Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Staged Reading of "Over the River and Through the Woods"

It was a bit of a whirlwind for me, and for my cast. Though I had been granted the privilege of directing a staged reading of this play at the Winchester Little Theatre more than a month ago, several factors contributed to it's being a difficult project to get off the ground.

To begin with, a project that absorbed almost the entire talent pool for the WLT was scheduled for the same day. Those few that were not in said project went to see said project. Which meant that from the start I had fewer people available to me. Casting it required a few weeks, and some help from a few insiders with connections I do not have with the community. (The play only has six people in it.)

Once it was cast, the schedule conflicts were a disaster. There we no days when the entire cast could meet on the same day. And I had only envision two or three rehearsals anyway, given that it was a reading. So after much moving around, I was able to set aside two days this month, each one only missing a single person.

Some unfortunate events prevented me, however, from attending the first rehearsal of my own reading. Thankfully the cast seemed to like each other, from the reports I got, and had great chemistry. I saw this first hand a few days later when I finally was able to attend a rehearsal. (The second one.)

I never intended to give notes and suggestions of great complexity and depth in regards to character and motivation issues, due to the limited time we would have together as a production. Readings can be creative exercises, but unless you've got the same amount of time to rehearse them as you do a regular play (and that is rarely the case), I feel that directors best serve the project by focusing mostly on mechanics. Volume, pacing, even the set up of the chairs and podiums and such. Coordinating rehearsals. Explaining the overall vision of the piece. Being available to actors for concerns about nuances in scenes and within speeches, but basically allowing such things to form naturally within the well maintained structure of rehearsals and the performance.

That being said, I of course had hoped to have a bit more time with this cast than I did. However, once I finally saw them all (minus one) read the script together, I knew the reading was in good hands. The reports I got via email were correct; everyone played off of everyone else quite well. I did have some mechanics to take care of, and a few rough spots that needed polishing, but I was pleased with what I saw from the beginning. I had even less to do in regards to performances than I had imagined.

That second rehearsal was only a few days before the one and only performance of the reading. Due to availability, we had yet to rehearse it on the actual stage it would be performed on. So we decided to have one more run through, on the actual stage on the very day of the performance. It was the first time the entire cast and myself were present. It was even the first time I had met one of the cast members, as crazy as that sounds. But such was the nature of this experience.

I gave a few notes, mostly mechanical again. Dusted off a few things, cleaned up an aspect here and there. There was not much that had to be done, however. The directions I gave were incorporated into the reading, and after the extra run-through on the day, I was satisfied. There is always more you can do, if you have more time, and I am sure more things could have gone even better, had we had another few rehearsals. But we didn't have that luxury, and I wasn't going to let that bother me, or the cast. I reminded them all that we were story tellers, first and foremost, and that if it went as well that night as it had gone during the final rehearsal, the audience, whoever they may be, would enjoy themselves.

After a brief "speech" to the cast before hand, wherein I thanked them, and hoped they had had fun, I left them backstage while I went out to the lobby of the theater to await my short pre-show announcements. Believe it or not, I was anxious and nervous for it all to start. Not because I feared for the quality of the show, but because I was excited to see how it would all turn out on such short notice. (I had been together with them for less then a week, officially, and it was all about to end in less than two hours.)

The crowd, much smaller than it otherwise would have been if not for the other project I mentioned still managed to fill one of the three small sections of seats in the little theater. They were warm and receptive to my introduction to the piece, and remained so throughout, laughing quite a bit at various places. Their responses made them sound like a crowd twice their size, actually.

At intermission I went backstage and told the cast to keep it up, and that I had received compliments already before it was even finished. They did not disappoint in the second half, and neither did the audience. Everyone, myself included, had a nice time that evening. I could tell something had gone right, given that the cast wished they could do it all again. There was even talk about trying to put together another reading of it at another venue. (Only a theory at this point.)

Over all, this experience had some problems, but we overcome them. So much so that looking back over the last week, it almost seems as if there were no real problems leading into this reading after all. I know some things could have gone better. I regret the schedule conflict with the other project, and a few other things. But given how little time we actually had, the size of the production and the size/responsiveness of the crowd that came to see it, it wouldn't be absurd to conclude that, by proportion at least, this was one of the more satisfying theater experiences I've had over the last few years. Nothing can replace a true production on stage, but i have said before and will again that staged reading can be a source of great enjoyment in their own right for everyone involved.

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