Tuesday, March 16, 2004

In Which Our Author Lifts Up The Curtain Part 1: Prologue

One thing I’ve neglected to mention over here at Parabasis is that I am starting rehearsals this week for First You're Born, a play that will open in April. As a kind of fun little experiment, I thought I’d take some time throughout the next couple of weeks and try to open the secret little box of playmaking process. I’m guessing there are plenty of people out there who don’t really know what goes into making a play, and it’ll provide me with a good venue to crystallize my thoughts about the show.

The play I’m directing is the US premier of both the text itself and the playwright, Line Knutzon, one of Denmark’s most popular playwrights. You’ll probably hear a lot about Danish theater as I continue my thoughts on saving American Theater, but suffice it to say for now that theater matters more over there than it does here. Knutzon is partially responsible for this by being one of the main playwrights of one of the first theater companies on the ground in the Danish theater revival of the last twenty years. First You’re Born is her most popular play.

I directed a reading of FYB about two years ago and one protracted rights negotiation, several plays and a trip to Denmark later, I start rehearsal on Friday.

Assembling the cast has so far proven the most difficult part. Auditions, for actors, are sheer torture. One actor once described them to me as “ripping open your ribcage and inviting some people to pour rubbing alcohol on your internal organs. Or perhaps pee on you.” I try to make them as much fun as possible, but that doesn’t stop the mixture of guilt and torpor from setting in. Of the people who auditioned for us over the past 9 months, at least 25% of them were either friends or people I’d worked with before. All but two of the cast members are people I went to College with. Of the three people who were on the short list for the main character, one of them was one of my closest friends. Having to look at who is best for the part not who you like the best as a person is a nerve wracking experience, and I hope they’ve all forgiven me.

In the past two weeks, I’ve recast one part and lost both my stage manager and costume designer to other commitments. The actress I lost to a movie, the costume designer I lost to scheduling commitments and the stage manager I lost to gainful employment. You can probably see that money is the common denominator in all three drop-outs. This type of thing is common in theater, especially when you’re paying people little to no money. Art is a business, and when people need money, it’s hard to fault them for moving on to other opportunities.

The stage manager is possibly the most essential and hardest to find person in a theater process. Their responsiblities include serving as the liason between the rehearsal room and the technical staff, making sure union rules are enforced, acting as the advocate for the actors within the process, running the whole show once it is in production, keeping track of pretty much everything having to do with the show, etc. It's a hard job, and very few people can do it well. An even smaller percentage want to do it at all. An even more miniscule group will do it for the kind of peanuts that off-off Broadway pays.

So… fully cast but sans stage manager and costume designer, I’ll step into the rehearsal room on Friday night, trying to live in that moment and organize a new group of people to bring Knutzon’s words to life as powerfully as possible.

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