Friday, August 23, 2013

Happy Opening Night!

Celebrated: Today in Hallowell, Maine, by the cast and crew of William Inge's Picnic at Gaslight Theater  

Today's post is a cheat, as it's a reprint of my Director's Note from the PICNIC program. Tonight's performance is at 7:30 pm at Hallowell City Hall; performances continue August 24, 25, 29, 30 and 31. All performances at 7:30 pm except for Sunday, August 25, which is a 2:00 pm matinee. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students. To make your reservations, call 207-626-3698 or click here.  

Picnic was originally published in 1953, but I first encountered it in 1985, when my college theater group (Georgetown University’s Mask & Bauble, long may it flourish) performed it. I auditioned for that show but was not cast, and wound up serving as costumer — just like Gaslight, everyone involved in that organization wore many hats.

What I loved about Picnic, then and now, was/is the depth of its characters. You’ll often see it subtitled as “A Summer Romance,” and on the surface it’s a simple love triangle: Alan courts Madge, Madge falls in love with Hal, hearts are broken as the price of true love. But the word “romance” applies to so much more within this play. Every one of the characters, even those we see for only a minute or two, is driven by some powerful emotion or desire. They all long for something, and that longing plays out in unexpected ways over Picnic’s three acts.

When I was 19, I empathized most with Rosemary, the teacher who grew old while she was busy being independent. Now I’d probably audition for the role of Flo, who wants so much for both her daughters. As I’ve directed the show I’ve decided that the author’s own spokesperson is Millie, who dreams of a literary life in the big city. But ultimately it falls to Mrs. Potts, the beloved, slightly comic, slightly tragic neighbor, to speak for all of us.

“I think we plan picnics just to give ourselves an excuse,” she says to Flo Owens, “to let something thrilling and romantic happen to us.”

“Such as what?” Flo asks.

“I don’t know,” Mrs. Potts says. “That’s what’s so exciting.”

 It has been an honor and a delight to work with this cast and crew, and I hope this is an experience that they — and our audiences — will always remember.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Happy Tech Week!

Celebrated: At Gaslight Theater before every opening night

For once I have a good excuse for my long absence from this blog: rehearsals for William Inge's Picnic, which I am directing for Gaslight Theater. We open on Friday, which means that this week is tech week, a series of rehearsals that lets us put the actors together with lights and sounds and costumes and props before the audience shows up (I hope) this weekend.

Community theater types will often refer to this time as "hell week," but that's not a phrase I ever use, and I tend to snap at people who use it around me. Yes, tech week is a lot of work. It's tedious and chaotic and frustrating, with too many people needing too many things, and too many last-minute decisions to be made. But at Gaslight Theater, at least, we're all volunteers, which means that we're all doing this for love of the process. As crazy-making as tech week can be, this is the fun part — the mysterious alchemy of 11 actors and half a dozen crew members coming together to make something that is far more than any of us could imagine or create on our own.

A friend asked last week why I do this, and this is why. Directing a play is an object lesson in control, or the illusion thereof. I started this process with a vision of what the play would look like, sound like, feel like. Over the last two months, I've had to give up a lot of those visions in exchange for something that turns out to be better than anything I could have come up with on my own. Every person involved in this production has contributed something I could not have imagined or demanded, of their own free will and the sheer joy of theater, and I'm overwhelmed by the magic of it all.

We had a costume parade last night, under the lights, and it literally took my breath away to see how my friends and neighbors have transformed themselves into William Inge's passionate Kansans. I'm impatient to get back to the theater tonight for our first full dress rehearsal, and I can't wait to show it all to an audience on Friday. Come see us.