Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Party's Over

I am either a genius or an idiot when it comes to scheduling. In September, I made the decision to have our fall play at school fall three days after Election Day. I have to admit I didn't think about the fact that Election Day would fall during Tech Week; I just looked at the dates that would work best in terms of avoiding scheduling conflicts for my music students who participate in IMEA (Illinois Music Educators Association) and the start of speech season. The date sort of chose itself. Who knew things would get so stressful?

I mean, I knew I'd be obsessed with the election. I'm a political junkie. OF COURSE I'd be obsessed with the election. I just don't usually suffer from such high levels of anxiety connected with the election.

I didn't account for the amount of stress this show would bring. With the last-minute casting changes, the squirrely freshmen, and other issues going on, this show seemed to carry more stress than usual. During tech week, we had to make yet another casting change. A senior who had a pretty small part (let's call him Zach) "decided" not to attend the first two days of tech week, and the last time I HAD seen him in rehearsal, he had no clue what his lines were. I consulted with my AD Rachel and gave her a choice: she could step in and play Zach's part since she knew the lines and the blocking pretty well (she stepped in and played the part the first night of tech that Zach missed) OR we could ask Will (whom you may remember as the person I'd tapped to be the understudy when Ethan was missing rehearsals left and right) to play the part. She chose to ask Will first and said she would do it if Will didn't want to. She said, "Will's a senior, so he should have the opportunity first." Will took the part and we all relaxed into that challenge being met.

Our first two tech rehearsals were pretty shaky. Lines were still a struggle, particularly for Ethan. After the second day, I had to kind of lay the smack down, which I hate to do. I'm usually a pretty supportive, nurturing director, so it's hard on me to get tough and "yell" at the kids, but I had to. And boy, did it make a difference. The third day of tech, the kids came in and suddenly the show was there -- lines were smoothed out, characters were there, I suddenly had a tremendous amount of optimism. It's hard to remember that sometimes, the kids do respond better to tougher love. As one of my students said to me after I delivered the "get it together" lecture, "Despite your harsh words, we know you still love us."

Now that the acting was taken care of, we suddenly started developing technical issues. (At this point, I should probably mention that the "drama department" at my school is essentially a one-person department. It's me and the kids that do everything. We have no tech director or anything like that. I design the set, the kids and I build it, light it, give it sound, etc. That has been probably the hardest transition for me coming from collegiate and community theatre where there's this huge support staff there to help take some of the burden off your shoulders.) On Monday, the boy who had volunteered to run the follow spot (let's call him Douche, no let's call him Greg) told me that he couldn't be at Friday night's performance because he had to go to football awards. I tried to impress upon him that a PERFORMANCE should take precedence over awards, but he steadfastly refused and actually was quite nasty about it. I told him that he would not be allowed to work on any more shows if he abandoned this one and he said that was fine. It actually ended up maybe being for the best because we found that we could not plug in the follow spot without blowing a fuse and losing our sound system. For about a half hour before tech rehearsal on Tuesday, we had no sound and I was in a slight panic, but we managed to get the fuse located and flipped and sound came back and I nearly collapsed in tears of relief.

So we were cruising along fine . . . until Thursday. We came into Thursday already at a disadvantage. It was parent/teacher conference night, so I had already told the kids I would have to be in and out of rehearsal because I had conferences scheduled. On top of that, the kids normally use my classroom and another teacher's classroom as dressing rooms (since we have no actual dressing room space). Since we were going to have parents in our classrooms, I felt like we had no choice but to run rehearsal without costumes since I couldn't have parents in my room (or the other teacher's room) with clothes lying all over. (I have one girl who can't quite seem to grasp the notion that maybe leaving her bra lying around isn't a good idea -- I had visions of parents walking into a room that looked like a tornado had hit it and there would be Cassie's bra right in the middle of it all.) We started the first scene and THAT'S when I remembered the anticipated absence slip I'd signed the day before for Julie, who has a very tiny part in the first scene. Rachel the Super AD was upstairs taking a Latin quiz. I was in the back of the auditorium without a script. Thinking she would be helping, Cassie came walking onstage saying what she remembered of Julie's few lines. Seeing Cassie playing the part made Ethan, Brian, and Will all start to laugh.

So the giggles had arrived.

They shook them off until the second scene. This scene takes place in the hat shop. We have a "house" flat that we are able to fly in and out for scenes like this. A house flat that's probably been flown in and out of scenes for close to 30 years. The door to the house is often sticky and hard to open. The boy who has to open the door towards the beginning of the scene sometimes has to hit it pretty hard to get it to open. Thursday, he hit the door, it opened, and then it proceeded to fall out of the flat, frame and all. My sound board operator (Michael) and I sped down the aisle and up onto the stage as another actor (Malik) tried to hold it up. (Malik is a tiny, thin boy -- it was like a toothpick trying to hold up a boulder). While the kids continued through the scene, Michael, Rachel, and I tried to figure out how to repair this door. Needless to say, this was a huge distraction, and the two freshmen in the scene took this as an opportunity to goof off.
The floodgates were open.
We had yet another set malfunction during the second act. By this point, the time had come for me to leave for conferences. I was distraught, knowing I was leaving a rehearsal that was completely off the rails. I thought about sending them all home, but I ultimately decided that they needed to at least run through the lines one last time before we opened the next night. The rumor is that Rachel and Michael practiced a lot of tough love -- going so far as telling them they couldn't leave until they at least did the curtain call without any mistakes.
I walked into Friday a little nervous. Could we shake off the craziness of Thursday (and the whole week) and put on a good show? My predecessor would be in the audience that night, the person who had mentored me and supported me and lobbied for me to be his successor. I couldn't bear the thought of him seeing a sloppy show. Theatre friends of mine were coming to see the show. I couldn't bear the thought of them seeing a sloppy show. Parents, the principal, the superintendent of schools . . . all there.
Of course, I'm sure you know how this story ends. The show was . . . . terrific. The kids came together and created a fabulous show, full of life and laughter. They remembered their lines (or covered well when they skipped stuff). They handled the physical humor with style. The people seemed to love it.
I told the kids during green room that doing The Matchmaker has long been a dream of mine. It's one of my favorite plays and even though my original dream had involved playing Dolly myself, directing it was dream enough. During green room that night, I thanked them for helping make my dream come true. And they really did.
And now . . . on to speech season!


Jen said...

So your adventure put me in mind of the following exchange from Shakespeare in Love (courtesy of imdb):

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.

I'm so glad it turned out well--congratulations to you and your kids for a job well done!

Mel said...

Ha! I'll have to remember to share that with the kids next time. I always tell them, "It always comes together" when they start to despair. One time, Malik looked at me and said, "Have you ever worked on a show that's never come together?" and I could honestly answer "no." He was mystified.