Wednesday, September 29, 2010
You, you got me
Me, I got you...
--"Brotherhood of Man"
With the intense activity of getting through technical rehearsals and our opening weekend, I had to neglect you, dear reader, but now that "How To Succeed" is up and running, I can muse upon things a bit. Theatre, as you can well imagine--if you are not one of us nuts who decided to purse this career--is very much a collaborative art form. The putting up of a show has often been likened to the efforts of a sports team, with each individual playing his or her role as part of a collaborative effort with a common goal. The team metaphor definitely has validity, because without every one's committed participation, the organism of the production cannot function. It is an interesting conundrum for the actor to realize that in service to the entire piece, he has to set aside his own personal egocentric needs. You must admit there is an irony there when a person pursues a career which is all about performing for an audience in the search for their approval, validation, and applause--and then has to accept that he or she has to put others first! These challenges were rife during our week of technical rehearsals leading to our preview/opening weekend.
Mounting a complicated musical comedy in three weeks is a monumental task. Add to this the unique challenges that the Goodspeed Opera House itself presents for designers, technicians and performers and crew alike, and the task becomes even more daunting. I don't think Goodspeed patrons realize that in order to build the set, hang the lights, complete the costumes, and work out the sometimes hundreds of sound and lighting cues, there are crews working round the clock for three days. The performers and musicians rehearse ten hours a day. The Goodspeed space is so small, that all the choreography and set moves must be re-rehearsed in order to fit the playing area allotted. In addition, our highly creative director and choreographer have a free form style of working that requires each performer to be at the ready to absorb and integrate dozens of detailed and sometimes minute changes at the drop of a hat. This can all be exhilarating, but it can also be exhausting and deeply trying for all involved. However, it is the adrenaline of that process and the satisfaction of being a 'problem solver' and a quick, skilled artist that keeps us coming back again and again. Tech week is the birthing process, and at the risk of being graphic, all birthing processes can be painful and messy.
Yet none of this effort and struggle showed last Friday night, when we brought a laughing, cheering opening night audience to its feet as we gave our new baby to the world. Jo Sullivan Loesser graced us with her presence, and came on stage at curtain call to hug our leading players and to declare unreservedly that she had a marvelous time and that Frank would have been happy with our production. There was a definite energy from audience, performers and crew that night--an excitement and anticipation that got us through the rough patches. For us, our first performance was really more like a dress rehearsal, but for that audience it was a joyful premiere. Our choreographer calls us "Team Wicket" because we are troupers--we band together and make things work; we finesse moments that are still in a nascent stage, we 'sell' steps that are still being conceived. Even now, we continue to rehearse during previews, as we seek to deliver just the right product for our creative team and producers. Every team has an MVP and ours is Brian Sears, whose character of Finch is the center of the show. Brian must lead us all every night in this mammoth musical comedy star turn, and he is doing one hell of a great job! Truly he sets the standard, ably seconded by Broadway veteran Ronn Carroll, whose deft comedic talent is another anchor in this production. With standards like these, we all can only rise to the occasion and bring this zany ride home.
This weekend I will raise the stakes even higher as I go on for five performances in my capacity as understudy in the role of Bert Bratt, the personnel director. Aaron Serotsky, who is playing the part, is getting married this weekend and I wish him and his bride a wonderful wedding. And so, while we continue to refine the show and perform our previews, I am cramming as much of Bratt as I can in preparation for my first time on in the part Friday night. If you have never understudied before, the only way to describe that first time out in a part is that it's like those dreams you might have had in college or high school: you are about to take a test and realize that you never attended a class and have not studied one thing. It's also like jumping on to a moving train (and clinging on for dear life!). But again, it is the team around you that you count on to support and get you through. I have no doubt Team Wicket will have my back.