Thursday, June 12, 2008

And Then They Came For Me - up and running!

I’ve been too busy to write in here for the last week, because the play we’ve been working on is now finally on, and there’s been the usual lead-up of extra rehearsals.

Last Saturday we had a really muddly rehearsal: people not available, or not turning up for nearly an hour or having to go early. The only thing achieved was a bit of tidying up of scenes with the people who did actually make it. So it was worthwhile, but not as good as it could have been. We went home earlier than intended as it was freezing cold, and one of the windows in the school assembly hall where we’ve been rehearsing wouldn’t shut.

Sunday I treated the Friends of the Opera Company to four of my piano pieces, including the world premiere of one: Arnold Schoenberg plays with his grandchildren. (Had to check beforehand that he might actually have had any grandchildren; seems likely!) The pieces were intermingled with a bunch of songs presented by my old friend, Arnold Bachop; Erin Pickering, one of the stalwarts of Opera Alive when it was functioning, and now a superbly accomplished singer, with great diction and tremendous tone. She lives and teaches in Invercargill these days, which is kind of a pity. (For Dunedinites, that is.) There were two other singers, Nicola Steel and a young lady whose first name is Sarah, but whose surname has decided to go AWOL on me. It was an excellent concert, in fact, which even the high-powered wind outside couldn’t undermine. (The winds over the weekend were hectic.)

Monday we finally got into the theatre – the Globe, famous for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is its dilapidated state, something I remember from when I first had contact with it in the 1960s! It was probably better in those days, but it’s always been a place where you know an amateur carpenter was seriously at work. The theatre itself has steps up beside the seats, but none of them seem regular, and they’re likely to send an unwitting customer flying. The place needs a good overhaul, but it’s probably not going to happen, even though there’s a good committee that’s turned it around from a dead duck to a thriving little theatre.

We’re not using any scenery, so the black drapes are all exposed to view: with their various little holes and tears.

Anyway, the drapes and other oddities were the least of our problems on Monday. We’ve been rehearsing with the video behind us since we first began using it, and this has been fine. However, when we got to the theatre we found that the video projector was set up at the front of the stage (people sitting in the front seats in the Globe have their feet on the stage) and that meant that no one could pass in front of the screen while anything was being played on it. We tried to show the picture from the reverse but the screen wasn’t suitable for this. In the end we did two run-throughs of the play (it’s only 70 minutes long); the first was a major struggle as we worked out how to play around the video instead of getting in its way, and the second, while better, was still unsatisfactory – although we could have coped.

We all went home despondent. And I had a horrible time about four in the morning when I woke up stressed and feeling quite ill with it.

However, the father of two of the girls in the show (he’s also the husband of the woman who directs the Narnia plays – the next one of which has a read-through this Sunday !) came to the rescue, and by the time we arrived on Tuesday, for our second lot of run-throughs, the screen had been replaced with a back-projection job, had been set further back (giving us more room –the stage at the Globe isn’t large at the best of times) and was functioning wonderfully. Oh, yes, that’s right – on the Monday we’d had no amplified sound either! No wonder stress came rushing in!

So our Tuesday night rehearsals were as good dress rehearsals should be: everything in place, and only minor things to sort out. I stopped trying to direct, and concentrated on just being in the play itself, and everyone else pulled out all the stops and got on with their parts and did extremely well.

Wednesday was our first performance, and it went like a dream. Everything flowed: the interleaving video was always in the right place, and the cast upped the ante considerably. Comments from the audience were all very positive. We’d got to the point where we didn’t have any sense of whether it was working or not – a not uncommon feature of theatre productions, I’ve found – and to hear that people were in tears at the end, and that it came across as a very emotional piece was music to our rather knocked-around souls. (It’s been a bit of a trial, this production!)

When we got to the end, where we each place a candle on the floor of the stage, in silence, while the music in the background is heartrending, you couldn’t hear a peep from the audience. Great stuff! The scene with the candles was something again that didn’t seem to have the stuff of great drama in it, yet it works. Thanks, Mr Still, we should never have doubted your play!

Two more performances this morning, for mostly school audiences, and four more over the next couple of days. I can’t say this has been my favourite play of all time, but I’m very glad to see that it’s proving its worth.

Incidentally, our producer (she who was the director before I got the job!) had contacted Eva Schloss, one of the two people who narrate throughout the play, on video. She emailed back to say she was pleased to hear about the play being produced in NZ. It’s the NZ premiere of the play, in fact.

The photo at the top is of Arnold Schoenberg, not Arnold Bachop, in case there's any confusion!
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