Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Backstage at A Christmas Carol: The Long Run

I’ve done many lengthy runs of different shows, and the experience varies. Some shows are simply more demanding than others. Doing Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale eight times a week for weeks on end was difficult physically and emotionally – but ultimately rewarding. Other shows are such a joy that you don’t notice what you’re putting your body through.

Then there are musicals.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a musical. I love them, they are what got me started as an actor but I had forgotten how much more energy it takes to do a musical than it takes to do most plays. This production of A Christmas Carol is not a “let’s all sit on a couch and talk” kind of theatrical experience. I’m singing while dancing ballet! And then it’s offstage to change costumes and run back onstage again. And there’s nothing like it; being able to see the smiles and the tears on the audience’s faces. You can feel how you’re touching the audience - that for those two hours, we’re all in this experience together. Rewarding.

One question I always get is “What’s difficult about doing a long run of a show? Does it get boring?” These questions get straight to the heart of what means to do your job well. The first thing to remember is that every night, this is that audience’s first time seeing the show and it’s our responsibility to put on the best version of our show. That idea still keeps me excited and gives me a fun nervousness before curtain. I also spend a lot of time with the script, even after the show has opened. And I’m not the only one. The amazing Chris Winfield, our Scrooge, can be seen with his script every day. So can Klair Bybee, our Jacob Marley. Clearly we’ve already learned our lines, so what could we be doing, you wonder? We’re still investigating the material. Making discoveries. Looking for new ideas, actions and emotions to discover. I’m sure you’ve read books more than one time and somehow on the tenth reading, you understand something that you’ve never noticed before. It’s the same with the script. Not only does it make your performance clearer and more fully developed, but it keeps you fresh. When you’re still open to finding new things, even while you’re onstage, it is not a repeat performance. It’s the first time for you, and the audience can feel that. How? It’s a mystery.

I can say that being able to refine your performance over the time you are performing a role is a wonderful gift of the theater. I never “freeze” a performance, because that shuts out all possibility of magic. We’ve had people see the show multiple times and tell us how much the show has grown even though they loved it the first time they saw it. That is the best compliment we can get, because it means we’re doing our job well.

As we get to the end of our run of this show, I know I’ll miss doing it. There’s something about this story, getting to hear it every night has an impact on you – as it should. I’ll also miss working with all of these wonderful actors! These are the funniest people I’ve spent time with in recent memory. Since there are 27 of us, we are like one big crazy family backstage, in the dressing rooms and in the green room. We’re constantly looking for a kid’s vest that always seems to wander off. Every day. The kids are always joking with us and playing jokes on us. And it keeps everything interesting and fresh backstage. That camaraderie also informs our relationships in our performances. Everything helps everything.

I’ll see you at the theater! Maybe even this weekend – there are still tickets available for our final four shows! And if you feel so inclined, come on back to say hello to the cast after the show. You’re allowed - we’re all family.

Before I forget – I wanted to remind you that our next production at The Group Rep is The City. It’s a revival of a play that was written in 1909 but has been updated to modern times. It’s a play with murder, intrigue, scandal and politics. Stay tuned to this space to find out more…

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