Tuesday, October 01, 1996

Selections from ACT One, Scene 4

This is a selection of stories and articles that appeared in the fourth issue of ACT One, published in October of 1996.

This is a selection of stories and articles that appeared in the fourth issue of ACT One, published in October of 1996.

In this Issue
Re:ACTion - The Editors Column- Valerie Moore
Continuing Recollections of an Antiquated Thespian- Raymond Moore
Critically Speaking - Reflecting a New Role: Director of Theatre - Terry Pratt
ACT Off - Lessons for the Elite - Rob Thomson
Never Burlesque Burlesque- Gerry Gray
Our Stories

Re:ACTion - The Editor’s Column
 
It is quite a while since our last edition so I suppose everyone will be expecting this to be stuffed with lots of juicy tit-bits.  Well… Some of us have been enjoying the summer far too much to have given more than a passing thought to the newsletter. However, well refreshed, we should be able to produce something worth reading. (If it’s not up to your taste, don’t blame me!)

Terry Pratt has taken up the reins as our Director of Theatre and, along with his committee, has put a program together for the upcoming year. Look for his interesting article outlining his job description later in the newsletter.

Production kicks off with Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, directed by David Sherren and performed at the Carrefour. Next on the production bill is Hank Stinson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses performed at the MacKenzie Theatre during the week between Christmas and New Year - just when the kids are driving you crazy and you can only take in so many Disney movies! The big news is that in May we undertake a production of Gilbert and SuIlivan’s HMS Pinafore. An encouraging turnout of G&S aficionados came for the August reading and sing-through. Owen Aylward has agreed to be Musical Director, Helen MacRae will accompany rehearsals and Terry Pratt direct.  Auditions will be in December, with rehearsals starting in January. All in all, we will have a busy and varied season. - Valerie


Continuing Recollections of an Antiquated Thespian

 

In Bermuda, we were fortunate in being part of Bermuda Musical and Dramatic Society, a theatre group with real resources, its own workshop theatre, bar, costume storage, etc. the only rule was strict amateurism. We did three major productions a year, four or five workshop productions and sundry other readings, theatre under the stars, music hall and comedy evening. The main stage productions were on a grand scale involving 30 - 50 people on stage another another 50 - 70 offstage. I recall playing the Window Twanky in Aladdin, an English pantomime where the boys, or at least some of them, dress up as girls and vice versa. Towards the end there is the usual ‘House song’ where all the little kids from the audience are congregated on stage to help sing some pointless, nonsense ditty. Regrettably, as I conducted this piece, with my back to the audience and in my enthusiasm at their choral charisma, I fell off the stage into the pit and landed awkwardly on the lab of the bass player. However, the show must go on and I clambered back on stage leaking blood from a wound in my thigh and muttering through clenched teeth, “You didn’t expect that, now did you? - Well, neither did I!” (Editor’s note: The wound has left its mark which can be seen by appointment only) The audience thought that the exploit had been scripted and some of the kids shouted, “Do it again.” No, thank you very much.  - Raymond Moore

Critically Speaking - Relecting a New Role: Director of Theatre

My off-the-top reflection is that it is a tremendous honour and privilege to have been elected to this Executive position. As ACT matures into its second full year, the role has evolved through discussions with the Executive and other active members, and some working principles have emerged. At the invitation of the editor of this newsletter, I’ll try to set them down here for the information of all:

1.  The title is indeed ‘Director of Theatre,’ not ‘Artistic Director,’ because the job is to plan the production season - which may have as many artistic directors as there are productions. Once each play is truly launched, the Director of Theatre is out and on to the next one, on to the next season if possible. He or she may audition, may or may not get a role, and may or may not take on a crew job. The one thing he or she is not is the default producer of any given show, responsible for the details of publicity, ticket sales, hall management, crew recruitment, and so on. If a show fails for lack of work in these areas, it fails. The various directors of the seasons’ shows are not responsible to the Director of Theatre (with one major exception, below),but to the Executive as a whole, who in turn accountable to the membership for the season’s commercial and artistic successes and (we hope never) failures. The one real perk of the job is the chance to appoint oneself as a play director - but anyone who abuses that chance can easily be checked under the points 2 and 3.

2.  The Director of Theatre is elected with the other members of the Executive at the Annual General Meeting. The unfolding plans are reported to the monthly meetings of the executive group, which has veto power, and, of course, money power (we hope always).

3.  Not long after the AGM (where all kinds of opinions on future productions are welcomed), the Director of Theatre draws together an ad-hoc committee of ACT members who have expressed, or can be persuaded to express, an interest in the planning aspect of theatre. No production season should be formulated by one person alone. A single individual doesn’t have enough ideas or contacts, may interpret the general memberships’ interests wrongly, and-not least, in my view - may be blamed for everything if everything goes wrong.

4.  Nor should the planning go (lurch) from play to play without consideration of the season’s over-all shape, including the image we present to the community, the timing for maximum involvement of both members and audiences, and the variety within the blend. It is true that play directors do not grow on trees, for the plucking of them just when and where you want them. So it is certainly part of the job of Director of Theatre to encourage ACT members who show the slightest inclination that way to take the plunge. It is amateur theatre, after all. We do this for fun, not to push the Kenneth Branaughs of the world out of business.

5.  The planning group is presented with all known, possible options for the upcoming season. The possibilities are kicked around, plotted against each other, probably over more than one meeting, and then the Director of Theatre carries the can to the Executive.

6.  There are FIVE KEY ELEMENTS that the Director of Theatre must ensure are in place or firmly promised, and that the Executive must be satisfied about before permission is given to launch a play in the organization’s name and with its money:

a.  The play. It has to be suitable (too many variables here to list), and it has to be available. Any potential director should enquire about rights to amateur production as soon as the idea of doing this particular show begins to gel. Also he or she should have a rough idea of the key cost items and key production challenges (such as the complexity of the set).

b.  The director. For a group like ours elements (a) and (b) are actually fused. Someone is keen to put something on - not to SEE something on, to PUT something on (or, again, can be persuaded to think along those lines) - and persuades others that it can be done.  There is no point in us saying, ‘Look we don’t like that idea, but here’s another quite different one, and we’d like you to do that one instead’ - as if we were dealing with a paid, professional director with dozens of arrows in his or her quiver. Of course, some people with terrific ideas of putting something on will not make terrific directors (but see item 4 above). Also I don’t think we can tell a director who should be the stage manager, since the two have to work in close harmony together. I have left the Stage Manager off this list. But the Executive should be satisfied that the director has approached someone and got agreement.

c.  The venue. We have to know if we can afford it, if it suits the play and director, and if it’s available when we want it. (Implication: plan early and get in there before others do.)

d.  The date. The season’s productions have to be spaced apart, though it is possible two could be in rehearsal together. We have to avoid major conflicts, such as with TheatrePEI, the school break, Easter weekend. An implication here concerns the length of the rehearsal period, which has a bearing on both the timing of auditions and the number of rehearsals per week. My understanding is that most, though not all, ACT members do not want an intense and short rehearsal period. They do have other lives after all; amateur theatre is their hobby, not their obsession. A good rule of thumb that I have heard from many sources is that it takes 100 hours of rehearsal for amateurs to put a full-length play on the stage with some credibility for the audience and civility among the participants.  Take off 10 for the final non-stop run-through, the technical rehearsal, and the dress rehearsal, and you have 90 hours. Given that 3 hours is about the limit for a normal rehearsal, you have can have 30 of them. So take your pick: 6 a week for 5 weeks, 5 a week for 6 weeks, 3 a week for 10 weeks - you get the idea. Of course, not every actor needs to come to every rehearsal. My general point is that the season must be planned such that each director has the flexibility to choose the best possible rehearsal period for the assembled cast.

e.  The producer. I have put this last, but in my view any director with a play-gleam in the eye should be looking out for a producer right away. There is simply too much to do with drawing out the best from the actors, crew, and script for the same person to be worrying about the publicity, the ticket sales, and the program. Moreover if there is no SPECIFICALLY DESIGNATED producer, these jobs tend to fall on the shoulders of someone else who did not reckon on them when he or she signed on. The producer’s job is not mysterious, but since some ACT members, I think, are not sure of the distinction between director and producer, let me explain my concept of it in the next paragraph.

A director may exhibit artistic fervour and royal jelly in various strange and wonderful ways (and there are lots of ways to prove this, many of them on hilarious display in Noises 0ff), but a producer is simply a normal sort of person who likes being organized and doesn’t like breaking a promise, yet is patient with people who share neither of these characteristics. Here are some of the initial and obvious duties.

confirm that rights to the play have been secured or are on the way;

get multi copies of the play;

book rehearsal space;

secure audition space and publicize auditions;

with ACT treasurer and the director, draw up a budget;

with director begin to recruit crew. Of these, the people directly responsible to the producer are: the publicity manager, the front of house manager, the box office manager, the program designer and printer, AND THE DIRECTOR FOR ALL COST ITEMS. Those responsible to the director are the stage manager, the designer, the technicians of sound and light, the costumer, the properties manager, and the makeup artist. (Ultimately, everybody is responsible to the stage manager, but I’ve left that phase out of this over-long article.)

 

Subsequent details of a producer are also easy to write down: administer the budget, liaise with the venue manager, shoot trouble, and kick ass. BUT ABOVE ALL, CHAIR WEEKLY PRODUCTION MEETINGS WITH THE DIRECTOR AND CREW. This last is the only way to keep everyone in touch with the unfolding demands of the show - and such meetings are often creative and fun (e.g. ‘Does anyone know where you can get sardines that don’t stink?’) Communication is the key, especially, it goes without saying, between the producer and the director. So the director should have veto power over the choice of producer, but once the person is chosen, should rely heavily on him or her. If any of these elements has to change for unavoidable reasons, as happened, for example, with the original date chosen for Noises Off, then clearly the director or producer has to get back to the Director of Theatre for renegotiation, for any change this fundamental affects the whole season. Here endeth the first lesson from Dot. - Terry Pratt

 

Never Burlesque Burlesque

Never burlesque burlesque. Jerry Gosley said this to me during a rehearsal for the 1979 Smile Show in Victoria, BC. I admit not knowing exactly what he meant at the time, but assumed he wanted me to tone down. so, I toned it down and the rehearsal went on. But that phrase really stuck with me and finally one day, over a nice cold gin and tonic, I asked him what he meant by it.

He told me that, in his opinion, the major problem with North Americans doing burlesque, was that they didn’t understand the fundamental principle that it had to be played straight. the humour of burlesque is what is happening or what is being said. All too often North Americans mug their way through and that only gets in the way of what is going on. the audience needs to decide for itself if it will laugh. If the audience needs mugging in order to laugh, then whatever you are doing is simply not funny. Mugging is the ‘canned laughter’ of theatre.

I was taken aback with what he said. This was coming from an Englishman who spent his time on stage dressed up as the most outrageous characters, including members of the opposite sex. How could he seriously shoot down mugging. I then watched him at work and had to admit, he always did play it straight. And he was right. the audience truly loved being put on the spot of deciding whether or not they were being put on - of having to decide whether or not to laugh. Mugging (and the ‘laugh track’) have indeed taken that responsibility away from us.  - Gerry Gray

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