Everybody's Got the Right to Be Diff'rent

It's after 6:30 a.m. the morning after we closed Assassins. It is also the day I am free at last from the bad mojo of the Ivory Theatre. (I haven't decided if I'm gonna blog about the insanity that drove us screaming from the Ivory.) I haven't gone to bed yet. It's one of those nights I'd rather not end, it was just that great, but sleep will overtake me soon, no doubt. In the meantime...

What a show! Not easy to watch, not uplifting, but deeply, richly satisfying, truly original, full of emotion and humanity and truth -- what else do you need? And this cast! Well, holy shit. What an amazing group of people, every single one giving such a strong, interesting, individual performance!

I have learned something Big this time. This is the fourth show in which I made all the actors watch the whole show in view of the audience -- but this is the first time I've seen the connection among these four shows. The first time was Hair, which is pretty much written that way and so no big credit to me for staging it that way. During Hair, the Tribe sat around the stage and observed all the other scenes, sometimes participating, sometimes just watching, sometimes singing back-up.

The second time I used this device was Man of La Mancha, though again, it seemed to me to be the only way the show really works. Since Cervantes is in prison telling the other prisoners the story of Don Quixote, it seemed to me those other prisoners had to be present through the entire show. Without them, the audience forgets the framing device, which is key to the central theme of the show.

The third time was The Robber Bridegroom. We had a free-standing stage, with the cast sitting in wooden chairs on three sides of the stage, and then the audience on three sides behind the actors. I wasn't consciously imitating Hair, but in retrospect I think that's where it came from.

And now I've used the device again with Assassins, with all the assassins sitting on stage framing the playing area, watching each other's scenes. Working backwards from the Oswald scene, which is the climax and "point" of the show, adding the assassins as a constant presence just seemed so right to me. The metaphor of the Book Depository scene is that Oswald shoots Kennedy because he knows about those who've gone before him and those who may come after. He sees himself as "historical." And that thought process is dramatized in the show by the actual assassins showing up in the flesh in the book depository. So, in a way, our staging device just followed the rules of the climactic Scene 16. Can you tell I'm stoned?

What's interesting is that though this is my fourth time doing this, all four shows used the device differently.

What this accomplished in these shows was to totally immerse the actors in the reality of the event. They could not leave the stage, take a pee, check on the baseball scores, or get a drink. And that brought tremendous energy to the show, and a stronger (if perhaps unconscious) link between audience and actors, since the actors were audience. It was warm and friendly with Hair, chaotic and intense with La Mancha, funny and communal with The Robber Bridegroom, and it made the already intense Assassins so much more intense, so much more uncomfortable. And even more so than the brilliant material does, our Assassins refused to give the audience even a second of relief till the final blackout. That might have asked too much of an audience, but our sold out houses tell us otherwise.

I have been truly blessed with a whole cast full of talented, dedicated character actors, the kind of artists who take every choice seriously, who consider and experiment, who surprise me with wonderful little moments of truthfullness. But I also have to say, not-so-humbly, that I think this is among the best work I've ever done. I really had a big head start this time with the brilliant writing, but I did make a show that was truly beautiful to behold, a real work of art.

I really feel like I'm getting better at my craft and that is very exciting. And did I mention that I'm free of the Ivory??

Long Live the Musical!