Thursday, October 18, 2007

There's No Business Like ...

I’ve been meaning to “blog” about the process of getting Hecuba & Dido: Love Gone Wrong from the page to the stage since the first day of rehearsal back in September, but good intentions aren’t always productive. So even if it is late in the game, I’m going to start now.

When I first had the idea to adapt Charles Mee’s Trojan Women 2.0, I knew that the war in Iraq and the situation of women in Afghanistan would figure into it. Other sources which also influenced me in the adaptation were the book “Women, Power and the Biology of Peace” by Judith Hand and the many books by Deborah Tannen, including “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation.” I also asked the actors to anonymously “feed back” to me on questions dealing with war, men and women.

As I was writing, I was also thinking of actresses who could play the major roles of Hecuba and Dido. Before the casting process began, I contacted the two actresses who I had worked with before who I thought would be perfect for the parts: Khimberly Marshall and Cynthia Burdick. Then I thought that I would have to have a very strong actor to play the pivotal part of Talthybius, so I contacted Blair Leatherwood, who’s been working with BPP for the past few years, to make sure that he was available.

Yes, sometimes part of the decision to do a show depends upon who is available. Right after I finished the final draft, I began to think about the other important roles in this ensemble show and contacted the members of STE (Sacramento Theatre Experiment, our sister company) and offered them roles which I thought were suited to them. That left me with several roles for which we needed actors. So we announced auditions and I felt blessed that we were able to finish casting the show after that one night!

When the cast first met and we sat in a circle and read the play for the first time, I asked the cast to tell me what their conflicts were with the rehearsal schedule. Numerous people had conflicts on numerous dates, so I realized that we had to adjust the schedule and that there were going to be rehearsal at which I would not have the full cast. Funny how work and life gets in the way.

We were not going to be able to rehearse in the theatre until about 3 weeks before we opened, so I had to “block” (tell actors where to move on stage during certain lines) the show in the tiny rehearsal room. I realized that once we were in the theatre, things would have to “adjust” again and told the actors to expect that. But I felt it was important to give them some basic blocking as many actors need to know where they are on stage before they can really memorize their lines.

And so rehearsals began and went surprisingly smoothly. Almost too smoothly, I knew from my experience of directing many shows over the years with BPP and other theatre companies. So as I told our artistic director Nick Avdienko (who is also composing original music and designing the sound for the show) I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When we were about three and a half weeks into rehearsal, the shoe dropped with a heavy thud as I received a phone call from one of the actors who said he had to drop the show. Since we had only another 3 weeks before we opened, I immediately sent out an “emergency casting call” to fill the spot. Luckily I found an actor that evening so we were able to rehearse with him in the part and not have my assistant director play the role. Unfortunately our new actor had some conflicts too. So that meant another few weeks of having rehearsals where we didn’t have all the actors.

But since we have an immensely talented group of people, the hard work of getting away from holding the script and working out the physicality of the show is becoming a reality at this stage in the process.

The next two weeks hold many challenges for us. Actors need to give up their security blankets, I mean scripts and receive line prompts. Our technicians need to see the show several times so that when we get into the process of setting light and sound cues they’ll know the show. Our set is being constructed as I type this and our lighting designer, who has already read the script, will be coming to rehearsals. Our costume designer has already taken measurements of the cast and is working on the costumes. Sometimes being a director is almost like being a coach, making sure that everyone is working together as a team. I sometimes call theatre my team sport!

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