Another trip down the sledding hill

One of the coolest parts of working in theatre is that it’s rarely boring. Even if you’re doing a play that isn’t going well, at some point that show will be over and you move on to the next one. A group of new friends and old get thrown together to create another production.

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Image thanks: Thoth, God of Knowledge via Flickr

I selected Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing last spring as part of our 2009-10 season at St. Clair County Community College. I loved reading the play to myself, and wanted to choose works that would challenge my actors and crew. The Real Thing will do exactly that. Last week’s auditions provided me with seven strong actors to play these complex characters, and now I can begin to picture what they will look like. But the read-through is what I really look forward to. I get to hear the early sounds of the characters’ voices, which is always different than I heard them in my head while I was reading the play myself. And that’s good. My job as the director is to help the actors individually — and as a group — to discover the truth behind their characters so they can show that truth to our audiences. If I’ve done my job well, each actor will know much more about their character than I’d imagined.

Starting a new production is like jumping on a sled at the top of a hill and holding on for dear life. Once we start, there’s no stopping, and things start to rush by you as you speed down the hill. Today we’re back on the sled. I can’t wait.

Song of the day: “She Dreams in Blue” by Josh Woodward

A few years ago, I was directing a production of David Auburn’s play, Proof, for the St. Clair Theatre Guild. I was roaming around the internet looking for house music for the show (I like to use artists that the audience might not be familiar with and give them some exposure). I found Josh Woodward‘s “She Dreams in Blue” and immediately knew it would work for our pre-show. I contacted Josh and he gave his permission, and I had many people ask me afterwards about the song, more than any other music I’ve used as part of a sound design.

I came across a live performance Josh did of the song at Coffee Amici in Findlay, Ohio, sometime last fall. Enjoy!

The mission of the arts

Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, asks his Huffington Post readers today: Are we forgetting the mission of the arts?

It is already difficult to tell the difference between many not-for-profit theater companies and their for-profit counterparts. Not-for-profit organizations receive a tax advantage because of our educational role, our ability to take risk and our missions which place artistic accomplishment above financial reward. Yet too many of us are ignoring these objectives.

There’s been a lot of discussion and criticism this year about the idea that the administrators of arts organizations have been too conservative in their artistic choices, especially considering the state of the economy and the resulting tough financial times for arts groups. Mr. Kaiser’s comments are noteworthy, especially considering he’s been one of the targets of the criticism. As Isaac Butler commented today when tweeting a link to the article, “It’s nice that Michael Kaiser has caught up to what most of us have been saying for a decade now.”

Has your theater group made changes in its play selections that are the result of financial pressures? Is your non-profit organization neglecting its mission to encourage quality?

Closing night

godspell_castIn May 2001, I was at the cast party for my first community theater production, St. Clair Theatre Guild‘s The Music Man. I’d been fortunate enough to play Harold Hill, and the experience made me hungry to keep acting. I was sitting with Sue Daniels, our director, and her daughter Beth Trudeau, who’d played Marion Paroo, and we were talking about shows we’d like to do. All three of us agreed that Godspell had to be on that list, and Sue had, in fact, been trying to get the Guild to consider producing it for several years, to no avail.

I wanted to do Godspell because, like The Music Man, which got me to an audition after years of threatening to do so, I’d loved the music since I was in high school. I’ve also seen Godspell more than any other show, having seen four different productions, each unique due to the venues they played in, the actors involved and the individual directors’ visions. By the time I got involved in theater in 2001, though, I was 38 years old, and already assumed I was a bit too old to be in the show, but I put the show on my “future plans” list in case I ever got the chance to direct. Last year, I started thinking about directing the show again, and ordered a perusal copy from Music Theatre International and started jotting down production notes. Then I got the artistic director job at SC4 and had to put Godspell on the back burner… again.

Fortunately, Sue was also thinking about Godspell, and convinced the SCTG board to approve a production this fall. Since the Guild’s usual venue was unavailable, Sue then convinced the board at her church, St. Peter’s Lutheran in St. Clair, to let the Guild use their sanctuary for two weekends. It’s proven to be a great venue for Godspell, very intimate yet with great acoustics.

Despite all of this, I wasn’t going to audition. Like I said, I was too old: Godspell is a young person’s show, right? So I told Sue I’d do lighting design and operation for the production, figuring I could fit that into my schedule at the college. Then only one guy auditioned the first night (our eventual Jesus, Randy Mrock) and I decided to go to the second night of auditions. I remembered my conversation with Sue eight years ago, and I knew how much the show meant to her… and to me. I was cast as John the Baptist/Judas, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of rehearsal, performance and post-show fellowship with a great cast and crew.

In the second act last Saturday night, I had one of those out-of-body moments that occasionally happen to actors on stage. I was standing with the rest of the cast behind Karen Getz and Kelly Copley as they sang “By My Side” to Randy as Jesus, and I realized, “hey, I’m in Godspell!” I almost started laughing (I’m glad I didn’t, because it would be kinda inappropriate at that point!).

So it comes to an end tonight. To the cast and crew of Godspell, I thank you. Thanks for letting me be part of your journey. Thanks for making a 46-year-old man feel like a kid again. Every show has its memories, but I promise you I will never forget any of you or what being a part of Godspell was like for me.

And Sue, I owe you more than you will ever understand, from The Music Man to tonight. This one’s for you.