We got to That Point this week, that point where the show just isn't going to move forward any further until we're in the theatre. The cast is solid on the music and lyrics, they understand the arc of the show, they understand the dramatic context of these songs -- but, as often happens with shows, we hit a creative wall Thursday night. The actors have gone as far as they can go in a rehearsal hall.
To get to the deeper emotions, the more elusive subtleties of character, the subtextual meat, the energy and intensity of so many of these songs, the actors need to get onstage. They need a set, they need props and costumes, and more than anything, they need the excitement and energy that only the band can bring to our little enterprise.
Luckily, all that stuff is on its way. We move into the space this weekend and next week we start rehearsing onstage. And as we put the finishing touches on our show, the same thing will be happening to the brand new Ivory Theatre, where we'll open in two weeks.
The other big change next week will be that I'll move out from behind the piano, as our pianist Chris Petersen takes over. People often ask me how I can direct a show from the piano, but I've been doing it since 1981, so I really don't even think about it. I learned long ago how to play and watch the show at the same time. I've also learned that the best way to gauge the progress of the acting is to listen -- that's how you find out how deep the actors are going. Most actors have plenty of physical tricks to create the appearance of real emotion, but if you just listen to their voices, you can better tell whether or not that emotion is really there, whether or not they'll really connect with the audience...
The other reason it's never been a problem for me to spend much of my time behind the piano is that it's important to me that the actors have a fair amount of time to play without me in the way, to experiment, to try things and see what works. I want them to have "the freedom to fail," the luxury of time that allows them to get really adventurous and find the most exciting, surprising moments. I try to put off giving the actors notes on their performances until the last half dozen rehearsals, so there's less pressure to "succeed" with every choice they make along the way.
I lay out as clear a road map for them as possible and then let them find their own unique way down that road (though I do step in if they veer way off and get caught in the underbrush...). Only towards the end do I start "editing" their choices, so I can make sure we're all arriving at the same destination. Some actors hate that early freedom because they're not used to having it -- after all, "with great freedom comes great responsibility" -- but most of our actors love that they can try something for a few rehearsals and if it doesn't work, they can toss it aside and try something else.
Some of the best moments in our shows come from the actors' experiments in rehearsal. If I dictated every moment in the show, the end product wouldn't be nearly as interesting.
So now we begin the last leg of our journey -- settling on the choices we want to make, "editing" the performances to make sure they're as clear as possible and that they're all part of the same fabric, and then "freezing" the show into its final form. This is the hardest part but it's also the most fun...
Long Live the Musical!