Friday, October 3, 2008

Academia, Etc.

Tonight (Thursday, Oct. 2nd) saw the first performance of the second and final weekend of The Skin of Our Teeth. It was also the "official" performance of the First International Thornton Wilder Society Conference: "Wilder in the 21st Century."

We had a good and only momentarily silly pick-up rehearsal last night, so I was confidant going in. It was our biggest house yet (and probably will be) and, as tired as some of the conference attendees were, attentive and responsive. Their energy fed the cast and it was a lovely performance, despite some technical issues (sound is still a horror-show; that's what I get for not running my own sound board - or at least having my best friend, "K,"* run it for me). The "extras" are either really terrific or truly horrible and although the shadow puppets are better (they at least make sense, now), the simplicity of their operation remains a complete and incomprehensible mystery to the manipulators (the above mentioned "extras"). All in all, I'm still very unhappy with the shadow puppets. They are surreal and funny, but awkward and not what I had hoped they would be. Unlike the simplicity of their roles in the other two Shakespeare '70 productions in which student extras from correlated English Department classes were employed, the complexity of this show required more commitment and attendance than the professor was willing to impose upon them. Subsequently, several of them don't care about what they are doing because it's only slightly less effort than writing a paper. A few care, but are completely inept on stage and shouldn't even consider minoring in theatre. One or two care and are into what they are doing, and actually created characters for themselves.

But enough bitching. this post is about crowing! About 25 or 30 people stayed afterwards for the talk-back, and I spent most it sitting there listening to several of the nation's top scholars on Wilder talk about how much they loved my production. I'm not being narcissistic or egotistic in the least. The President of the Society (who is also the English professor at TCNJ who specializes in Wilder and drama), said that we had found things in the play which no other production he had seen had found (in particular, a true character arc for the usually-neglected Gladys) and another conference attendee said he loved the Steampunk concept.

In addition to those folks, many of my colleagues from various companies were in the audience, all of whom were very enthusiastic in their compliments.

In all fairness, though, I must give credit where credit is due: my amazingly talented cast and design team. This was an exceptionally ambitious production, not only because of the design concept, but the technical requirements inherent in the text. There's a dinosaur and a mammoth on stage, for heaven's sake (not to mention the Atlantic City Boardwalk).

My cast - my amazing, surprising and inventive cast! It took a while for all of them to get it, but when they did... Kapow! It was like lightning in a bottle. "Fred Bailey" (AKA "Mammoth Puppeteer") continues to provide the funniest performance in the show. My "Announcer," however, wins the Honey-Glazed Virginia-Baked Award (there's a special place in Director's Heaven for me, just for putting up with him). My "Sabina" is a gift from Thespis and "George," while a curiously cantankerous fellow, is brilliant. "Maggie," my dearest and longest friend; my muse; my support; my left and right arms for this show (she also produced, God love her), just so gets it. "Gladys" is a riot, especially in Act II and the "Fortune Teller," while still a little too fast, is a study in 'young actor goes for broke.' Then there is my "Henry." I can't be more proud. I have worked with this young man on four shows now, and his skills as an actor continue to grow and amaze. His trust in my direction is without question and he is willing to go wherever it takes to get the right result. Nothing gets a director more excited than an actor who is not only willing to do what you want him to do, but understands what you want and delivers it so well. He is quite beautiful and continually degrades himself as 'dumb,' but really good actors aren't dumb, and he is a really good actor. And to top it all off, he's just a terrific person. A polite, funny, personable and gorgeous young man.

So, I am very happy. Two more performances to go. I am sorry to leave this "family." We've had much fun together.

As always, more anon.

*She and our mutual friends all know who she is, so there's no need for elaboration. Anonymity is the lure of the Web, isn't it?

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