So last night our pianist/conductor Chris Petersen joined us and I relinquished the keyboard once and for all (well, at least for this show). That first night with Chris always reminds me how incredibly fragile performances are. Even though Chris is playing the same score I've been playing, the fact that it's a different pianist makes a real difference to the actors.
Part of it is that it's very hard for Chris to jump into this already moving vehicle -- the actors and I have established our own tempos, our own subtle shifts in tone and feel, our own musical quirks, and now poor Chris has to adjust to all that. But that's one of the reasons he comes in the week before Hell Week, so he can figure all that stuff out before Hell Week and before the band joins us.
But like I said, even the most subtle changes require adjustments from the actors, and since they're not fully settled into their own performances yet, since they're still finding their own paths, it's hard for them too.
This part of the process -- the Home Stretch -- can be rough on the actors in so many ways. First, we give them a new pianist. Then Saturday we'll give them lights -- especially in this show, lights are an integral part of the storytelling (helping to delineate flashbacks, interior monologues, etc.), an element that the actors really need but haven't had yet. On Sunday, we'll add the band and microphones. On Monday, we'll add costumes and the remaining props.
And then they'll have just three run-throughs to put it all together -- meanwhile polishing their own performances and putting my various notes into practice. This is the main reason why New Line has so many more run-throughs than we used to. When we started the company, we'd generally have one full run-through before Hell Week; now we usually have five or six. We used to move into the theatre the Sunday before we opened; now we move in two and half weeks before opening. At the beginning of New Line, the amount of time we got in the theatre didn't allow for a lighting cue-to-cue rehearsal or a sitzprobe; now we get both.
But as any of our actors will tell you, the more run-throughs, the better. (Although it is possible to have too many run-throughs, to the point of getting bored with it...) Doing this many run-throughs gives the actors time to settle into the show and then still have time to explore and find all those beautiful little moments onstage that reveal character, relationships, story, themes, etc.
This is the part of the process that is a lot like making sausage -- it's not pretty to watch, but you know the end product will be terrific. And it reminds me that no matter how hard or scary my job is, the actors' job is easily twice that...
Long Live the Musical!