Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Well, that sucked

Vent mode: ON.

That might have been the single worst night of rehearsal in the 18 years I've been doing theatre. After getting some notes from the playwright and a request to meet with him before rehearsal tonight, I knew things weren't going to go well, but I didn't expect for the writer to essentially tell me that he hated my entire interpretation of the play, and that what I intend to put on stage in less than three weeks bore no resemblance to the play he thought he'd written.

So that kinda sucked.

Basically, I was given a script of a play to read to see if I was interested in directing it. I had suggested a couple of plays to this company, who I've worked with several times as a designer, and given them scripts of plays that I really like and would like to direct. They didn't even read those, but sent me this script. I read pieces of it, wasn't ecstatic about it, but figured I could find some interesting things in it and make it funny. So I said I'd direct it.

Mistake #1.

We hold auditions, and in a very passive-aggressive way I get suggestions about actors to use, always with the caveat of "but you use whoever you want." So I took these as suggestions, not pieces of anyone's dream cast. When the suggestions were made for the third or fourth time I began to realize that maybe these were more than just idle ideas, that these might be people that he really wanted in the show.

Okay, fine. They're all good actors, and they fit the roles, so no problem. I used 'em. They've all be great to work with.

Then I find out that a representative of the company will be at every rehearsal, checking up on me. This thrills me not at all. I run a closed rehearsal process, and basically want to be left alone to direct my cast, build my ensemble and develop my show in my way. I don't mind periodic check-ins, but having someone there every night when they don't have any real purpose bugs me. It bugs me more and more with pretty much every rehearsal.

So finally after three weeks of being out of town and being not around, the playwright comes to see a run thru Saturday afternoon. I've put in a lot of broad physical comedy, lots of things designed to get a good laugh out of an audience. Ours is not a very discriminating theatre crowd, so I figure the bigger the funny, the better.

Today I'm told that the writer was looking for small, subtle humor. "Harold Pinter meets Neil Simon" was the phrase. Lots of pauses, lots of introspection, lots of subtle work. The polar opposite of the show I've been working on, and one guaranteed to play to nearly empty houses and terrible reviews. Now I'm not saying that the show I've put together is going to win any Tony awards, but it's not designed to. It will, however, give an audience something they will enjoy and give them something they might tell their friends about.

The company has had a couple of shows in the past year really get ripped in the press, with differing levels of deservedness. But another lousy review can really hurt the company's ability to sell tickets, since they only produce two shows a year. So I would fight really hard to defend my vision for the play, from a commercial standpoint if nothing else, but it's hard to tell the guy that wrote it "Nope, you're wrong."

I had no problem telling him that what he was talking about wasn't funny, and he saw my point. But now I laid all this at the feet of the artistic director of the company, and told her that I'd direct whatever play they wanted me to direct. I'd either direct it the writer's way, and they'd probably get killed at the box office and in the papers, or I'd direct it my way and piss off the writer, but maybe have a chance at some financial success. I really don't give a shit anymore.

I've never felt so disheartened about a show before, and it's made me almost nauseous. If I hadn't signed a contact and had 13 actors depending on me I'd have walked a week ago. But at this point, I can't let the cast down, especially since some of them are only involved in the project because I asked them to be. So I've gotta suck it up and do the best show I can, but damn if I don't wanna just crawl in a hole and pull the hole in after me. Suzy's similarly fed up with all the changes to the play, since she's doing props and costumes, and has had a miserable experience, too. The only thing this play has going for it is that the checks won't bounce, and I have a great cast.

Also, unbeknownst to me, last week the folks that run the company told my stage manager that if they had time to find a replacement, they'd fire her. Now that might fly in some places, but dammit, my stage manager on any show is my right arm, and don't go changing the personnel I need with me in midstream. Nobody fires my SM in mid-rehearsal. I may murder one, but nobody fires them! A lot of their issues with her stem from the fact that she's a kid. She's 22 and this is her first professional gig. Of course now it's souring her on being a stage manager at all, after being treated so harshly through this process. So even more fun.

So we open in three weeks, and I'll be counting the moments until I'm done with this beast of a show. If I were just a little more distant, or could make myself be the guy that just sits in the back of the rehearsal hall working on something else while the actors direct themselves, this would be the show that sent me there. But I can't do that to my cast, some of whom were my friends before this, and all of whom I care about now. They deserve as much of my best as I can give them.

Vent mode: OFF


Shelton said...

I've got images of "Springtime For Hitler" in my head. And I mean that in a nice way. I hope it works out.

yestbay said...

Good god, that sucks. I hope it turns out as well as it can under the circumstances.