Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Making a show go on...and other 'i' words

When we experienced problems with one of our technical teams in Grahamstown the cast I had the privilege of being part of started joking about ‘i’ words, such as incompetent, irresponsible, illiterate, irregular and my new addition..iLate. So, whenever we were challenged with a challenging team we would make reference to the ‘i’ words...

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a lecturer it’s that you cannot please all your students. Never mind their parents (who I assume are not aware that their offspring weren’t prepared for that test, didn’t know their words for that dialogue…and what assignment again?). But for those who really try its always amazing to see results. To see them grow in the space of the few hours I’ve worked with them, or the few weeks that we had to perform a piece. And very often in our field the only way to learn how to do something, is to do it. Especially when it comes to a field such as directing.

As one of the drama lecturers at a local musical theatre college, a colleague and myself encouraged two third year students, eager to direct a play, to enter a piece for the local Student Arts Festival. The play could also then serve as an assessment for them. But they had to direct it, plan it. And if they got stuck somewhere along the way my colleague and I were an email away to fix, or help. We gave them a play text, we gave them a cast, and space to rehearse during the holidays. They were to rehearse with their cast while I was away performing in Grahamstown. And the deal was that upon my return I would view, spit and polish their show in the two weeks I was back before the festival started. When no one replied to emails while I was away performing I got worried. When emails were not replied to once I returned I was even more worried. I informed them that I would be viewing them on the Friday afternoon, as their first technical rehearsal would be upon them soon. And then asked for a response. A day later I received from one of the 'aspiring' directors:

“I can’t make the viewing”

A single clause.

A number of email exchanges later, including excuses, and resignation that they had been at fault, it came out that that they had not started in time. Or in fact started.

I couldn’t believe it. The first of a series of 'i' words started going through my mind. How someone could not have started working on a production less than two weeks before they were to go on stage had me at wit’s end. The two directing students asked if they could pull the production from the festival, and were willing to pay the penalties of doing so. I asked them to call the festival manager to do so. Immediately. I figured if they didn’t learn from the experience of directing a play, perhaps they would learn from cancelling it themselves. I also asked for immediate action as time was in short supply. I received an email of confirmation, so when the festival director phoned me the next afternoon, as I was the contact person for the college, I asked if the students had cancelled the day before. They hadn’t. And, at that point, it was impossible to pull the show from the festival as the electronic system which now dealt with ticket sales had been put in place. That Morning.

So, with a handful of outside students from a singing lecturer at the college, and a handful of students from the college I put together a jazz singing show. Mikes were organized, my colleague and I plotted lights (before the show existed) and in two rehearsals, we had a show. It was chaos on the technical box as I qued two frightened looking first year drama student sound and lighting operators. And with what I considered to be a relatively decent turnout for the first performance from an unknown college the first show was done. I was relieved, probably not as much as the sound and lighting operators, to have survived the first performance. The second performance was sure to go like clockwork.

Wrong. Upon my glowing return to my flat I received an email from the singing lecturer, informing me that all her outside students refused to perform again, at 10:30 the next morning because they felt that the audience turnout was too small.

I reread the email in disbelief, rather sure that some fever must have caused me to hallucinate, as I have never heard of performers refusing to perform a show because ‘there weren’t enough people in the audience’. After confirmation of the facts on my second read a number of ‘i’ words flashed through my head. I contacted the head of the school. And a couple of phone calls later it was decided that we would make do with what we had. Add a few more items that were in the repertoire of the three remaining students, and one outside professional and I would just have to make it work on my own. Especially as my colleague could not attend the show, and the head of the school was leaving for France that day.

So the next morning I put on my professional director’s face and headed off the theatre with all the fake enthusiasm and visage of calm I could muster concerning my general state of panic. Especially as the ‘outside professional’ (a term I use loosely, and carefully avoid naming him and using words like ‘indecent’) cancelled that morning. In an sms.

So with three regulars and a friend who happened to be there and who decided to help out, just because of the absurdity of the situation and because she had a backtrack on her cellphone I put together another show.  In the 45 minutes we had to move into the theatre a song order was decided upon and a CD cut, the lights were replotted and so was the movement of the actors on the stage, and the transference of microphones. And, one of the performers had car trouble and arrived as we had to open the doors for the audience to enter.

I was in a state somewhere between panic, chaos and directorial autopilot but the show went on. On time. Incredible.

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