Friday, August 31, 2007

The Learning Curve

I'm proud to say that much of my extra time this summer was spent working on a very important personal project, and that will be my excuse for not updating.
In my Vast Years of Experience (yes, that's big sarcasm) I've never worked for such a young company. One must keep on one's toes and take nothing for granted. I'm used to the system of decades-old companies that, while you face challenges galore, there's a general system in place for most of the regular details.
ATP is a glorious and ambitious theatre that I admire very much, for the scale of their dreams as well as giving theatre jobs to people like me. Every year they learn a little something new. This year's big challenge on my end was scheduling. Leave no calender stone unturned. Stay on top of the clock and make sure everyone's thinking about the things that should be thought about.
It all sounds obvious, but it's surprising how quickly things will sneak up on you, especially when Equity slips in. The stakes for ATP are also much higher than I've had to think about before. Every performance is a proving ground: are we worth the donor's money, the company's effort, the city's time?

But overall the summer has been good. Very different. It's interesting to see the next tier of skill in performance that these actors bring to the stage. Sometimes the more an actor has carved their place and paid their dues, the more dramatic they can be, and what can you do but be calmer? On the whole the company rocked. In the world of theatre, you're either whirling within the hurricane, or you're in the eye, I think. I suppose you could be standing miles away watching, but what fun is that?

There are a lot of concrete details to remember and track, of course, to wield next time. But as the season winds to a close this weekend I can only hope that the intangible lessons will stick with me, the lessons that can't be Told. There are lessons that you have to slog through, have dropped in your lap or dissolve in front of your face so that next time, when the situation that no one can prepare you for begins to worm to the surface, you'll notice the early warning signs.
Some lessons are obvious when you think about them, but trickier in execution. Some of the intangibles that I think can be applied to any field in theatre, and perhaps any field anywhere:

Don't worry about things you can't control.

You can't control the weather.

Know the rules.

There's no reason to take anything at work personally. Remember, it's Work. Not You. We in the creative field forget this, because so many of our passions lie in what we do. Remember to seperate. You're still a good, competent human being even if you Did call that cue late. (Yes, that note is to myself.)

There is a never a situation that excuses discourteousness. (Also to me. Take a deep breath.)

Smiles go a long way. So does asking how someone's doing, even if you don't care. Kindness diffuses tension. Sounds cheesy, but I really did learn this.

Perspective: The weeks, tears, sweat and stress that we compact into a performance consumes our world. But remember, it's only two hours out Mr. or Mrs. Audience Person's evening. See lesson One.

When in doubt, coming bearing candy.

And with that... I'm ready to call it a season.

The Recipe

For Large Musical
10 Actors
1 Large and intimidating set
A handful of crew (but probably not enough)
7 gallons of Glitter
A variety of Designers
A judicious sprinkling of Musicians
100 Beers
10 gallons of Coffee

Mix together and stir for two weeks. Bake at high temperature under particolored lights in a darkened space for three days.
Dump in Audience.
Serve up one Godspell (serves 300)

For One Smaller musical:
4 Actors
1 Large and funky set.
1 Piano Player
1 Violinist

Note: While it is an interesting experiment to attempt this Recipe with the Cook/director gone for three days, it is not recommended. Also never underestimate the complexity of a recipe due to its smaller portions. Time and forethought are recommended for this recipe as much as for the Large Musical.
Throw together in two days under Lights on Set. May be disatisfying if ingredients are not allowed proper cooking time. Given one performance in front of an audience and an extra tech rehearsal, better results may be achieved.

For One Comedy:
4 Actors
1 shit-ton of Dialogue
1 semi-absent-for-the-first-few-rehearsals-SM
1 or 2 Nervous Breakdowns

As for the Smaller Musical, the amount of Cooking Time for the comedy is not to be underestimated. Fewer ingredients does not equal less cooking time. Dished up prematurely, such a Recipe may end up lumpy and less palatable than one given an extra few days to cook.
This time may be substituted for extra Line rehearsals in addition to quick Broiling in front of an audience.