Captain's Log: Post Show Emotions
Anything you do for the first time is hard. Maybe not anything, but I do have a feeling that this applies to anything worthwhile. Every step that I took in this journey was a first; no beaten path, no clear direction, only a gut feeling of what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, and what works and what doesn’t.
The gut feeling I’m talking about started very early in the process. The three of us were at my place, in panic mode, trying to put together a business plan moving forward. Through our research and to our surprise, we discovered that theatre companies, in the Montreal area, tend to ask their actors for money in order for them to be part of their productions. Yes, I wrote that right. You want to be Romeo? Audition for the role, get selected for the part, and pay us $200 to act. Crazy, right? The actor is, at a minimum, paying you in time, skill, and dedication. If anything, the production company should pay them for their services. Of course, I understand that this is an easy way to cover costs like the venue, the technicians, the equipment rentals, etc. However, it’s very lazy and unacceptable for me. I will never ask my actors to pay to play a part in my productions. For this show, I was unable to pay them but that was clear before their auditions. What we decided to do was to reach out to local businesses and ask for donations in exchange for advertisement space in our playbill. It worked relatively well but it wasn’t enough to cover all expenses. Today, we've come up with other ideas on how to raise money but they are too excellent to talk about yet. Point is, actors shouldn’t pay to act and I took a loss instead of wavering on my principles.
Auditions were another gut feeling moment for me. I don’t know much about singing, dancing, monologues, and dialogues but I do know what I like and what I don’t. During the audition process, we had some excellent candidates come through our doors. The exercise was the following: they had to sing two songs of their choice, recite a monologue of their choice, and do some cold reads, of our choice, from the Buffy script. We didn’t ask them to tell us what role they wanted since we didn't want to bias our opinions and we didn’t necessarily assign them to the role we made them read. At the end of the auditions, I evaluated for chemistry just as highly as I did talent and placed them in roles that I decided would work out best. In hindsight, I did a very good job with casting but there are several things that I need to changing for the future. I feel like I have to ask the actor what role they want to audition for and then allow them to re-audition should they not make the casting for that role. This means allowing more time for the audition process than previously assumed. I doubt that's going to impact schedule as much as I initially assumed since we had problems with an actress not liking the casting and just leaving the show. This forced us to hold a second round of auditions anyways which did not result in any time saved. At least this way, expectations are set with both parties right at the start. Another problem we faced in the audition process was that we didn’t have time to properly flush out our vision and ended up casting an individual, only to have her role cut. Granted, we had other complications with this actress, but it does not excuse the fact that I should have been better prepared and it is very unprofessional on my part. We were too inexperienced and lacking time to have a thorough grasp of the show at that time. In the future, I will cast properly and if I don't, I will find another role for that person instead of leaving them out to dry.
With the casting finally cemented, I started working with our actors in their respective roles. I never want to be the person to tell a professional how to do their job, so I let them explore their characters on their own and put their own personality into them. I think this behavior has been cemented in my brain from engineering school and my office environment. Project that we execute at work have inputs from many different people that are experts in their domain; mechanical, electrical, project management, manufacturing, and testing just to name a few. In the end, everything comes together beautifully. It's about having a common goal and everyone in the team working towards it with their given expertise. Giving my actors that freedom in their dialogue, behavior, and personality allowed me to focus on a more important piece in the musical: their numbers! Those were choreographed from start to finish with little flexibility. While I was receptive to their feedback, I had a series of images in my head that I wanted the audience to see. My blockings revolved heavily on how to time movements with music to build towards those “wow” visuals on stage. This ended up working really well in establishing trust with my crew. The respect that I gave them by not micromanaging their characters and given them the freedom to act as they please within certain limits is something that I will forever keep in my style. It just feels right.
Now, I’m not going to say that I’m some star director or anything, far from it. What I can tell you is that my cast and crew have all told me that what I built here was special and extremely rare in the theatre world. I built a family. I let them be themselves and lead them as best as I could and by example. I consider them as my family. Every single one of them made such a tremendous impact on my life that I’m incapable of expressing it in words. When you are in the zone and trying to make ends meet, it’s so easy to forget that.
Now that it’s all said and done, did I do it right? Did I do it good? Did it work? Was my gut on point? Yes. How do I know? Let me tell you about Sunday’s performance. We were halfway through the show and I was sitting in the production booth with lights and sounds. The mics were finally working fine, the Comiccon crew didn’t require my attention anymore, and lights were much better on that run. I turned to Kevin and asked him if he’s good. Yes. Ok great. I decided to then walk backstage to see if Mik or the cast needed help with anything. When I got there, she was in the zone, totally in control. I saw my actors changing, grabbing their props, and lining up in the wings as we practiced for months. All good back here. I took a lap backstage to make sure. Yup, all good. Being completely unnecessary backstage, I decided to then head back to the booth to get out of people's way. Once I got there, I gave Kevin thumbs up from the floor and was greeted with one back. Everything was running smoothly. In over a year of working like a mad man, I had nothing to do. Absolutely nothing. I walked into the audience and sat down among them. I heard them sing along to the songs, laugh, cheer, and scream. I had done it. We had done it. We built something from nothing, gained a family in the process, and put on a show that 1500 people saw over two days and loved. Yeah, I did things right af.