Ponderings on My First Show in 2 Years

Live theatre gets into the blood. When the curtain opens, and the nerves take over, and the hair stands on its end, and the bumps on your skin realize that it’s time, finally, after such a long hiatus, one begins to understand just how much the cult of theatre has seeped into the blood stream.

Last evening, we finished our final show of the Rodgers’ and Hammerstein classic “The King & I.” It ended just days past the two year anniversary of the closing of my last show in December 2019, Seussical. Yeah, two very different shows.

In April of 2020, my nearly produced show “Crazy Love” was washed away by that thing we all know about. I’ve been in theatre hibernation since then, but what a life-giving experience to have to wait so long to get back on the stage. I typically go from one show being finished to starting almost immediately on the next show. It’s been that way in my life for years. But being forced to pull away and not do live theatre made me realize just how much I missed and how I always want it to be part of my life.

The Palace. I built this with my students.
We took the colored panels I had made for the show “Crazy Love” and then tried to retrofit them into the palace design that I had. I had some talented students who created the color textures.

When I do a show, I’m typically doing it all. And I love it all. Stage design. Lighting design. Sound design. Of course, to accomplish this, I basically fall off the grid for a couple months just trying to get all of the work done. I’ve had people tell me they think I’m crazy. I am. Obsessed, even. But when the students hit the stage, and the bows are over, and the tears start flowing from students who didn’t know it was going to feel like this; who didn’t know theatre would seep into their being; who didn’t know how much satisfaction and benefit they would finally get from all those long and boring rehearsals; it makes it all worth it.

So I LOVE it. And I’d be CRAZY not to continue. And that might just be a reference to my next show. The students started clamoring recently about what the plan. “What about next semester? What are we going to do? Are we going to have another show?”

How can I say ‘no’? That’s not an option. Not with the ghosts of the stage pulsing through my body’s every beat.

(PS: But I will take some time before starting the next show. I need to get back to writing. I miss that too. I’m a man divided. And I like both halves equally as much.)

A Lot of Learning on the Horizon

The school where I teach drama is on the verge of having a brand-new, state-of-the-art auditorium. I like to call it a theatre, myself.

It’s completely outfitted with Source 4 LED lights which are awesome and so incredibly versatile. It’s got a ETC Element lighting console and a complete professional Bose sound system coming next week. It’s got 10 rigging bars with high capacity motors and a powered curtain. It’s going to be a sweet facility and it will be my domain day in and day out. I can’t wait!

But what hit me, yesterday, as I was being trained on the ETC Element, is that I have a TON of learning to do, and I have to learn fast because the very first show in our theatre is opening on April 24. Now that I know I’ll have the auditorium, it changes everything about the show. Ahhh!

Where to begin? Scrims. I need to make some scrims. Gobos. I need some gobos!

Oh yeah, I need to learn the equipment.

And lighting plan? How’s this? My first rough draft.

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Don’t try and decipher it. I can barely understand it, but it’s my first real lighting plan, so that’s exciting!

In the past, I’ve had the privilege of working with professional technicians trained in lighting for theatre. Not any more. I gotta learn, and some of the AV guys at the school gotta learn. Lighting for drama is a BEAST, and we have to tame it!

Anxiety level: high!

Excitement level: even higher!

Here’s a mock-up of the poster for my April show. I can’t wait. No, yes, I can because I have so much work to do until I get there. But it will be a fun ride.

Time to replan the backdrop for the show. Anyone going to be in Jeddah in April?

Stories poster2

Make Your Tools Sing

I’m teaching a Theatre Production class and our first project was to make some sawhorses in order to be able to make other items.

Sawhorses aren’t the most glamorous things to make. They are utilitarian, not praiseworthy pieces of art.

But who says you can’t combine both? That’s what we did. We made sawhorses which commemorate famous musicals, so you can say cool things like:

“Hey, bring me Mary Poppins!”   “I need Phantom of the Opera over here right now.”

Here’s a few shots of how they turned out.

catsmary poppinssawhorses

The World Crashing Down: AKA – “My Show is This Week”

I’m a writer. I love writing.

I’m a director. I really enjoying directing.

I’m a producer. I like producing.

Yes, there’s a distinct step-down there. Writing and directing unleashes the creative demon inside me in very different ways. Producing, well, that’s where the stress comes from.

And this week, four and a half months  of preparation comes to fruition, which really feels like the world crashing down around me. Actually, I’m sitting by the ocean as I type and each of those waves reminds me of something else I must get done before the show date.

Here’s a last minute list:

seating arrrangment – in a black box modular setting and we are still working on configuration.

Promotion – yes, must sell those remaining seats. But  luckily, tickets are going quickly.

FOH – Front of House – oh, this reminds me that I need to arrange front of house staff for each shows. Oops! Forgot this one.

Wednesday is bump-in day. All props, set pieces need to be transported. Then the massive task of rigging and focusing following our lighting plan. Then mic set-up and sound check. Then cues! NO! CUES!!!! It takes so long. Then adjust lights because the director wasn’t thinking ahead and got a new idea once he saw the lights.

Arrange food for the team. This is important.

Transport too!

And then technical rehearsal, and then our ONE CHANCE on-site dress rehearsal. Yes, we only get to perform in the venue once before the show date. It’s a massive challenge.

This, and more, is what I’m staring at this week, thus world-crashing-in felt appropriate.

Producing drama is the most work I’ve ever in any one task. But don’t get me wrong. It’s also the most rewarding. I love it all.

It’s going to be a great week!

RLT FinalPoster2

 

Experiencing the Finale

Experiencing the Finale

Last night was the finale of the limited three-show run world premiere run of “The Secrets of the Magic Pool.”

It was everything I had hoped for and more.

First off, the crowd. It was a sell-out! I give it an “A”! Excellent, engaged crowd that got the raucous, rolling laughter going back and forth all over the theatre. It may have been the best crowd that any of my shows ever experienced – even to the point of being a little over the top. But that’s okay. It’s much better than the alternative.

The acting. I give it an “A”. These young actors were superb. A few flubbed lines here and there that the audience wouldn’t even have noticed. Their recoveries were smooth. They performed with such passion and life that the audience couldn’t help but love them. I’m so proud of all of them.

Tech. “A” – We finally nailed it. This was a taxing show for a variety of reasons. 106 lighting cues. Nearly 50 sound cues. Follow-spot.  Tracking 11 microphones. Lots of moving parts. The first show we saw some of the challenges manifest themselves on-stage with some uneven and loud sounds. But this final performance was perfect. A great blend of sound, wonderful scene transitions. Everything was executed perfectly, performed by 4 your techies who never get enough credit.

The story. Well, yes, I am biased since I wrote it. But I am very pleased at the interpretation and the way the actors communicated the story. And based on the audience’s response, it was a huge success.

I hope other theatre troupes will try out the script sometime. It’s challenging yet very fun with all kinds of interesting themes woven through it.

This was such a fantastic night that I’m sorry it’s over.

But with any worthwhile endeavor, it was worth the hundreds of hours of dedication to pull it off.

So now, what’s next?

Oh yeah, now I need to write a new Christmas show for the RLT Players. A writer’s job is never done!

 

4 Weeks Off! Do you remember your lines?

Typically, when I’m directing a play, we will meet to do (hopefully) the whole play once a week. Then in the last month before the show, we ramp up the number of hours significantly and we’ll be ready.

This time was strange. In the past four weeks, there are certain scenes we haven’t practiced at all. At all! That’s not good!

What is the issue? Well, just the crazy school life we all live. We had Spring Break which took out a week. We had a photoshoot that took out another week. The other week we didn’t get through the whole thing. So today, I found my cast in the position of doing some scenes for the first time in 4 weeks! YIKES!

How’d we do? Not bad, considering. Lines are still memorized, except for an occasional needed prompt. The blocking needed work, but overall I’m pleased with the progress we had during out time of lack of progress.

Everything changes this Saturday as we’ll be having our first of three, all day Saturday practices leading up to the show.

The first Saturday must accomplish the following:

  • Do the complete script, front to back, twice.
  • Map out final blocking.
  • Map out lighting map.
  • Final list of props needed.
  • Work and re-work the final scene which is challenging because everyone’s on stage and a lot is going on. So far, it’s been terrible. But we’ll get there.

If we can accomplish all of this on Saturday, we’ll  be in good shape.

Have I told you how excited I am about this script? “The Secrets of the Magic Pool.”

Three shows, May 13-14 @ the Penang Performing Arts Center.

Can’t wait!

JStef-Apr2016-2777

Photos from our Readers’ Theatre

Tuesday evening, we had our annual Readers’ Theatre – this year a re-incarnation of the Pink Panther.  We had the audience rolling in laughter. A Readers’ Theatre is just like any other show except the actors read the lines instead of memorizing them. It leads to very amusing situations when Jacques Clouseau says things like, “Wait, I can’t find my line” or when Javis, dancing the tango with Clouseau, can’t read the script because Clouseau is pushing his arm up and down.

A Readers’ Theatre is a great experience and a lot of fun. Here’s a glimpse of what ours looked like. (All photos courtesy of Jonathan Steffan.)

JStef-Mar2016-1288 JStef-Mar2016-1318 JStef-Mar2016-1421 JStef-Mar2016-1476 JStef-Mar2016-1651

First Read Through

Today was so fun!

One of the great rewards for writing and producing your own dramatic works is the milestones along the way that I get to enjoy. Today is certainly one of them: the first cast read-through.

After months of writing and publishing, I have to work through the grueling auditions to finally get an amazing cast set.

And then we finally get together to read the entire script for the first time. It’s always really fun to hear the actors start to think about their roles, and wonder how the interaction will be between the boy who is love with the girl and the villain who’s ready to squish the heroine. It’s delightful, really.

What makes it even more special is knowing that we are putting on a world premiere – a show that no one else has ever seen before. Thrilling!

We all laughed a lot this afternoon as we made it through the entire script in two hours. I have to tell you, if you can be in Penang in May 2016, you’re going to be in for a treat. This play is going to be a blast to produce for a variety of reasons.

Today was one of those good days. Months of work ahead of us, but I can already see that it’s going to be well worth it.

Can’t wait!

books picture

You have a good show. Now make it great.

I’ve been working real hard with my drama group, getting ready for our Christmas show coming up the first week of December. We’ve spent a lot of hours working the 10 different scripts we’ll be performing that night, and I’ve been really happy with how they are coming together. It’s going to be an enjoyable evening of drama and music. The audience is going to laugh and cry.

But today, as I was starting to see the entire show coming together, I finally had time to start looking at the little details of the show which could make it even more memorable and enjoyable for the audience.

I thought of a between-sketch one-minute dance number which could be added to help introduce one of the sketches. The actor of the sketch, who loves to dance, loved the  idea and is now working on the choreography. A minute minute dance bridge which will keep the audience enthralled.

I thought of other things as well: light dustings of snow in some of the sketches to help with the visuals. A painted stage which will have two red and green triangles which will look like the outline of a Christmas tree. Candy or gifts for the audience. I’m simply at the beginning  of ideas now; I’m sure many more are to come.

I firmly believe it’s these little touches which will add tremendous depth and enjoyment for the audience. So if you’re producing a show, perfect the script, but then dig deeper. Where else can value be added without breaking the bank or without taking too much time?

This will help make a good production into a great production. If you come to our show, be looking for these little touches. I hope everyone enjoys them.

Rlt christmas poster 4 sizeA5

Thank (or hug) a Drama Director

If you’ve ever enjoyed a theatrical production, take a minute and thank a drama director today. Now I’m not saying this so someone will thank me, but there is a tremendous amount of work that goes into a show, 99% of it is never seen. But the laughter you enjoy, the poignant moments that send tears down your cheek, don’t just happen. They are created out of months of work and hundreds of hours of dedication.

This topic hit me as I was planning out my week ahead of me. Now please understand, drama directing is not my full-time job. I volunteer to do it because I love it. But all of these items I’m planning to do this week – 5 weeks before the show – is what I’m currently working on as we prepare. Every director or producer will have their  own list of crazy busy-ness. Here’s mine:

Spent hours yesterday creating our show’s first flyer.

Spent many more hours yesterday and today creating individual fact  sheets for each of the 10 sketches which will be part of our show.

Coordinating our first flyer print.

Sending questions to actors for their informational sheets.

By the way, the program isn’t finished yet.

Rehearsal from 3pm to 6 pm tomorrow.

Have to schedule special rehearsals this week for 3 other sketches.

Contacting the box office about our first poster.

Meeting with tech on Monday to print cue sheets.

Coordinating sound tracks with composers.

Beginning to create the actor informational sheets.

Putting posters around campus and town.

Planning on staging. (Lights, stage painting)

Trying to track down the lost shipment of Christmas hats from the supplier.

Having impromptu photo-session for one actor who missed our regular session.

Photoshop has become a permanent part of my fingertips.

These are the items I’m working on 5 weeks out from the show. Imagine how crazy it will be when show week arrives.

All producers and directors feel this. And on top of all of this, we  worry whether anyone will show up and whether or not we will meet all our costs. Nothing is guaranteed.

Oh, and by the way, we also hope we have a good show to put on!

Lots of moving parts. Lots of sleepless nights.

Thank a director today. Or better yet, hug a director.