Sunday, 9. March 2014 22:15
That’s what a musician who has played every musical that I have directed for the past several years said that to me recently after a particularly brutal first-night-with-the-band rehearsal. It was in response to the look on my face as I was about to give notes. And, in all fairness, it (the play or the musical) does come together more often than not. But it doesn’t always, and it is decidedly not an assured outcome.
There are two reasons that someone would feel assurances such as his may be necessary: the first is that the week before opening (or before first previews if that is part of the production plan)—when all the pieces get put together—is particularly chaotic. Costumes are added. Makeup is applied. Rehearsal props are replaced with show props that don’t feel quite the same in the actors’ hands. In musicals, the band comes in and is louder and plays music that is far more complex than the rehearsal pianist played. Light cues happen, sometimes not quite correctly, then get refined. Sound cues happen and are modified. Microphones are added and adjusted on the fly. And during all this, the director wants the actors to not only adjust to all the new things, but to turn out better and better performances that are more energetic, funnier, sadder, more nuanced than the ones before. And that same director seems not satisfied with anything that happens on the stage and is not hesitant about informing the entire company. So it seems as if it may not happen at all.
The second reason that it seems that “it always comes together” is because, more often than not, it does. And it seems to be a bit of a miracle. It’s one of the things that movies and live theatre have in common. In fact, someone at this year’s Oscar™ ceremony said as much. From the outside—and sometimes from the inside as well—it certainly seems miraculous.
But it is not really a miracle, and that it will, in fact, come together cannot be taken for granted. Stage productions and movies, and probably all performances come together because the production staff never stops working and refining and tweaking and polishing and because they don’t let the performers ever stop doing exactly the same thing. They know that if they falter or let up, the performance will never reach its potential.
The problem of performance production is that all of the component pieces and the people who represent them have to fit together much like a gigantic multi-personalitied jigsaw puzzle. If they don’t fit, the production will suffer. And if the production suffers, then all the work, while not exactly wasted, will not fulfill the artistic vision of the production team. So sometimes the pieces have to be hammered into place, modified, replaced, shaved and reset, or sanded slick. People have to be persuaded, cajoled, convinced, coerced or manipulated into doing what is necessary to make the show happen.
But occasionally even the best of production teams, even those with great experience cannot bring the pieces together. And when that happens, even if the production does not fail, the play or musical or movie or concert is not what it could have been.
It’s really no different than the production of any artifact, except that it is a group effort—in some cases, a very large group—instead of the work of an individual artist. And we all know that no artist is immune to the occasional failure. And when that happens, those of us in performance do exactly what any painter, novelist, photographer, or sculptor would do in a similar circumstance: scrap what must be scrapped, salvage what is salvageable, and move on to the next project, because we know that there are no assurances that “it will always come together.”