24 Hour TheatreFest: Conclusion
I rarely spend 14 hours in a row away from home, unless I am on vacation or something. But yesterday I did, arriving at the theater at 8:00AM, and leaving at about 9:30PM.
I won’t leave you suspense; my play, based on the laughs from the audience, was a success.
The writers weren’t required to stay for the entire day. I however opted to, not only because I wanted to be there to rewrite a section if needed, but also because I’ve not seen a script of mine performed before, and I wanted to experience that as much as I could, from first reading through to the performance itself.
I also wanted to be there to help with any technical things, such as moving things, cleaning, looking for props and such. It turns out I wasn’t needed for most of that most of the day, so I spent most of the time with the cast of the show I wrote.
A friend of mine directed this one day affair. When I first asked her a few months ago if she would do this, I explained that I was to be a hands-off writer. I’d write the thing, and be present for the auditions, but from then on, it would be her project. I’d just be observing. I like to believe that for the most part I achieved this.
That to me is the true nature of theatre. Yes, its possible for somebody somewhere to be completely wrong-headed in their approach to a text, but when theatre people undertake a production in good faith, I don’t think this happens much. And it didn’t with my play. Any two people are going to do something a bit differently in the theatre, and there are choices that I would have approached differently throughout the process. But that’s exactly what they were; choices. I trusted in the choices of the director and the actors. (I will admit it was easy to trust the director, since I have known her for years and she is a friend of mine. That’s why I asked her. Still…)
My words, her direction, the four actresses. All left to their own responsibilities. And it worked. I’m glad I kept my distance. I don’t see what I as my own director could have done to improve it much. Time would have improved all the shows last night, but that is the entire point of a one day festival; no time.
Sort of reminded me of college a bit. Not the writing part, but the all-day weekend rehearsing part. Especially this time of year; those of us in January shows back in college often had to come back before the rest of the student body and rehearse all day every day for a week. Yesterday had that chaotic, mostly fun energy to it. (Though of course I wasn’t acting this time.)
One interesting part of the experience as that our show felt like it went through the stages of a regular show. The morning started with a table reading or two. Some conversations about the characters. Blocking a little later, working trouble spots, finding the props, and so on. It was of course a long day, time wise, but it felt like in some ways it was more than a single day. Not because of tedium, but because we hit just about every milestone of a six week rehearsal process within that single day. By the time I got home, it was actually hard to remember that when I had gotten up that morning, nobody in the show had yet read the show.
In the final two hours before the show went on, I was more stressed than I thought I would be. Not a wreck, but I had thought earlier in the day that once things were all set, I, as the writer who had no further responsibilities would just relax and watch things unfold. Not quite. “Nervous” doesn’t feel like the correct word here, but it’s the closest word I have right now for how I felt. There was no fear, and I was certainly not relaxed in the final two hours. I wanted to get on with it, and yet I didn’t. I knew the crowd was to be a good size for the venue, and I wanted to know if they’d find the show funny or not. But I also knew as soon as it started, it would be done, and I had enjoyed the process of seeing the director and cast bring my show to life.
So, an eclectic mix of feelings near the end. Especially helplessness. Which is not to say hopelessness. But there was little I needed to do all day, and by the two hour mark, there was nothing I could do. It was going to be what it was going to be from my perspective. On the community level there is a certain amount of work a director can do on opening night and beyond, but a writer? It wasn’t until those final few hours I remembered; I have never been the writer on opening night before, unless you count performing my own material. For that I was too busy getting ready to perform to worry much about my own writing.
As I said at the start, the audience laughed a lot at my little comedy. Not as much as I thought they would in some parts, and more than I thought they would at others. Much of it, more of it, has to do with the actors and direction. As an actor I have always said that without good actors, there isn’t much point to a stage show, and I am only more inclined, not less, to think that now that I have been on the other side.
Theatre is collaboration, or should be. I am obviously not a professional playwright at the moment-I don’t make money from this. Those that do have the legal power to insist on total control over how their scripts are performed all over the country, right down to the nature of what costumes their characters can and cannot wear. Should I ever writer a stage play that is sold somewhere, I hope to not be that possessive of my material. Yes, I still expect a good faith adherence to what I actually wrote, whether that be something like last night, or something on Broadway. But if I can’t let go enough to let actors and directors make some choices about my work, I don’t have business writing plays.
Total control over how things unfold is why I write novels. Even then, as any author will tell you, an author’s control is still sometimes tenuous over the material. And it amounts to zero once we talk about the imagination of readers.
So though I didn’t do a lot on performance day, it was still an exhausting and rewarding day. If I ever do this again, I probably won’t come in in the morning for the whole rehearsal process, but I’m glad I did yesterday. I hope the play is performed again somewhere, someday.
Public, though discreet thanks to the director and cast members of “Common Cold.” I am grateful for the outcome.