Life in Theatrics
June 10, 2013

Life in Theatrics ~ Musings of a self-dubbed theatre junkie

Something Old with Something New

T.L. Battey

It's always sad to close a show. But the exciting thing is that there's usually another one waiting for you just around the corner. And when there isn't, you're almost happy for the break from all the work and stress and drama. Until you begin to miss it with a gnawing, lingering ache, and then it starts all over.

When we closed Midsummer, I couldn't believe that I'd just performed in my last show of my college career. It was incredibly bittersweet. Sad for obvious reasons. Exciting because I had something to look forward to that I had never done before - directing. The spring One Acts are student directed, and, this year, I was going to be one of the student directors. I was so excited and so nervous at the same time. I hadn't ever done anything like that before. I had no idea what to expect.

This is a long story, so for this post, I'll just talk about the beginning of it - the selection of what play I was going to do. I knew that I wanted to direct a comedy. But I didn't want it to be some cheesy normal comedy. I wanted something different, something fun, something unique. And I knew just the thing - a murder mystery comedy.

I'm not really sure what made me decide this, but once it was in my head it wouldn't leave. I searched books and the internet, looking for the perfect show. Until I stumbled upon it miraculously one day. Murder by Midnight. It was a spoof on film noir movies, one of my favorite genres, and it was brilliant. I knew it was the perfect play as soon as I began reading. Not just because it literally made me laugh out loud, but because I could immediately picture it. I knew how I was going to stage it, most of the blocking, and an idea of what kind of costumes I wanted before I even finished reading the whole script. It was perfect. Exactly what I had been searching for.

There was only one small problem - it was a little too inappropriate for my Reformed Presbyterian college. I was going to have to cut some stuff out and re-write some other things, but I was pretty sure that by the end it wouldn't be changed too much. It would still be funny, and it would be appropriate enough to pass inspection by the head of the theatre department. I was excited.

It took a couple re-writes before Melinda gave it the o.k. But once she did, I was ecstatic. I was going to direct a play! And it was going to be amazing. Film noir to a tee - complete with the black and white costumes, set, and makeup. I couldn't wait to get started. And, boy, what an adventure it was. From start to finish, one of the most challenging things I've done. And one of the best. Let me tell you all about it...

(To be continued)

Life in Theatrics
June 13, 2013

Life in Theatrics ~ Musings of a self-dubbed theatre junkie

Casting About

T.L. Battey

Once I had selected a piece, the biggest thing standing between me and putting on a show was casting it. Be inexperienced with this side of theatre, I naively thought that it would be an easy process. Boy, was I ever wrong. This was perhaps the hardest part of the whole show!

As I hadn't yet re-written the script to remove the more inappropriate parts, I brought in three scenes that I felt were ok on their own. I introduced the play, explaining that it was a little risqué, that the girl in my show would be in either a robe or bathrobe, and that anyone who was uncomfortable with this should let me know as soon as possible so I wouldn't waste my time reading them. About half the girls who had shown up for the first night of auditions and a few of the guys let me know they'd rather not read.

When I arrived at the theatre that day, I had an idea of what I wanted to see in each character so that I would know what traits to look for in the actors. However, things like that rarely ever turn out the way you think they will. As soon as people began reading, I realized that I was going to have to change the way I saw this show. There were so many different ways to read the lines, and each actor did something different with the part of the script they were given. I liked them all. I couldn't believe how hard of a decision this was turning out to be.

Things only got more difficult when I received a call from the director of the theatre department the next day. "Are you planning on cleaning up your script at all?" she asked me, getting straight to the point.

"I planned on it, why?"

"The parts that you brought into auditions last night?"

"Do they need to be changed, too?" I asked, surprised. I had picked the best of the scenes. If they needed to be cleaned up, my play was in trouble.

She sighed on the other line. "Tiff, I hate to do this to you, but... we might have to cut your show."

"What?!" I panicked. "You can't! I've wanted to direct a One-Act since freshman year!"

"I know, but the theatre is already on thin ice with this school. We can't afford to step on anyone's toes."

"I'll clean it up more. Just give me a chance," I begged, annoyed and distraught all at the same time. I wanted to do this show the way that it was. I hated the way this school limited me. But I also really wanted to be a part of this production. If my show was cut, that meant that I had already finished my last show in college, and I wasn't prepared for that.

There was a long pause before she finally responded. "Ok. Show me you can make it work."

I spent the next hour changing phrasing and re-working innuendos in my selected scenes all while trying to preserve the original intent of the production. In the end, I wasn't entirely happy with the results, but I thought it would pass. And it did.

And, as it turned out, the casting decision wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought I was going to be the first night. Sure, there were still several people I felt could play the parts convincingly, but there were only a handful that blew me away with their auditions. By the end of the night, it was a clear choice. I was going to cast Adam for the detective (no one can dead-pan quite like Adam) and Lindsey as the woman (she was the perfect mixture of cute and sexy, innocent and suggestive). I couldn't wait to get started.

Life in Theatrics
July 22, 2013

Life in Theatrics ~ Musings of a self-dubbed theatre junkie

Rehearsal Makes Perfect... Probably

T.L. Battey

Entering into the few weeks before performances, I wasn't sure what kind of director I would be. I was slightly concerned about taking on so much responsibility. I trusted my cast to do their job memorize their lines, know their blocking, perform their best. But if I didn't direct them properly, the whole show could be a flop. I didn't want to let my people down. But I also had no clue what I was doing. I wanted their respect and trust, but I couldn't help but feel that they knew I was flying blind.

How it ended up in the end was that I was a solid mixture of both Melinda and David in my directing style. Like Melinda, I would come to rehearsals with an idea of what I wanted the scene to look like, where people should stand, how they should get from one side of the stage to the other, etc. I didn't want to block as we went along like David has a tendency to. It takes up a ton of time and can be incredibly frustrating. But I did want to work openly with my actors, allowing them to suggest ideas and do things differently. Where I found the David in myself was my tendency to want to get up and act out the scene myself. I would give an instruction on how an actor or actress should move, and when they wouldn't catch my vision right away I would get frustrated and want to show them how to do it myself. But I tried to constrain myself. Although giving examples can be helpful, I felt that it was important for my actors to work things out for themselves. If they're just trying to imitate me the whole time, their character will never appear fully developed.

In the end, I think that I was a pretty good director. I was patient and understanding, but also firm and organized. I was open to ideas, but not totally willing to compromise on my vision. Of course, it helped that my actors were phenomenal people. Not just talented, but loving and patient and wise. They supported me just as much as I supported them. They came in prepared and worked hard. They had ideas and got excited whenever they were able to catch the vision in my head. Everything pulled together perfectly, it seemed. One day we were doing a read-through, and then, suddenly, we had a show. A real, live, entertaining show that was ready for people to view. I couldn't believe it. Yet another one of my senior-year dreams come true.

And, best of all, I had my dear Gwenyth there beside me the whole time. I couldn't have done this show without her. She was my co-director and stage manager, and we worked beautifully together. When I was unsure of what to do next, she was there to suggest a possible option. When I was overwhelmed, she was there to take over or just gently squeeze my hand and remind me that she believed in me. That show, possibly more than any of the other ones, reminded me of the family I have in theatre. I couldn't have been more proud of my cast, and I couldn't have felt more loved by them either. It was a wonderful experience I will always treasure. I couldn't wait to get an audience in front of them so they could understand what an amazing show they had created.