Jenntertainment's Weblog

Adventures in children's theatre.

Little Women and Little Men April 28, 2013

Filed under: Jenn-eral — jenntertainment @ 11:44 pm
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     When I was eight years old, I did my very first play, Peter Pan. The director of that play would, in time, become my mentor and dearest friend, and the cast of that play would become the cast of my life, populated by future best friends, boyfriends, and my Maid of Honor.  But this isn’t a story about Peter Pan. This is a story about Little Women. 

     Just today I closed a beautiful production of Little Women the Musical (incidentally, stage managed by my aforementioned Maid of Honor and fellow Lost Boy), to great reviews. Our cast was exquisite, each of them perfectly suited for their role, and passionate about this remarkable story. After praising the performance, every audience member I spoke with would tell me the story of how they came to love Little Women. Each of them – mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters – had their own personal relationship with Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale. They remembered reading it aloud to their children, or listening to the book on tape on long car rides, or reading the chapter with Laurie’s proposal so many times that the pages fell out of the binding. Their stories made me think back to when I first became acquainted with Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy, nearly 20 years ago at a rehearsal for Peter Pan. 

     As I got ready for my first rehearsal, my mom suggested that I pack a book. She said that rehearsals were long, so I figured that the book I brought should be long as well. I grabbed Little Women, the thickest book on my shelf, and went off to Never Land with the March sisters in tow.

     A few weeks into rehearsal, I still hadn’t made it through the first chapter. I would start on page one, get completely lost in the vocabulary by page three, and sit there reading the same passage over and over again. Rhett, one of the teenage boys playing in Captain Hook’s band of pirates, asked me why such a very little girl was reading such a very large book. When I confessed that I didn’t understand any of it, Rhett did something truly remarkable, especially for pirate. He took the book from my lap and began to read it aloud.

     He explained to me that I was reading it all wrong. “You can’t read something like this to yourself,” he said. “There’s too many characters. You have to read it like a script, like a play.”  And so we did. We read each of the characters out loud to each other with different voices and faces, acting out the March family Christmas right there in the hallway. He had a prim, proper-sounding voice for Meg, and a whiny, nasally-toned voice for Amy. His Mr. Laurence was loud and booming, while his Aunt March was derivative of Julia Child. Rhett’s Laurie was handsome and bumbling, just as he was. With Rhett’s help, I slowly made it through all of Jo’s ups and downs. I also developed my first crush.

     Watching the story now, through more adult eyes, I find myself more and more astonished by how our lives turn out. Jo, who swears she’ll never marry, finds herself running a school with her husband. Amy, the young artiste who wishes for grandeur and fame, marries the boy next door. Beth, an angel in disguise, leaves her family all too soon. When I think of my humble beginnings in a community playhouse, I realize that I am blessed beyond measure to have been able to make theatre my livelihood, working right alongside my family and my best friends that I met while rehearsing Barrie and reading Alcott.

     I’ll never know why Rhett, a vivacious boy scout, chose to sit down with a little girl and help her to fall in love with a classic novel. Just like I’ll never know why, ten years later, Rhett would lose his life to a freak accident when his hotel balcony collapsed. What I do know is that he changed the way I saw those little women, and transformed the way that I read books. Like Beth March, he, too, was an angel in disguise.

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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. 🙂

 

Fiddlers on the Roofs November 13, 2008

Filed under: Only Small Actors — jenntertainment @ 7:55 am
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     For some odd reason, the soundtrack of my life is Fiddler on the Roof. I have been personally involved in six productions and have seen the movie, professional and amateur productions of it countless times. With all of its’ wit and wisdom, I truly love this show, but I no longer laugh out loud at the jokes. I am reasonably certain that I could recite the entire show as a monologue, if circumstances called for it. What might those circumstances be? Only time will tell. As the Good Book says…
     The following is a piece I wrote about two years ago that is making a comeback, due to recent events. This does not refer to the school production of Fiddler that I saw last weekend, but to all youth productions of anything, anywhere.

 

     At one time or another, anyone who is anyone will experience the joys of small scale church and school musical productions, most of which are far from musical. From Rodgers & Hammerstein or Lerner & Loewe to homespun passion plays, watching these young artistes hard at work has taught me to appreciate even the meekest one-act. I know that school plays are going to be sub-par, er, less polished, okay, laughably bad even. Let’s face it, halfway through the junior version of Annie Get Your Gun, death begins to lose its sting. Yet somehow I find the pull of a children’s musical irresistable. Sort of like watching a special kind of train wreck in which the crash victims are singing and dancing enthusiastically as their car derails. I pay my five dollars and buy my homemade lemon squares in anticipation of an evening filled with missed cues, falling scenery, off-key warblings, bathrobes used as any variety of costume and the swelling of great pride. I just can’t bear to look away.
     In my years as a patron of the somewhat-theatrically-inclined-arts, I have seen a number of breathtaking performances, including Jesus Christ Superstar minus the crucifixion, Hair minus all references to sex, drugs, alcohol, war or draft dodging (which rendered the production all of twenty minutes long),  South Pacific done admirably by all white students very poorly spray-tanned, and just the first act of Babes in Toyland, before all of the complications begin. All ranked a high eight or nine on my scale of amusing theatrical experiences, the rarely attainable ten, of course, being the highest place of honor. My scoring system is quite neanderthal; it consists simply of measuring the time spent with hands placed over my mouth in the delightful horror of wondering what daring feats they will attempt next, and the time spent counting the number of names in the program that end in “e-y.”
     I think one of my most memorable experiences with cafeteria theatre was at a Southern Baptist church. This one scored a perfect ten, by all accounts. Every city, no matter the size, has that one church that is more like a government institution than a house of worship. Just picture it; they have an enormous congregation led by the equally enourmous Brother So-And-So with an oddly pink and maroon-colored sanctuary large enough to store at least one million hymnals. Imagine my glee when the church’s parochial school decided on none other than Fiddler on the Roof for their spring musical.
     Pandemonium promptly ensued. The cast of fifty was comprised mostly of girls, and the few male cast members all played multiple roles, donning different hats and stick-on beards as “disguises” so real that I’ll bet their own mothers hardly recognized them. Orthodox Jewish customs were cast aside like Tevye’s two youngest daughters (what were their names, anyway?) and every “mazel tov” was said with a decidedly southern twang. Heads were left uncovered, girls and boys held hands while dancing in a circle for the opening and the evening was wrapped up with a speech from the program director encouraging people to joint the Christian faith. My favorite part was the tavern scene in which a half dozen or so “Russians” wearing preppy fur-collared jackets stomped up to the bartender, slammed their fists on the styrofoam scenery – thereby leaving a visible dent – and loudly proclaimed their desire to be served “milk!” It was beautiful. 
     I have noticed that beds, baths and bars are forbidden in such theatre. No matter the importance of the setting, the three ‘b’s must be avoided at all costs. Eighth graders with false facial hair may pretend to play poker, dance atop tables and shoot capguns at one another, but toasting “L’Chiem” in a bar setting is the devil’s work. Today’s youth is permitted to listen to the crudest of song lyrics and watch the most overtly sexual television shows, desensitizing them to the very concepts of virginity, sobriety and modesty, but all theatrical references to the underworld or everyone’s favorite beast of burden must be censored for the sake of their spiritual purity. I have recently come to the conclusion that it takes a much dirtier mind to find the smallest bits of evil in the most outwardly innocent activities than it does to simply take them at face value. Perhaps they are truly looking to hide their own transgressions instead of preventing new ones.
     The evening was topped off with a ten-minute long curtain call and a reprise of If I Were A Rich Man sung by the entire cast. The audience was on its feet, parents whooped, grandparents waved flower bouquets wrapped in cellophane and siblings held up signs reading “I ❤ Fyedka.” The cast rushed out into the house as soon as it was over and began the ritual of hugging and kissing their fans, all of whom live on the same street. You see, at the end of an interminably long evening of “tradition,” everyone will have forgotten the missed entrances and the overzealous french horn player in the pit. All they will remember is that they were brave enough to stand on stage, heads held high, and get treated to a big dish of ice cream on the way home from their night of theatre magic. That is why I must go. It is my duty to act from afar as Drama Club Historian and accurately preserve the true miracle of high school theatre; the miracle that, despite advanced technology, pop culture and severe budget cuts to arts programs, putting on a play at your school is still cool, still worthwhile.

That, and the miracle that Tevye’s pants didn’t fall down during the wedding dance, because it looked like they might.