He Never Did Win No Checkered Flag But He Never Did Come In Last
Well, best-laid plans and all.
I raced home from work last night, threw on my costume for the fund-raiser, hopped in The Big Red Bus, stopped to gas up, and hit the freeway headed for south Tacoma around 6:00 p.m. We'd been making the 40 mile trip in about 45 minutes, so I figured this would give me just enough time to grab a quick bite somewhere along the way, and still make my 7:00 p.m. call.
Then, about 15 miles down the road, I hit the traffic jam. Instantly, the entire southbound side of I-5 became a parking lot. At around 6:55, after having traveled the entirety of about 1 mile, I called the theatre to tell them I was running late. The person who answered the phone informed me they'd heard there was a terrible accident just south of me, and that news sources were reporting a delay of up to FOUR HOURS, because all but one lane had been shut down by fire trucks, ambulances, police, et al. Clearly, if I was going to have any chance of making the show, I was going to have to get off the freeway and make my way south via an alternate route.
Unfortunately, I was between exits, with the next one more than a mile away, and traffic moving at literally a snail's pace. All I could do was wait it out and hope for the best.
At around 7:15 I got a call from James, the director, to check on my progress - which of course, wasn't very good. I told him I'd get off at the next exit - still about half a mile away - and do my best to get there by 8:00 p.m. Fortunately, we have an automatic "10 minute hold" built into the top of the show, so I had a tiny bit of extra cushion, but things were not looking optimistic at that point.
I finally reached the next exit at around 7:35, having taken about 40 minutes to go approximately 1 1/4 miles, but at that point I was still roughly 20 miles from my destination, and because so many other people had the same idea - get off I-5 and take surface arterials - things were still pretty backed-up. But, at least I was moving, and eventually the traffic thinned out to the point that I could actually go more than four or five blocks without missing the traffic light synchronization.
By the time I worked my way down to Fife, just north of Tacoma, I was parallel to the freeway and - lo and behold! - it was clear of traffic, and the handful of cars I could see were moving at top speed. Clearly, I'd by-passed the accident scene, and so I took the first on-ramp, and - ahem! - raced toward my destination.
I have never, in 26 years of doing theatre, EVER been late for a show. I've missed rehearsals due to illness, I've had shows canceled due to weather or someone else's illness, I've even missed one or two entrances once I got there, but NEVER have I actually not made it to a scheduled performance - and I wasn't about to let this be the exception. Needless to say, I put the "petal to the metal", as the truckers say, and pushed TBRB to its top-end speed - all of 75 mph; it was quite literally as fast as it would go! Reckless, I know, but I HAD to get to the theatre!
When I finally arrived in Lakewood, I pulled into the parking lot, jumped out of the Bus, ran in to the lobby, took one, deep, calming breath, and walked onstage - with the show already in-progress. Not including the "hold", they were about five minutes into the actual performance. As I walked on, James immediately came over, took my trench coat and fedora (Yay for pre-dressing!), showed me where we were in the script (I'd missed only one live sound effect), and sat down with about 30 seconds before having to execute my next cue.
And that, as they say, was that. The rest of the show went flawlessly, they had a good turn-out, and later, when speaking with a few of the patrons after the performance, they were rather surprised to learn that the entrance hadn't been planned that way from the start - things went that smoothly.
Still, not something I would care to replicate again anytime soon.
Now I Ain't Seen No Saucers 'Cept The Ones Upon The Shelf
Have spent the last few evenings rehearsing a little radio play with a couple of theatre friends of mine down in - Lakewood, of all places. I had contacted my friend James (who has done these on-and-off for the past decade) a couple of months ago to see if he had any plans to revive the piece, and it just so happens this year coincides with the 70th Anniversary of both the broadcast AND the theatre company for which he now works, so he had pitched it to them some time back as a fund-raiser, and was already planning to ask me if I was interested in working on it (this will be my fourth go-round).
It's a fun piece; we do almost all of the sound-effects live (music is recorded), as well as in period costumes, plus we've got an actor who looks remarkably like a young Orson Welles, who does a passable vocal impersonation as well.
Unfortunately, the event tonight is sold-out, so even if you had a burning desire to trek to the wilds of South Tacoma, you'd miss out. However, rumor has it we may audio record tonight's performance, so I might possibly be able to post a link to that down the road.
So, while I was busy setting up, bartending, and tearing down my very-soon-to-be-Old-Boss' retirement party earlier this evening, a bunch of my comrades were busy engaging in a periodic community forum regarding the state of the local theatre scene. This event, sponsored by a local alterna-alternative weekly tabloid was prompted by a recent op-ed that suggested some things local theatre orgs could do to "save themselves", and which inevitably resulted in a small firestorm of critical response, of which I (naturally) had a few opinions to express.
Apparently, my absence was somewhat keenly felt (or so I was told by no less than a dozen participants, including both the moderator and sponsor of the event), as at one point early in the proceedings someone brought up my name in some context, and, as I was not there to respond on my own behalf, someone else stood up and responded in my place, going so far as to take my name, which evidently led to a Spartacus-like invocation by no less than 40 people (which, according to someone's head-count would have comprised roughly 1/3 of the attendees) all claiming to be me.
By the time I actually arrived at the event, approximately 40 minutes or so after the "moment", my entrance was greeted with raucous applause - certainly the only time in my life when such a thing has occurred. Frankly, I'm still not sure exactly why, but I guess it's not for me to question.
So, I guess that makes me Kirk Douglas to their Tony Curtis et al
Still, it's a little unnerving - particularly for anyone who remembers how that movie ends.
Harry Hooper Living In #10 Bought A Toupee & Glued It To His Head
I've been keeping a pretty low profile this past week aprez-show; just recharging the batteries, and letting things return to a more normal pace. Nothing exciting - trying to save that for the upcoming B-Day next weekend.
Still, wanted to surface for just a moment to let you know - things are A-Okay.
Giant Steps Are What You Take, Walking On The Moon
I don't think we could have had a better opening night. There was a good-sized turnout, with several reviewers in attendance, and the entire show from beginning to end just shined. Everyone stepped up to the plate and hit home run after home run. I sat in the very last row, taking it all in, and by the end I think I was crying, both from a sense of relief that we had actually pulled off this incredibly difficult production, but also just from the realization that we had done so with remarkable grace and finesse. I could not have been prouder of my cast, designers, crew and technicians than I was when the audience erupted into applause at the curtain call.
One of the last things I said to the cast before the show was to remember this play is a dark comedy, but that it was vital to NOT play the humor; in fact, the more deadly serious they took the events and situations in the play, the funnier it becomes. But I don't think even I was completely prepared for the response. I knew there were funny moments - funny to me, at least - but the audience, admittedly a very friendly one, were laughing at things all the way through; and the cast, having only had perhaps a handful of times during the rehearsal period where someone laughed out loud, were completely synced with the audience. Timing was impeccable, laughs were acknowledged and held for, then left behind with a sense of confidence and agility that simply made me marvel.
It was, in short, a magical evening, and I think even now, a couple hours shy of a full night's sleep, and beginning to feel the symptoms of a head cold I've been stalling off for several days, I still feel a bit giddy, like I'm walking a few inches off the ground.
So, if you run into me the next few days, and you see me with a lingering blissed-out expression on my face, you'll know why.
So, things tonight went - pretty well. I spoke briefly with the cast about 45 minutes before curtain time, just to remind them this was a black comedy, and that people in the audience might actually LAUGH at some of the dialog - which in fact, turned out to be the case. And they played through the laughter as well as I could have possibly wished.
Which, I guess, means we have a show now. THEY have a show now. My part is done.
I just get to show up occasionally at this point and see what they've changed. Hopefully, my stage manager will keep them MOSTLY on the straight-and-narrow, but there are always new things to learn, new discoveries for the actors to make, and I hope they continue to make them during the course of the run.
But, for better or worse, I'm just a member of the audience now.
The thing is, now matter how the show goes tonight, I'm pretty much guaranteed one of two possible outcomes: 1.) if it goes well, the critics will hail Mike as the genius he is, the cast will receive oodles of deserved praise, and most likely the designers will get shout-outs for their imaginative, innovative use of the space; 2.) if the show somehow goes off the tracks, I'll be the one who gets the blame. It's just the nature of the business, and as director I have to accept those terms whether I think they're fair or not. Still, I'd much prefer outcome number 1. above.
So, I guess it's no surprise I woke up an hour before my alarm clock this morning unable to go back to sleep, and I can already feel the knots beginning to kink up in my stomach. Which means, I'm probably going to be a complete wreck by curtain time tonight.
The show is coming right along. Amazing to think that, just a week ago, I was losing large amounts of sleep worrying about whether or not we'd actually get to this point before opening night. But, after last evening's run-through I'm feeling confident we'll have a successful opening. There's still some fine-tuning adjustments to make, but everyone: cast, crew, and designers have all really embraced the "let's continue to improve things" ethic at work these past few days.
On the other hand, I'm also starting to feel that sense of ambivalence that comes at this point in the process, as the director begins to "let go" of the production, and passes it off to the cast and running crew. I've put so much of myself into this project since first emailing Mike back in April; I've literally sweat, and struggled, and even fought at times to get this project off the ground, and yet, just at the moment where all of the elements are about to come together to turn the words-on-paper into a living, tangible reality, I have to commence the process of stepping away. As of 8:00 p.m. tomorrow night, it's no longer MY show; and although, over the next five weeks it will be the job of the cast and production crew to continue to express the "vision" developed by the playwright, designers, and myself, it really does become theirs to perform, and hopefully to improve in small ways throughout the course of the run.
It'll be interesting to come back to it in a few weeks and see how it's changed in the myriad of subtle ways that any show of this type does over time.
And Curse Sir Walter Raleigh, He Was Such A Stupid Git
The killer weekend is finally over: two back-to-back "ten-out-of-twelves" (for the uninitiated, this is a day when the cast, production staff and crew work for ten hours out of a twelve-hour period to add in all the technical elements of the play: lights, sound, costumes, special effects, et al.)
And I have to say, despite my exhaustion (the power on my block went out last evening, and the City crews were out all night cutting tree limbs and restringing lines - right outside my apartment door - until about 4:00 a.m. this morning), that things are looking pretty spectacular. It's going to be very different from what the average theatre-goer tends to imagine when they go to see a play, and I have a lot of people to thank for helping to make that happen.
Right now, I'm just looking forward to a drink, a shower, and a good night's sleep. Tomorrow is a holiday from work, but I have a couple of errands to run, and plan to do some clean-up in the theatre before the evening's rehearsal.
But, the good news is, we're over the hump, things are in excellent shape, and I really feel like we've got a show. It might not be everyone's cup-o', but it's a lot closer to what I originally envisioned than, frankly, I ever thought we'd be able to achieve in six weeks, with volunteer labor, and a $300 (!) production budget.
I Think Its Quarter To Three When Its Half Past Six
It's been another crazy week. Rehearsals have been going pretty well, but we had a bit of a set-back last Thursday when one of the actors got into a bike accident and had to miss a rehearsal (a run-through of the entire show - very important!) because of the "24 hour observation rule" for cases of potential head-trauma. He's okay, and certainly things could have been much worse, but still - bad timing that.
Spent most of this weekend working with the Lighting Designer to get the lights hung, powered and focussed. Things are progressing, but it's slow work, and there's still a lot more to do, including the remaining set work, which is considerable.
Hard to believe we're only 11 days away from opening night - there's a part of me that really, really wishes we had an extra week, and that part generally likes to keep me awake into the wee hours thinking about all the things that need to happen between now and then.
But, there's also the - admittedly somewhat smaller at this point - part that tries to reassure me: "your people know their jobs; trust them", which does make a bit of a difference, but still, I can't help worrying; it's my responsibility to make this whole crazy extravaganza come off, and I know in the back of my head it WILL - I just have to give everyone else the time to do what they need to do to make sure that happens.