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Saturday, 27 December 2008

A Christmas Carol or A Christmas Fiasco?

By Anne Gibert of 20th Century Woman

Act I
The creator, producer and director is a lady who lives here on the island and who, I am told, has a lot of Hollywood experience. I’m afraid she hasn’t much stage experience. She has written a script which takes some pretty serious liberties with Dickens. For instance, Scrooge says, after seeing the ghost of Jacob Marley, “I’m seeing things because I have a food allergy.”

The concept is big, the staging is complex, the visuals are elegant, the whole is frighteningly over ambitious. This island has about 1000 inhabitants. An awful lot of them are in the play. We hope we have some left for an audience.

The writer/producer designed all the sets. The backdrops are painted on Tyveck which is mounted on plastic pipe frames with wheel bases. There are 12 of these, all lovingly painted by island artists.

There are some other large set pieces: a fireplace that has lights and tinsel to simulate fire with a fan and a dimmer switch for different light levels, two coffins - a big one for Marley and a small one for Tiny Tim, a stove with fire-like lights, a cart to wheel the coffins on and a street lamp.

These pieces were mostly constructed from pink foam insulation by one of the island’s master builders and painted by me, the girl who can’t say no.

There are lots of other props, large and small, lent to the production by the cast and crew. The costumes are said to be elaborate. There are puppets, recorded sound effects, masks and many lighting effects. There are dancers, mostly school children, a harpist, a violinist and a bagpipe player.

There are about 20 scene and set changes in this production, and although the play is to have its single performance on Sunday — three days from now — we have never yet got through the whole play in rehearsal.

Some of the puppets are not finished, some of the costumes are not finished, only one of the 20 or so actors knows his or her lines and the dancers haven’t learned their routines.

Rehearsals take place in a large, unheated barn. The outside temperature hovers between 45 and 50 degrees. Yesterday we were supposed to have a complete run- through, but a lot of people didn’t come and many of those who did come didn’t have their scenes rehearsed because of the delays caused by confusion over bits of complicated business.

The producer is a small, energetic woman who seems to be constantly in motion except when she gets caught in a complicated speech, at which point she freezes in position until her thought is finished. She seems to have little notion of the time passing and spends precious rehearsal minutes messing with things like getting all of the hair of a wig arranged or fretting about the flapping of puppet angel wings. Slowly the people who have showed up for the rehearsal creep out of the barn and go home.

Tonight the six stage hands, including me, the girl who can’t say no, are gathering at my warm house with a model of the sets to try for a coherent plan of all the complicated moves in the 20 or so scene changes.

Tomorrow the sets and props will be moved from the barn to the island school where the play will be performed. A change of weather is predicted and high winds are in the forecast. We are all worried about how the flimsy Tyveck backdrops will survive the transfer.

Act II, 3 days later
The props and sets were moved from the cold barn to the warm school on Friday afternoon. Jerry spent the whole afternoon helping with our pickup.

Saturday all day was to be taken up with two complete run-throughs plus the dress rehearsal in the afternoon. This was a pretty tall order for everyone, but especially for the set movers, because we were required virtually all the time.

We all arrived at 10 in the morning. The first run-through began, and gradually deteriorated into the fussing over details, re-do’s of bits of business, scenes over again. By 1:30 Russ, the leader of the set movers, took a look at Jerry and me, said “Go home, have a nap and come back at 3.”

When we came back they had made it through only one run-through. The dress rehearsal had already started. It was dark except for the stage. I found the prop person, Laura, and asked where Russ and his wife, Cathy, were. Cathy had written up a plan of action for the set movers with all their cues. It took about six legal sized pages.

Laura said, “There’s been some drama since you left. Russ and Cathy had a melt-down and went home!”

“Are they coming back?” I asked.

Laura shrugged,“Don’t know.”

Here’s what happened: At the beginning of the dress rehearsal there was some flapping of angel wings that Cathy was in charge of. The stage manager called out, “That’s been changed.”

“No it hasn’t,” said Cathy. “This is dress rehearsal. You can’t change any more things. If one more thing is changed, I’m out of here.”

So they changed something else, she put down her script and went home. Russ thought she had just gone outside to cool off, but after a while when she didn’t reappear, he said, “My wife has gone, I’m leaving.” When he got home he found Cathy cleaning house and doing laundry.

Meanwhile, back at the school, Janice, a managing sort of person on the set crew, took over directing stage set up and some of the prop people were pressed into service. There was some confusion and the changes were slow, but we were muddling along.

About two-thirds through the rehearsal, at around 6 o’clock, I stepped back from moving a set piece and fell off the stage. Though the fall was only a couple of feet, it seemed to take a long time to land. I ended up on a coal bucket used in the Tiny Tim interior scene. It made a lot of noise and caused a brief delay. But I brushed myself off and continued to move sets.

After a while I noticed that my neck hurt. Since there was less work for set movers at the end of the play, I got substitutes for Jerry and me and we went home. Thus, as we approached the one actual performance, Jerry and I had never been present for the end of the play.

I took a couple of ibuprofen, and Russ called. He and Cathy were in good spirits, having spent the afternoon celebrating with a bottle of wine. He said Cathy would come to the play to watch and he would move sets for the performance.

The performance took place on time. There was only room for about 70 people in the school gym, and it was completely full. At least 70 more people were turned away.

According to my daughter and grandson who saw it, the backstage confusion was not evident, though there were some places that seemed a bit slow. The actors did a good bit of ad-libbing but they got through. There were a lot of kids in the cast, and they had a ball. The applause was deafening.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Anne - Great story! It gives credence to novelist, John Cheever's quote that, "Art is the triumph over chaos"!

Every year we watch "A Christmas Carol" starring the late British actor, Alastair Sim. I bet your island version was much more fun!

As a veteran of many, MANY Christmas performances, from church to community theater, I can SO relate to this!

I have both directed and acted in Barbara Robinson's "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," and have learned the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid!

I'm glad you survived! I bet it was a heck of a show!

Looked in the archives and found this riveting story. Often times I like hearing the story behind the story. This was a play in itself. I wonder how hard this was to write since you must have had to relive all the frustration.

I'm glad I got a seat in this theater. I wish you could hear my applause, it's deafening too.

I saw that Herm was on to something good, and I followed.
This is great and I want more!
Hope you "hear" our call and tell us the latest news.

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