing a triangle bikini to the beach, most fathers aren’t comfortable watching them wiggle around the house in one. I tried very hard to be respectful of both the girls and their soon-to-be-shell-shocked dads, costuming them in dresses that I think would feel glorious and empowering to wear but aren’t heart-breaking to see your daughter dressed up in and slinking around on stage in front of an audience. I also wanted to be aware of undergarments, myself being a girl for whom a bra is a requirement and not a choice. I made sure that everything I chose was both strap and band friendly. Very, very difficult to manage.

Of course, then there are the boys, which are just as challenging. You want them to look like they belong with the sparkly, leggy girls that they’re dancing next to, but you don’t want them to look…erm…well…gay. Well, here’s some news for you: ALL BOYS DANCE COSTUMES LOOK GAY. I finally decided just to order them the least-crotch-oriented black jazz pants I could find, black and white dress shirts, colored ties and pocket handkerchiefs. I’ll pull black blazers and snazzy hats out of our costume stock upstairs and they’ll look fantastic and straight. Which they are. Most of them.

So now that the choosing is complete, I just have to wait for them to arrive. Everyone will open their packages, exclaim gleefully that it is even better than they dreamed and then all of their items will fit perfectly. Its gonna be great. I hope.