Wednesday, December 22, 2010

December 22, 2010

Anne Keefe
Playhouse Artistic Advisor

I’m sitting at my desk panicking slightly about the Valentine’s Day Script in Hand choice, which I’m narrowing in on, but which isn’t finalized.  Having a hard time choosing between traditional ‘gooey-love centric’ and funny…maybe there is a ‘funny-gooey’ choice which is eluding me.  Suggestions?  Quick!
I thought it might be interesting to talk a little about the process that brought us the last Script in Hand offering, The Greatest Gift. 
Several years ago, we commissioned our then Playwright-in-Residence, David Wiltse to write a holiday offering which would do several things.  It had to: entertain our diverse community at the holiday season, be an alternative to the obvious choices, have a small cast, be relatively easy to produce, and have music because – well – music is festive! We weren’t looking for a musical, because musicals are expensive in a couple of ways.  Not only does a musical usually require a chorus of singers and dancers (increasing the cast size), it often means something more than a piano as accompaniment (which means instrument rental and additional personnel) so what we asked for was a play with music.  This not only avoids the expensive chorus and orchestra, but in a way makes the piece more producible by other theatres.  Somewhere down the road, this could also mean additional revenue for the Playhouse as the initiator of the project.  So you see, there is a bit of ‘business’ in the ‘show business’!  And the understanding with a commission is that the script may or may not be produced, depending on so many things.  These include timing of the delivery of a workable script, budgetary considerations and the vision of the artistic director, and usually a combination of all of these!
David embraced the challenge and recruited a personal friend, and someone who had a bit of a history at the Playhouse (A Saint She Ain’t – 2002) to write the songs.  Our friend Denis King, a well known English composer, who just happens to be my best friend’s husband was brought on board after David had given the script a rough shape.  They decided on 5 songs and discussed placement.  By June of 2008 they had a script and we decided to take an ‘in house’ look at it.  We got together a bunch of good actor friends and held auditions for the two children’s roles locally.  We were stunned at the turn out of talented children in this community and chose two great kids for the workshop.  At the end of the process, David and Denis went away with some good thoughts for upping the stakes for Emma and a desire to add a couple more songs.  This they did and when we were looking to put together the 2010 Holiday Special Events Series, we decided The Greatest Gift as a Script in Hand reading would be a great addition.
So, we hired Playhouse regular Mark Shanahan to cast and direct a second workshop and scheduled a four day rehearsal period here in our rehearsal hall. Now, usually, the Script in Hand readings rehearse onstage for 5 hours, but that’s because the material is tried and true, not brand new, and because we have no songs to learn!  Luckily for us, the children from the first workshop (Orly Salik and Luke Sauer) had not ‘aged out’ of their roles thereby avoiding not only more auditions, but guaranteeing kids who were familiar with most of the material, and parents who understood the process and were willing to accommodate the rehearsal schedule with lots of driving!
The first day of the four days was spent getting a basic feel for the music. Denis came over from England to be our de facto music director and accompanist.  No matter how often I’ve been involved with actor/singers, I’m always stunned to watch people who possess this amazing ability to pick up an unknown piece of sheet music and make it beautiful in a ridiculously short time.  And what actor singers we had! Howard McGillin – a well known Broadway veteran came to us because he had worked with Mark Shanahan in a production of The 39 Steps which Mark had directed.  Of course we all loved Jeremy Peter Johnson from the Playhouse’s production of She Loves Me earlier in the season, and Stacie Morgain Lewis, an actor from several companies of Wicked came because Mark Shanahan’s wife had worked with Stacie in one of those productions.  Such a small world we live in.
 After getting the basics of the music down, we sat down for almost two days of script work with the actors, director and playwright, talking about the shape of the story we wanted to tell, and how best to get across the visual aspects of the script without any technical elements on the stage.  I volunteered my big house plant, because I suspected it was the type of ‘rubber tree’ David was describing. Getting it here without killing it was an adventure in itself – but a story for another time.
Finally on the Monday of the performance, we moved into the theatre and started working in the limited movement just like any Script in Hand reading and a couple of hours later – there it was on its feet and singing!  And now, it is launched.  David and Denis learned a lot, and will continue to tweak until we can find a place and a time to mount it in a full production.
And now…onward to February 14th!
Thanks to all of you who support the Playhouse whether as a subscriber, a donor or a single ticket buyer.  We exist because of you.  Thanks for all you do.  May your holidays be joyous and we look forward to entertaining you in the New Year!

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