Rehearsals have taken that “post meltdown” turn that happens whenever we as humans have a wake up call in life. Something happens in our lives that takes away any complacency and pushes us to work a little harder, give a little more. Last night I was nearly giddy after we ran Act One, seeing the show begin to gel, to see the actors really lean in to those reactions and relationships that make plays come to life.
In trying to write a record of the entire process of putting together a play, I would not be complete in my reporting if I didn’t say that for the past few weeks, my husband (and technical director extraordinaire) Tim has been building walls and installing doors and moving platforms and steps, getting ready for when we could take control of the stage for the duration and assemble our set.
Once everything was installed after the last extra event in the space Sunday, I have gone in for two days to paint everything, while Tim has moved lights and tried to get everything as set as possible for our tech rehearsals this weekend. Eight hour days are for babies- theatre people know that!
I have said before that I am not one to complain about anything to anyone (besides Tim -sorry sweetie!) because I have been taught that weakness gets you left behind by the herd to wither away at best or get eaten by a predator at worst. I have to be honest though when I say going up and down a ladder and painting for 6 hours straight two days in a row before rehearsal makes me feel every one of the 63 years I have survived so far.
Sixty three year old women should be having tea at Circle meetings and catching up on their needlepoint, not dangling from ladders precariously balanced on steps to get that one little place on the fake, 9 foot tall wall. They shouldn’t be laying on the floor under a platform trying to make sure that anything that might be seen by the audience is painted a nice flat black. The closest I’ve come to doing the “average little old lady stuff” this week was sewing the seams up on a vintage fur coat which was also probably the most disturbing and gross thing I’ve done all week!
So aside from the rehearsals, the research, the logistics, and the designing, there is picking out music, gathering props, building the set and painting, always lots of painting. The fun part of set designing is decorating the spaces that these characters will inhabit- picking out what paintings they would hang, what pillows they would use, which books they would display and what flowers they would arrange. That is my favorite part of everyday life in my own home and it translates to a fun part of the process.
Another favorite part is helping the cast with costume selection. I try to let each actor decide how their character might dress and then we fine tune their ideas together. Putting together outfits that convey who these people are on stage as well as what reads well under the lights and looks good with the other colors onstage is one more dimension to the overall show and job of the director.
This is the time in this process where I now second guess every move I have made. Have I done enough? Have I been too laid back? Have I been too bossy? Have I allowed the actors enough creative freedom? Have I stifled them with too many notes and opinions? Did I make the right choices? Have I done anything right?
When the actors come to me and ask if they can try a new idea, my first thought is “why didn’t I think of that? What kind of director am I?” But I remember that I am the kind of director that loves to nurture my cast and give them an environment where they feel comfortable to try things. I told one cast member last night that I loved how he keeps trying new things and how clever he is! If I had said “this is what I want and it is my way or the highway” none of the funny things he is doing would have had fertile ground in which to grow.
In the past I have had an actor who just went rouge, got together with another actor and rehearsed a scene without me. I hadn’t finished working on it yet and it was very awkward trying to be ok with what they had done when inside I was not OK at all!! I don’t care to work with those two again.
Fortunately my current cast knows how to collaborate while still remembering that ultimately I am the director. If I say that we need to tweak what they have suggested, they listen and we come together on something fun and imaginative. If I ask them to do something and it feels weird to them, we work to make it what it needs to be for everyone involved. If we are polite and remember what our individual jobs are, anything can be worked out!
My last comments for this post are about the play itself. This isn’t the typical slapstick show that this particular theatre tends to lean towards. Don’t get me wrong, it is funny. There are funny characters and situations, but it is more “real life” than some of the shows we’ve done with lots of door slamming and running around with jazz hands!
Written by a Pulitzer prize winning playwright, the play is humorous the way real life is humorous. I don’t know about you, but in my house we rarely slam doors, almost never hide people under the bed and although we laugh alot, jazz hands are rarely seen. If your house has more of the zaniness of a sitcom, I probably don’t need to come over.
In real life we laugh every day, some more than others. I know my house is full of laughter from puns and one liners. If you know Tim, you know there is always a funny story and if you know me, I DO get in predicaments. However, we also have intense discussions, meaningful conversations and awkward pauses. That is real and that is what I love about theatre, taking real life and making it heightened just enough to let people see a little bit about themselves on the stage while still being entertaining.
I contend that if you don’t learn to care about the characters, you won’t care much about the show. If you don’t have some sort of connection to the story and the people you are watching, why would you feel anything if they fall in love, break up, question their choices, make a mistake, die? Some of the characters will irritate you, some will make you sad, others you will love. If you don’t feel anything for the characters, why would you watch them? I hope that you care enough to not only connect, but remember them on the ride home or the next morning when you start a new day. I think laughing is great, but if you laugh and think, that is even better.
When I tell people the title of the play is “Isn’t It Romantic” several have asked, “Well, is it romantic?” And I have to honestly say, not the typical definition of romance. It isn’t the typical boy meets girl, then happily ever after. Everyone’s happily ever after looks different. And that is kind of the point. Romance and flowers are nice, but that isn’t always real life any more than slammed doors and jazz hands.
The thing I connected to in this play is that there is more than one path in this world. Our struggle and our joy is to find our own lane. It is finding that family is not always just who we are related to by blood but can also be the people we choose to make family. It is the realization that each of us is worthy of a life that includes our unique passions and joys and that while we might make mistakes along the path, it is worth it to find love.
Finding love in life is not just about romance, but is also about our families, our friends, our interests and above all, ourselves. I believe that loving and appreciating our unique selves is the first step towards being able to truly love others.
This play represents the love between parents and their children. It has couples- those starting out and those who have spent a lifetime together. It has friendships that are superficial and those that are the kind you hope for in life, the kind you can always depend on. There are father/daughter relationships, mother/daughter dynamics, family obligations, romantic expectations, and lots of laughs as a young woman learns to trust herself for who she was raised to be and who she wants to become.
Is it romantic? Depends on what your idea of romance is, I guess. I think it is realizing that there is much more love out there than we can imagine if we just trust ourselves and follow our hearts.