Starting to Feel Real

It's the same every time.

I choose some weird show for us to do that really thrills me, and only afterwards do I realize how fucking difficult it's going to be -- conceptually, musically, technically, casting-wise, acting-wise, or sometimes all of the above. And then I get a little bit stressed out.

Then, once we're sure we're doing a show, I make a copy of the script at Kinko's, I read it once more through, and then I keep it on top of my piano. I let the show swim around in the back of my head, and then every once in a while (more likely than not, it's when I'm really stoned) I come up with the perfect way to stage a scene, or a great way to explain a scene to the actors, or a revealing bit of business, and I grab the script and make notes about that, then put it back. Over time, I figure out the style of the show, the energy of it, the physicality of it -- is this more like Bat Boy or High Fidelity or Sunday in the Park with George or bare? Or is it sui generis, it's own category entirely? And if so, what are its rules? What will be hardest for the audience to understand? I think one of my talents as a director is understanding and communicating to the actors each show's individual personality. But sometimes, with the weirder shows, the Big Picture is hard for the actors to grasp until all the pieces come together.

Eventually the time comes to prepare for rehearsals and I procrastinate and I procrastinate and then I finally sit down and make the rehearsal schedule, which is really hard. I try like hell to make actors sit around doing nothing as seldom as possible. Sometimes it can't be avoided, but I do my best and I think the actors appreciate it.

Rehearsals begin, and no matter how long I've been thinking about the show, I don't feel like I'm ready to start work yet. I feel ill-prepared. (Unless it's a show I've done before, but that's pretty rare.) But I've learned over time that my process works and I always know instinctively how to get us on the right road for this particular show with this particular cast at this particular moment to get to the coolest, most intense, most meaningful end product.

I used to think I was not preparing enough because, as we worked on the show, I always felt like I understood it fully only as we worked on it, not ahead of time. But I realize now that this is how I do my best work. Having too many answers in advance robs the process of spontaneity and the inspired brilliance that comes from panic. I prepare myself in advance for discovering the piece, but I actually discover it in the process, not on the page. I can tell many of the actors enjoy discovering the show at the same time I do. It becomes a group adventure. And I think they find my frequent flashes of revelation mildly hilarious.

As we work on the show, I write a background and analysis chapter about it that really helps me, by forcing me to verbalize my ideas, my hunches, my sense of how a show works, and it often makes more obvious a wrong turn I may have taken. And all that makes it easier to talk about it with the actors.

All this work is really hard and there's very little payback, very little reward for doing good...

Until now. We call it Hell Week. Most people call it production week. I've finally seen Passing Strange now in all its rock and roll glory. With lights, costumes, a finished set, and a seriously kick-ass band. And holy fucking shit, it is a thing of beauty. Funny, sexy, subversive, emotional, heartbreaking, thought-provoking, powerful, and just so fucking beautiful. There's such poetry in the words, such joy and muscle in the music, and our actors have found that playful, honest, aggressive style the show demands. This cast may not have always known exactly where we were heading, but they stayed with me and they've arrived in glorious fashion. They were on fire last night. And Jesus Christ, was it fun.

Still a few more little details to iron out -- not really problems, just little details that can be cooler or clearer or more interesting. I could tell from the first day that these were the right people to pull this thing off and I was right. Every one one of them does wacky comedy and powerfully emotional drama with equal skill. Damn!

Come see us opening night and you can meet the cast and band at the party afterward. This is not a show you'll soon forget.

Long Live the Musical!