I've done far too many shows to be this emotional about a closing night, but hell, that's where I find myself tonight. As I type this blog entry, the scenery is coming down, the costumes are being struck, the weaponry we used the in the show is sitting here in my office ready to be returned, and we won't hear the echoes of the drums resounding through the building anymore. This one was special.
It was special for many reasons. This cast was a director's dream. They took to what we were about with a fierceness that was astounding in rehearsal and brought that same fierceness to each performance. It was special because in our life in this small theatre we don't get to tackle Shakespeare that often and doing Shakespeare is one of my passions. It was special because it is not often as a director to you get so much of what you started out to achieve.
It was special because of Elliot, Ray, Thomasin, Larry, Ann Marie, Melissa, Rex, James, Jim, Vaughn, Doug W., Doug S., Will, and Chris. It was special because of an exquisite design team, Til, Tamara, Chris, and a brilliant composer, Steve. It was special because of Malia and Natalie. It was special because of Jeff, Theresa, Cephe, Teresa, Sarah, Pat, and Tara. Incredible work by all.
It was special because it was a fight to get audiences for this effort here in our neck of the woods. It was special because even though some will say we lost that battle (the show was not that well attended on most nights) we received more comments about this show than we ever have, and they were beyond effusive. They begged for more like it.
It was special because I know we will have to fight many battles in order to give them what they ask for. It was special because we played to so many young people, either in school groups, or with their parents, and to hear them cheer at the end of the show, was to know that what we do, does indeed have meaning, and there is hope in our crazy world.
Today's two final shows were also special because two of my Tableteer buddies, Mark "Sumocat" Sumimoto, and Josh Einstein and their lovely wives, Tanya and Heather, joined us for the final two shows. Why is that special? Two of the little worlds I live in crossing over in a fun way.
The live theatre is magic. Magic for its audiences who experience the joy of a story well told for the first time. It is special because you know you can tell a story that will have impact long after the memories fade. It is also magic for the artists who assemble to tell that story, and when a special one comes along it creates a bond that becomes more powerful than the ephemeral memories that they create. This one was indeed magic.
This production makes me redouble my efforts to keep doing this. When it is so right that you feel it in your bones, the fight becomes easy, even when it is a fight. Give me this cast of this play, and this design team, and a theatre, and I'll show you magic that will you will never forget every time. That's how right and how special this felt.
So, I'll miss this one. I'll be looking forward to the next big one that leaves me this emotional when the last round of applause is heard. You never know when it is going to come.
Another good review for our production of Othello hit the wires today. This from the Warren Sentinel. Good stuff considering that the reviewer mentioned to me on opening night how much he despised Shakespeare. A bit short and incomplete, but we'll take it. Here's the link.
I'm indirectly, some say directly, responsible for a number of Wayside Theatre actors and employees starting their own blogs. First, I'm sorry. Second, cool. But, one Wayside Theatre blogger, Peter Boyer has called out several of the others for not blogging lately. He singles out Maila, Carl, and Larry, but he also points out that they are all involved in working on shows, (some in Othello here at Wayside) some elsewhere. I think Peter's feeling lonely in the blogsphere.
Another good review for Othello in late today. This time from The Culpeper Star Exponent. Aside from a few quibbles, (I don't think this reviewer has ever heard of a harem bed before) this is another excellent review of the show. What strikes me as remarkable about all three published so far, is that they all seemed to get what we were after with they play. Rare.
We've seen two reviews so far from the local press, both raving about our production of Othello. The Northern VA. Daily, which does not publish their stuff on-line, said that our production of Othello, "boldly scaled new artistic heights" setting a new standard. The reviewer there was also very complementary to the cast and our production staff and really got what we were trying to accomplish. We'll take that.
The Winchester Star also raved about the show and you can find that review on-line here. (registration required.) So far there's a early momentum building about the show that feels positive, but now we see if ticket sales jump with the notices or not.
Othello is now open and running at Wayside Theatre after a great response to the first weekend and opening night. Since first picking up a Tablet PC in June 2003, I have been working towards integrating that technology into my work at Wayside Theatre. I’ve chronicled this before on several past shows, and again with this production of Othello. This post is a summary of what worked on this production and what didn’t. I always try new things with each production and some stay in the toolbox and some don’t. It also contains my thoughts on what I’d like to see, and where I think I might be heading in the future.
The Old Standbys
OneNote: I first purchased a Tablet PC as a very expensive legal pad to take notes in rehearsal. (A geek is a geek is a geek.) I have boxes of legal pads from past shows that I have archived. My Tablet PC (first a Toshiba 3505 and now a Toshiba M200) have served me well in that situation, first using Windows Journal and then later OneNote 2003, and now the Beta of OneNote 2007. Let me say that the inking experience and the searching experience in OneNote 2007 is so vastly improved that it really makes taking and retrieving of notes a breeze. I have tried using other note taking software (Evernote, GoBinder, and MindManger) before (not on this show) but have always come back to OneNote primarily because the organizational aspects work so well for me. That is a very personal choice. Your mileage may vary depending on your circumstance and your personal choices.
Not only does OneNote 2007 serve as a great notetaking tool, but being able to capture, store, and link to the research that I do on a show, especially the size of Othello, where so much as been written about Shakespeare’s work, is a true boon. The new OneNote 2007 multiple notebook feature is a great addition to the organizational structure that also really makes my life easier. Everything now gets captured into one or two notebooks, Unfiled Notes or OneNote Mobile Notes. (more on that later) and then gets filed into the appropriate section. I don’t create a new Notebook for every show, but I do create a new section for each show under a Production Staff Notes Notebook. That section will then be moved to Past Shows once I am done working on it, which usually happens after the reveiws are in, which get printed or scanned into OneNote.
Taking notes in OneNote 2007 doesn’t just mean opening a page and scribbling down notes. When I can (subject to copyright restrictions) I scan or print a script into OneNote directly. I’ll create a series of these script pages and use each one to take notes on for subsequent rehearsals. The value of this is that I can take a note directly in the script at the moment that an action or line muff occured. It actually allows a bit of shorthand, as I don’t have to scribble a line reference to jog my memory later as to why I took the note. Notetaking in rehearsal, while a somewhat subjective art, is also filled with passion. Often I simply scribble, “GREAT,”or “THAT SUCKED”. Now that I do that in the script, I know what moments I’m referencing.
OneNote 2007 also comes in very handy when I am editing a script (such as Shakespeare) and I’ve chronicled that in another post here. One of the key’s here is using different color ink to represent different parts of my though process. Red, the cut is made. Aqua, I’m thinking about it. Green, probably not but possible. This color coding of highlights is a quick visual reminder that really does save time in the process.
InkyBoard: Unfortunately, now that I have moved to OneNote 2007, I’ve lost some of the functionality of Charlie Cassidy’s nifty white board application, InkyBoard. I have used this application to scan in ground plans, overlay Inkyboard over the scan, make blocking and staging notes on the overlay and then print the files to OneNote 2003. This became a very handy tool for staging large scenes. I’m hoping that Charlie updatres InkyBoard for OneNote 2007. (That’s a big hint Charlie!)
MindManger: I use MindJet’s MindManger early on in the process as I’m working on ideas, concepts, and broad issues on the show. The free form nature of the program really allows me to sit back and let my mind run. As an artist, I’m a big believer that inspiration and ideas come at the oddest moments and when they are the least expected. Opening a mindmap for each show and just jotting down ideas when they come to me allows me to keep track of my thoughts similarly to how they bounce around in “the little theatre in my mind.” Usually though, by the time we get into serious production meetings on a show, I’ve dispensed with the mindmap. Although once the show is staged or blocked, I’ll go back to the mindmap to see if there is anything I’ve forgotten or changed since I was working on this alone and how the collaboration with other artists has altered (or not) my approach. I’ve tried using MindManger to take notes in rehearsal but the overhead of that program is just too much for me to run it successfully for long stretches of time on my M200. (Eric Mack has an interesting recent post on this and a response from Mindjet here.)
Tablet Enhancements for Outlook (TEO 3.0) This Tablet PC must have application always serves me well when scheduling events around the process. Media interviews, meetings, etc… Being able to quickly call it up and scribble in an appointment is a breeze. I experimented with the excellent note-taking features in TEO 3.0 for this show, and with a few exceptions I think I could do most of what I do in OneNote 2007 with TEO 3.0. I can certainly take notes, and gather information for research. The major exception would be printing multiple copies of the script into TEO and taking notes there. It can be done, it just really increases the size of my Outlook store (and thus overhead) and it jostles my organizational structure a bit. Old habits die hard. But in the end, TEO 3.0 could fill that bill if I needed it to.
New Additions to the Toolbox
While it is not a new piece of software and I use it for other functions as described above, OneNote 2007 has also begun to replace Microsoft Excel as my schedule authoring tool. Schedule authoring? I mean that phrase specifically. I think one of the hardest and most influential tasks a director has is making (authoring) and revising the rehearsal schedule, especially in a small theatre operation. For years I have used Microsoft Excel for this. But with OneNote 2007, the easy creation of tables allows me to do this and create the schedule in OneNote rather than printing it over from Excel.
The Sprint PPC 6700 and OneNote Mobile (Beta). I have to admit I’m smitten with OneNote Mobile, even if it is in Beta. This is the biggest new tool in the toolbox, and even after one show I can’t imagine not using the functionality.
The first area that this made a huge difference is in research, especially for props. Finding props for a show is a fun task. It is bascially window shopping. I’ve often said that I would love a job as a prop shopper. Before purchasing the Sprint PPC 6700 and using OneNote Mobile, I would take my digital camera along, take shots of what I discovered than dump those shots to my Tablet PC for later viewing and sharing. OneNote Mobile’s integration with the PPC 6700’s camera is an ideal tool for this. I was able to snap a bevy of shots, and then sync them across to OneNote 2007 on my next connection. A quick move of the OneNote page to the Othello folder has the pictures ready for a production meeting or reference.
The second area that I tried using OneNote Mobile was not as successful in all circumstances. Using the PPC 6700 as a voice recorder into OneNote works great when I am driving to and fro and dictating notes. Attempting to try and use this method in rehearsal was just not successful. Primarly because no headset or microphone I used could cancel out all of the noise of the lines being spoken in rehearsal, thus making the revewing process very tedious. That said, being able to record my thoughts and have them available in OneNote is a new feature that I will be using very often in a variety of circumstances.
Taking Quick Rehearsal Notes. No, I don’t mean using the PPC 6700’s keyboard, (I can’t use any thumb keyboard that quickly) nor voice recording. But creating quick rehearsal notes in OneNote 2007 on my Tablet PC in planning for a rehearsal (a to do list for lack of a better description) and syncing them to the PPC 6700, allowed me occaisonally to leave the Tablet PC at my office and use OneNote Mobile to reveiw and execute that day’s agenda. There was a great freedom in this that was a remarkable discovery.
Music. My favorite musical collaborator, Steve Przybylski composed a great score for Othello, like he does for all the shows we work on. Although most of the music for this show was live drumming, there were a few digital cuts used. I used to use an iPod for playback on this in rehearsal, before my iPod bit the dust. For this show, I put Steve’s digital files on the PPC 6700 and would play them back over a headset for my listening, when we reached those sections. This allowed me to check timing and appropriateness with the moment. I could have done this with my Tablet PC certainly, but being able to have the smaller device was a big key and also a bit of an experiment. I have to admit, since my iPod died this spring I have missed it less and less. I have some music that I’d love to transfer over but DRM schemes prevent that. But for work purposes, the PPC 6700 serves the same function with one excpetion. I don’t have a speaker solution that would allow me to play the cut out loud for the cast, as I did with the iPod. Not saying there isn’t one, but I haven’t looked for one yet. Bottom line, on a day that Apple is announces new additions, I’m feeling more and more like I can get away from that platform if I decide to.
Battery life is always a concern. On average by adjusting my profile for a darkened theatre and not using WiFi, I can stretch battery life on my M200 to over a 3 hour rehearsal. (It used to be 4, but alas batteries do deteriorate.) I reach this with two utilities that Rob Bushway turned me onto awhile back. Monsus.exe, when mapped to a one of the soft buttons on my M200 allows me to turn off the screen instanteously. Rob also found utilities for hibernating and supsending as well. There are of course others that you can use as well. I map the suspend.exe program to a soft button, and between that utility and monsus.exe, it makes it very easy for me to shut down the screen or put the Tablet PC in suspend mode, while I am taking notes. You can download these utilities here in a zip file.
Thoughts for the Future
As a theatre director who loves to weave technology into my creative process, I can really see myself heading towards using a UMPC for this kind of work in the future. The smaller size of the UMPC is the attraction and being able to have OneNote 2007 functionality in that smaller size can only be beneficial. A UMPC model with a decent (not necessarily great) camera and good recording quality will also be a requirement, that may eliminate the use of the PPC 6700 in the future. A side benefit to taking notes on a Tablet PC or UMPC is that you don’t need a light source to see what you are writing. Over the years, I’ve had small battery operated lights that attached to clip boards, my fingers, lights in a pen, you name it. But the Tablet PC, even at low screen brightness levels, is more than a sufficient light source to see what you are writing. Of course, in a darkened theatre, when the actors see that screen light up from a resume, it alwasy freaks them out because they think you are taking a note about something they did wrong. And in preview performances, when audiences are present, you need to be behind the audience and not within them, to keep the light source, and the device itself from becoming a distraction.
Note: This post is also available at GottaBeMobile.com, where I write about Tablet PCs and mobile technology. Don’t forget, GBM and Wicked Stage readers can see Othello for free. Find out the details here.
Now that I'm a bit more awake and I can't say I've done a brain dump to get this show out of my head, because it just won't leave me. That's not normal behavior. The images, the poetry, the hard work, the fun moments, all come swirling back when I let my brain go and am not focused on something else. In fact, today it seems hard to focus on something else.
We really climbed a mountain with this show. We climbed it well. I've been associated with well over 200 shows now in my professional career and while I have remembrances of them all, only about 10 or so really stand out as ones that I truly recall as special. Othello now jumps into that small handful.
Part of that has simply to do with the fact that it is Shakespeare. Part of that is the thrill of working with this excellent cast. And a big part of that goes back to Saturday, when I saw those children leaving the theatre, eyes wide as saucers, looking like they had just experienced Disneyland for the first time.
It so saddens me that we have turned so many off to Shakespeare, and in fact, the live theatre in general. It is such a powerful forum for ideas, where no one can be hurt but an idea being expressed. And yet, it can be such a transformation and agitating medium as well. There is a story of a production of Othello that opened in London after the Restoration, where an audience literally stormed the stage to keep the Moor from strangling Desdemona. The theatre can ignite passions. But, as we honor the observance of 9/11 today, and deal with the stupid political mindgames that have happened since in this country over things like 9/11 widows, docudramas, and memorials, it strikes me there is much to be gained by emotions and passions brought to a boil in a theatre over a play, than they current cauldron we stew in daily. I'm not saying Shakespeare, or the theatre for that matter, is some amazing cure all for societies ills. But I will say that the reason we have shunned the performance of the spoken word, is that we are afraid to look in the mirror so closely. Which is really amazing, when you consider just how much we must enjoy the pain of continually repeating our mistakes as human beings. For why else would we continue doing so, if we didn't enjoy it so much. Or is it just some hubristic ride on Daedaleus' wings? Or, attempting to bring this ramble full circle, is it that we all have a little bit of Iago inside our soul, yearning to destroy and be destructive?
What a wonderful night. Last night's opening of Othello went very, very well. The cast did a stupendous job and the audience responded with a standing ovation and cheers of "Bravo" rang through the theatre. Some of the cast had tears in their eyes during the bows. Powerful. Powerful story telling, powerful engagement with an audience. Powerful partying after. (Thank goodness, no powerful hang over this morning.)
As I stood at the door thanking the audience for attending, (one of my traditions) an anonymous Wicked Stage reader (at least until I get a chance to look up the box office records) shook my hand, obviously responding to our special offer to see the show for free, and thanked me for my "wicked staging." I was very touched and moved by that moment and the entire evening. Leave a comment and let me know what you thought of the show, good or bad, and thanks for attending.
I'll be posting more later today, along with pictures of the show.
We were all arriving at work for a heavy load-in week at Wayside Theatre, when the news of the tragic events of 9/11 began trickling in. Instead of our frantic schedule we all sat around and listened to the radio for what seemed like an eternity. Even when we returned to work later in the day, every thing was different. I let the actors make the call as to whether they wanted to rehearse that night or not. They did want to rehearse, but it was strangely different rehearsing that comedy that night.
Remembering those eerie and terrible hours today, thinking of the utter silliness that now swirls around a TV docudrama, and still basking in the glow of the response to our production of Othello on opening night last night, I often wonder when the real writers, those who write for the theatre, will begin to unfold the stories, emotions, and transformation of that day. We almost postponed that opening in that horrific week, but went ahead, trying in our little corner of the world to preserve some sense of normality and continuity.