Letters to Holly

Friday, May 29

All We Did Was Kick Ass.

At this, practically the last moment, I decided to change the language. I just couldn't let "bastard" fly twice in the church. I still remain an amoral wretch, but it felt like a political risk for the theatre. I told the actress to say "monster" instead, and I took full responsibility for the cast and theatre if the playwright were to object.

I got a call before rehearsal for an actress asking to bring her husband. He couldn't make the performance on Friday afternoon. I had no problem with it. This is the actress, by the way, who calls me "Andrew." I almost always get "Jeffrey." This one is a new wrong name.

This was the first rehearsal with the joke ring. The script calls for the boyfriend to give his gal a toy engagement ring that squirts water. He found one, and it arrived the day before we perform. It works great, and he and the actress figured out how best to activate it during his proposal. Then we ran the show.

And it stunk. The actors were tumbling off their script and ad-libbing. The mom actress rigged her script differently, and she couldn't flip the pages well. The cast were jumbled and out of sorts. Props fell to the floor. Chairs fell over. It was the epitome of a rough rehearsal. Now theatre tradition says bad last rehearsal portends a strong performance, and that was my only consolation. I dressed them down (kindly, lovingly), and told them for the billionth time to READ THE DAMN SCRIPTS. These are actors so accustomed to getting off-script that they wanted to avoid reading onstage, and I reminded them that there are no style points. But they will hurt the show by forgetting their allegedly memorized lines. I told them to relax, and look at the script if an awkward silence develops. If no one is saying a line, it may be you who's supposed to talk.

The visiting husband found it "better than he expected," but he was watching our worst runthrough. We set up again and did the play one more time. The mom actress asked me to explain a line, and I helped her get the joke. Off we went, and they were fine. Just dandy. Even with the bad rehearsal, we were still running at a half-hour. This time, we again came in under 30 minutes, and that's what I want from my comedy: speed. When the second rehearsal was over -- the last at our warehouse -- I gave them only good feedback. Each actor got a pat on the head, and they all got copious gratitude for their work. I told them we were officially in great shape for Friday, and I bid them good night as I packed all the props into my car.

I emptied the beer cans for the birthday toast by piercing the bottoms and pouring the beer into the compost pail. This would allow the actors to pop the can tops onstage without any beer to spew. It took some time to do this, and I was wearing more old, heat-ruined beer than I normally prefer. This stuff has sat in my backseat for two weeks while I've been at work.

Flash forward to Friday. I got up early for my haircut and grabbed croissants at the local bakery. The morning dragged by; I was itching to get going and get it over with. I arrived at the church at ten, and we found our requested table and chairs waiting for us. Half the cast began nervously fidgeting with the lights for our performance space and worrying about the glass door behind the "set" backlighting the play. We were assured that that light would be no problem by the time we performed. I was concerned with setting the set and presetting props. I eventually called the actors in place, and we ran. They were concerned about moving the chairs on carpet, something we don't have in the rehearsal space, but I did warn them beforehand that this require adjustment.

The rehearsal was fine. I walked around the fellowship hall to gauge their volume, and I gave them only minor tips for the performance. We changed the beer can preset and practiced that again to everyone satisfaction. The event staff set up the luncheon tables and food while we rehearsed, and I could hear them stifle their laughter to be polite. I told the cast and again advised them to prepare for pauses to allow laughter. I gave them their magnets (which they loved) and thanked them for their collaboration and efforts. We had two hours before we were scheduled to go on.

The theatre administrators arrived soon after, and we all commiserated. Some luncheon folks trickled in, and last-minute synchronization ensued. I asked for ample warning before the speeches were to start so the actors to change into costume. I was invited to sit with the theatre president and my theatre liaison, and I assured the cast they would get a tap on the shoulder to make their changes. The liaison asked me about directing, and I gave him some specifics. I enjoyed it, I said. They were a great group to work with. Next time, I'll assert the style earlier and more forcefully. I also traded notes with our videographer about the length of the show.

The playwright arrived, and she was as eager to see this I was. She was flattered to have a debut luncheon, and the theatre folks greeted her warmly. She loved the magnet. So did her daughter and friend. I gave one to the president, and he mentioned a renewed effort for publicity involving shirts and posters and would I like to be the art guy on this. Finally. I've waited three years for that invitation. I've made four magnets to earn that invitation. Now let's see what kind of follow-through I'll get.

Lunch was nibbled (I was anxious), and I passed on the wine. Seeing the bottles made me feel much better about having beer in the play. I chit-chatted and caught up with folks I hadn't seen in some months before getting the nod to start. I warned the cast, and they left to change. The speeches began, and the playwright was given a plaque. The author of the full play debuting that night hadn't yet arrived, and there was worry about his perception of the play debut. And he has reason to be worried. That play is in trouble.

I assembled the cast and gave them fleeting affirmations. We got the introduction, and we took the stage. I introduced the play and the format and thanked everyone I ever met, and off we went. I sat just out of sight of the set to work the CD of effects. And we started the show.

It went over like a motherfucking laughter bomb. The audience was rolling, and the cast were surprised by how funny they found it. It wasn't a perfect show. The mom actress has never been able to keep a consistent volume, and her script trouble from Thursday popped up again. The boyfriend actor forgot his glasses and had to squint to read his script. I only learned of this after, and I told him honestly I never noticed. Jokes we knew would work did. Lines we never considered as funny got laughs.

The cast took their bows to a standing ovation, and they called me up for a bow, and I called up the author to join us. The audience flowed around us to congratulate us, and I deferred the accolades for the cast. They did the heavy lifting from curtain to curtain (let's imagine we had a curtain). I strolled over to the wine bottles and had my victorious slurps. Much hobnobbing developed. The audience filtered out, and the cast traded notes. I learned that the theatre is considering this show for both a theatre-outreach effort to community centers and as a play for the annual July 4 fundraiser. I gathered all the props together (including my Burger King crown) for the theatre to use if this show sees the light of day again. The very last thing I was told before leaving -- from the actor I squabbled with, of all people -- is that my name will be forever attached to the show however it again emerges with their theatre. The author and the director are listed for debut show titles on all materials involving the show. I had no clue.

I packed up the car, drove to props to the warehouse and labeled a box with the contents. I tucked the box away, closed up the warehouse, untucked my dress shirt, and drove home.

Oh, and I stopped by Burger King to get a new crown.

And that's that.

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