Tuesday, January 23, 2018

“May you live as long as you laugh and laugh as long as you live!” @ Debby Myers

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on directing in community theater. To my surprise, a lot of you took an interest in it. I referred to several things that I said I’d tell you more about later. I think you’ll have as much fun reading about another side of directing.

The “Ole Gods” are often disturbed when opening week is looming at the end of my directing experience and my frustration has put me into a fetal position. Now keep in mind that I am a perfectionist. I forget I’m working with amateur volunteers who sometimes don’t take theater quite as seriously as I do. Praying to the “Ole Gods” is my next step. I could tell you that they don’t really exist, but it wouldn’t explain how much better it makes me feel to get everything off my chest! And when opening night comes, I feel the presence of the “Ole Gods” when the cast pulls off a fantastic performance and all my frustration vanishes.

The big royalty mishap I talked about in the last piece happened a few years ago when both the board and membership approved my request to co-direct Grease. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to get started on it. My co-director and I applied for royalties, ordered scripts, got together to talk about the set and made a date for auditions. About a week before we were to start, we received an email from the company holding the rights to the show. Basically, it said that because our
theater only seats 60 people at a time, they didn’t feel the venue would work for the production. Weeks of work had gone down the drain and now we had a limited amount of time to find another show. This isn’t even the first time that has happened. If the play you’ve selected is on tour or being performed by a group within a 60-mile radius, the royalty request will be denied. As a director, you can’t apply for royalties until the show is approved by the membership, so that possibility is always there.

Mark S. Esch
When it comes to casting, I told you I make the final choice and I like to take chances. I think I proved that in the very first show I ever directed, Forty Carats. I was fresh off having been an assistant to a veteran director. I needed five women and five men for the show. I had a very good turnout for auditions, which gave me many different choices. There was a new woman who came. She had never been to an audition or been on stage. She was nervous, apprehensive and
inquisitive. Yet I was very impressed with her – she showed a lot of courage and energy. My panel at the table with me wrote down their choices for all the female parts, but her name wasn’t on any of their lists. After everyone left, I made a bold decision. I cast the woman as the lead! Despite all the flack I took for it, she was fantastic!

In my previous article I talked about blocking – I am the “Blocking Nazi!” I want movement on the stage all the time. I want all the movement to look natural. My pet peeve is walking backwards on the stage. I mean…do you walk backwards? I want to create tableaus whenever possible. I tell the actors that knowing their blocking is as important as knowing their lines. Hence the nickname.

I directed a two-person play called Same Time Next Year. Although I had set a deadline for the actors to be “off book,” this was the first show I’d done with a cast of two who had all the lines – 100 pages! Sometimes we must break our own rules…those two probably never really knew all their lines, but I realized that their chemistry on stage and dedication to the show was what really mattered to our audience – not the lines.

Rehearsals were going great for Miracle Worker, I had decided to start working with the crew. The show was very light intensive and the gentleman who was working the light board was struggling with my notes in his script for the light changes. Directing this play was a milestone for me and I was brutal with the crew about the set, costumes and props. Everyone had really stepped up. However, the further we got into the light cues, the more this gentleman’s
frustration grew. About half way through Act Two, he got up from the light board, walked out of the office and yelled “I quit!” I learned a valuable lesson that day.

There are so many unexpected mishaps that happen with live theater. There was the time an actor went completely blank on stage and yelled to the stage manager “Hey can you help me? I need a line, I’m sinking!”

Another time, an actor missed his cue and he was downstairs. Once he realized it, he barreled up the steps, bolted onto the stage (as the audience was laughing about hearing him running up the steps) and went on without missing a beat. 

One night, an actor broke a glass on the stage and all the other actors kept going as if nothing had happened.

When the ceiling literally fell, one of the actresses calmly lifted it back up as if it was part of the show.

During a storm, the lights suddenly went off in the middle of the show--the actors onstage attempted to keep going, thinking they would come back on. When they didn’t, one of the actresses blurted, “And that’s all folks!”

Finally, there was the time a bat came flying through the Depot during a show as audience members began to duck and scream. One of the actors yelled, “Meet our new cast member – Dracula!”

So now I’ve caught all of you up on the ups and downs of being a director. No matter what gets thrown in your path, you have to laugh!

“May you live as long as you laugh and laugh as long as you live!” - Ole Olsen

Debby Myers is with us this week to talk about directing in community theater. A veteran of 15 shows from "behind the camera," she's sharing the process. After reading this, check out Ole Olsen Memorial Theatre Inc., where you can find out all about her next show, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.

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