A Real Thing

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As the days wind down on our Chicago experience, I find myself disengaging a bit from the city. I’ve pretty much given up hope of having another play staged while we’re here, since there is nothing in the offing, though I suppose miracles can happen. So, I guess the last theatre fixes will be seeing shows put on by friends and acquaintances. We have three shows coming up in the weeks ahead, all the work of people I have previously thanked here at C?CW? on the Theatre Folks page: n.u.f.a.n. ensemble, Bries Vannon (aka Paul Rekk) and the Saint Sebastian Players.

The often mute, always intriguing Bries

The often mute, always intriguing Bries

I’ve also been fortunate enough to get a chance to do some backstage work at SSP, as it prepares for its next show, The Real Thing. As I’ve commented here before, Stoppard’s classic was the first Broadway show I ever saw and the play that sparked my own “career” as a playwright. It delves into love, the artistic process, the power of words: three things I’ve spent some time exploring and, in at least two cases, fucking up a bit.

I don’t really have a defined role in this production, but the director – John Oster – knew of my love for the play and graciously said I could tag along. So far I’ve researched some of the odder British-English idioms and thrown out my 2 cents’ worth during auditions. But as things really pick up steam in the weeks ahead, I have no illusions about my role: basically a hanger-on and gofer, trying vicariously to soak up some of the excitement that goes along with being part of a theatre production.

And make no mistake, if you are a theatre person, it’s pretty darn energizing, that collective effort to translate the words on the page into entertaining action on the stage, that you pull off despite what usually seem like insurmountable odds (no production budget, inexperienced actors, battling egos, etc. ) when things first get rolling.

Despite my lack of success, by my definition, as a Chicago-based playwright, I have been blessed by some of my experiences here, especially having the chance to be intimately involved in the productions of some of my work.  For the first time, I got to interact with directors (though not all of them, still a lingering sore spot; I mean, were in the same city for god’s sake, you can’t even contact me once?), revise as the process went on, see actors develop my characters over time, watch all the pieces that make a play come together, and then listen to audiences respond. Any playwright will tell you: Seeing audiences laugh – or cry, or gasp – when they’re supposed to while actors speak your lines on stage; shit, there is nothing like it. (Except maybe parenting a child, but I can only speculate on that.). Of course, with the solo show, I also got to take on the managerial roles, which aren’t quite as much fun, but still a necessary part of making theatre work.

I also saw that no matter how good a relationship I might have with the cast and crew, the playwright is a little bit outside the community that forms as a production develops. Or maybe that’s just me, and other playwrights don’t feel that at all, I don’t know. I suspect the alienation will be even greater with The Real Thing. I’ll be at rehearsals, have some tangential role to play, but I will be apart. And that’s OK. Sitting in on the auditions and callbacks, going to the rehearsals still to come, all of that will help me, I think, the next time one of my pieces is staged and I do have a chance to be involved with it. The experience with this play will also help me delve even deeper into a work I so love for its wit and passion. And it should keep me out of trouble while Samantha is back in CT.

As I prepared to go to callbacks yesterday, I thought about how either you are a theatre person, or you’re not. And you can be a theatre person without ever getting on stage or building a set or taking a ticket.  Going to see a play is not the passive experience of flicking on the TV or radio, and it requires more of an intellectual and emotional investment, I think, than going to the movies. Of course, this does not apply to spouses/partners dragged to plays by their theatre-person significant other. If nothing else, my time in Chicago has helped me see that I am more of a theatre person than I realized; kinda funny for somebody who wrote plays for so long before making the move. Even now, though, I feel like a little bit of an imposter. I don’t have the academic theatre background, I have never felt the camaraderie of truly being a part of a cast and crew. I’m still more of a wannabe than really-am.

I think I will have to stay involved in theatre in some way, at some level, when we get back to CT, even if I never write another word. Of course, the memory of the thrill of how audiences responded to the words I have written so far (or at least the few that have actually been spoken on stage) – it’s a powerful inducement to keep trying. In the meantime, I’ll be in the basement of Chicago church, doing whatever I can to help a bunch of volunteer actors and crew do what they love. Theatre people.

(And if anyone wants to come visit during those weeks I’m stag, I’m sure I can get you comped for what is certain to be sterling production of The Real Thing.)

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~ by mburgan on February 15, 2009.

6 Responses to “A Real Thing”

  1. interesting…can’t you just grab a space with fellow theatre enthusiasts and put a show on…that way there’s less frustration…no overheads – just do it in a room and use your blog to get people along. They might have a great time.

  2. What you’re suggesting sounds like a less formal variation on self producing(?). I tried that route in a more expensive way–rent a space, solicit media, pay cast and crew–and had a less-than-completely satisfying experience, as I’ve mentioned before here. But just having actors over to the house to read a play can be fun; I’ve done that too. But it’s not the same as a real production witj an audience, paying or otherwise. Still, I’m open to trying something in between those two. Thanks for the input.

  3. the grab a space and do the show doesn’t mean it has to be just a read-through… in the past I used this method and the show was highly developed… get you guests to chuck in the hat… build the show and transfer it. Sure it demands a huge committment from the actors but they end up being the winners when the show kicks ass… anything is better than knocking on doors.

    • Yeah, anything is better than knocking on doors. Thanks for another good suggestions. Just have to find me some actors!

  4. the actors will find you and you ‘make’ the actors… as long as everyone is fed and has somewhere to sleep then there’s an outside chance you create the conditions necessary for kick-ass theatre… you know. I’m talking about something good, something deep.

  5. I understand. That’s the goal. Thanks again.

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