After 6 months of plotting and planning, two months of rehearsing and stressing and two weeks of performing, Isn’t It Romantic is put away and the next production at the theatre has already moved on stage and will start rehearsals tonight.
As for me, it is not that simple to just push this show away and move on. Several people asked me if I was ready to be done with it or would I miss it and my answer is usually “YES!”
I am ready to read something other than the script or notes about the script. I am ready to have my furniture back in my house. I am ready to go to bed at night without making a long list of things I just remembered needs to be done ASAP for the show. I am ready to burrow down in my house and catch up on TV and not see the outside world for awhile. (Daily rehearsals and performances are very trying for a recluse like me!)
I am not ready to quit seeing this amazing cast as they come in and check props and warm up. I am not ready to give up the characters who have made me laugh and cry as they have been formed and molded into the people we created over the last few weeks. I am not ready to give up this daily purpose, my creative outlet where everyone showed up ready to try anything. I am not ready to give up finding out what is happening in the lives of these people I have grown to care about and find moments to discuss God, politics, movies, TV shows and restaurants they like.
So yes- I am ready to be done AND I will miss it terribly.
The formation of the family of a show is a quick and fleeting thing. It takes everyone buying in and working together for a few weeks and then we are off to new pursuits. I feel sure that lots of this cast will be in rehearsals for a new project by the end of the month. Others, like me, need a minute to get past the exhaustion and mental fatigue that a show can leave you with.
I usually spend the week(s) of performances not eating well, worrying too much, running around more than usual and not sleeping enough. Fortunately this cast was so self sufficient, so professional and so ready that I slept pretty well, my notes were few and my backstage duties were simple.
There was so much sickness swirling around us that I spent most of my worry on everyone staying well. On the night of our final dress rehearsal we were missing a sick photographer, sick producers and sick audience members. I could just feel the germs floating around everywhere I went!
Many days when I asked how people were doing I could tell their “fine” was a bit forced. Some of them seemed to forget we are Facebook friends and that I saw their posts about going to the doctor!
No one complained or called in sick. And when my throat began to tickle right before the second weekend of shows, I refused to acknowledge that I felt it. When you hear the old saying “the show must go on” you can believe that real actors will do their utmost to make sure that happens.
We had 8 good audiences who laughed in different places each night and were moved by different parts of the story. That is what I had so hoped for and yet it made it tricky for the cast.
During a show like this, the cast gets in a rhythm. They know where people will usually laugh and they learn to pause a second, to “hold for laughter.” You can’t anticipate exactly where people will laugh so it is impossible to put that into the rehearsal process. That is one of those last minute things you add in with your first audience.
In this show, with different jokes hitting different people, the cast never really knew where to pause. If you pause expecting laughter that doesn’t come, then you look like you forgot your line. If you don’t pause and people laugh, then they might miss your next line.
Some of the jokes took some thought so it might be a line or two later before someone would chuckle which also throws you off. Again, I luckily had a great cast who had to have a lot thrown at them to get messed up. They handled these things beautifully.
Of course, there were the occasional forgotten lines where someone else had to figure out where to pick up and what they needed to say to keep the story going. There were the lines that got stepped on when someone began to speak before it was really “their turn.” There were the mistakes when someone said 6 months instead of 6 weeks, and yet the next person to mention it also changed to 6 months to cover the error or the person who got lost and said something too early and yet their scene partner picked up the right cue so the response made sense.
There were the backstage moments I got to see that will forever live in my brain. The two actors who sat together, one wearing the other one’s character’s hat while they each played games on their phones. The cute couple who danced to the music between scenes every single night as they waited at the door for the lights to come up for their entrance.
There was the lost earring that slid behind the offstage door. The actress just went on stage with no earrings, but I decided to climb behind the door to retrieve the lost jewelry. As I unhooked the door and went around the mops and brooms to find the earring, I remembered that that door makes noise as it closes, so I got another actor to quickly grab it before it closed since I was already on my hands and knees when I realized it. As he grabbed the door, I remembered that I was still holding the prop flowers that I had been ready to hand to another actress as she ran by after a quick costume change! I had to jump up, run to hand her the flowers just in the nick of time before going back to find the earring and putting it on the prop table beside the one the actress had left there, relieve the actor holding the door, who didn’t really know what I was doing or why I didn’t let the door close, and re-hook the door open! He never questioned me, he just stepped in and helped, doing what I asked of him.
There were the private jokes that we had and the laughs that we shared. There was the cry of “Sweet Gherkins!” we adopted because one of the characters continuously offers them at her on stage party when things start to get awkward.
I have had the Rod Stewart version of “Isn’t It Romantic” playing in my head all morning- something I had managed to escape up until now. (I really loved all of the music I picked for this show! I’ll probably be listening to it all for some time to come!))
I try as a director or stage manager to give the cast space. To let them warm up, get into character, go through their rituals, check their props, etc. with no talking from me and no interference. I try to let them go out after the show and have their time in the dressing room with no more out of me than a few announcements at call time, their signal that the house is open, their 15 minute warning, and the call to places. The bond a cast makes is strong (or should be if you want a strong show) and the director is separate from that. They need their space to connect without me hovering.
Again, it is a fine line and I try to do my best to be there for them without smothering them. (I have compared my job to that of a good parent and this is another prime example!)
I hope that this series about directing this show has been interesting and informative. I appreciate you reading it. Although each show is different, the process follows the same format so I doubt I will ever do this again. I also doubt that I will ever have a situation where I have such an ideal process with such amazing actors!
I have 8 months until I direct again (unless someone out there needs me?) I have already cast a few people, have read and reread the new script and will probably begin actually working on it in a month or two. In the meantime, I will probably let down my guard and get sick, have dreams about things that could have gone wrong with this show, and try to relax a little, although I am not very good at that.
The autographed, framed poster of this show that they gave me at the cast party last night is hung on the wall with my other “directing” posters. I have thanked my cast and asked them for feedback so I can grow and be a better director. I have put away the props, washed the costumes and refurnished my home. Time to try to move on. That isn’t really easy for me.
Again, thanks for reading. The End.