How Godspell Ate My Life

by TByrd

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So, I pretty much just vanished from the world for three weeks. That is due to a contractual obligation that took most of my attention and spare time. I’ve you’ve never worked in musical theatre, you’re about to get an inside view on what it’s really like at my theatre. Note that all theatre’s have their own schedule. This is a break-down of mine.

Sure, it sounds like fun, right? Play pretend for a few weeks, sing some songs, dance around a little bit and then go get drunk after opening night. But it’s hard work.

My job is the Stage Manager, which means I am present at the auditions, to every rehearsal, and for every performance. I organize the entire cast, make sure that information such as if rehearsal is canceled or moved to a different room is sent out, I collect their bios for the program, help coordinate costume fittings, know what props are needed when, know where scenery is moved by whom when and where it goes. I am the first and last line of contact. I take notes on every move that the actors make, every line that is changed, I video tape choreography and make sure the cast has access to it at home. I am present at every production meeting to take further notes on things that the production staff need to build. I make sure the lighting designer knows what scenes are where on stage so that he can make an informed decision when lighting the show. I make sure the scenic designer knows that the director wants a specific kind of table or chair. I know the show inside and out. And then when the show goes into technical rehearsals, I know every moment of the show when the lights change, the sound has an effect, the video does something, the follow spot lights have a moment to pick up an actor and when they go out. And I sit at the back of the theatre and call the show. I call it every single night. But the job is not over when the show closes. There are librettos (or scripts) that need to be collected, checked for damage and notes, erased and sent back to the rental facility. Props that need to be put away, a set that needs to be struck (or taken down) and only when the stage is bare, the colored lights are gone, the scripts are returned and we have locked the door for the last time is my job complete.

100_1880 copyRehearsals start with music. The cast must learn the 17 songs in Godspell. Two weeks are spent just sitting around the piano learning the music.

It can be a long and mundane experience and as you can see, sometimes we need a break in the monotony. Working with young actors is a fantastic experience. They are fresh and excited. Of course, they also have the tendency to let their minds wander, sometimes too far. That’s where I come in to make sure they stay focused on the task at hand. The mission is to teach and train young actors to be prepared for a career in professional theatre.

100_2009When the music is at least at a point where the director can work with it, we begin blocking, or staging. We go through the script and each moment in the show is lovingly put together. For the first few weeks, the actors are glued to their books, but little by little they become more confident in their memories. But as always, sometimes they need to be forced into an uncomfortable place. After five to six weeks the actors are no longer allowed to be “on book.” I sit at the front of the stage with my “bible” or my book and watch their lines. If an actors can’t remember their next line, they may call for it and I will feed them the first few words until they can take it from there. If an actor botches a line, I will circle it and make a note on a note pad. After rehearsal, I’ll send them an e-mail with their line notes. It sounds picky, but it’s not. The playwright wrote everything in a way that leads from one action to the other, it is important that the lines are correct. Especially with a play the likes of Godspell. Godspell is based on the Gospel of Matthew, so many of the lines are taken directly from scripture itself. It is important for the audience to be able to suspend their disbelief long enough to become invested in the show and trust the actor is Jesus. If Jesus’ line is “The Pharisees and the Doctors of the law,” but says “The Pharisees of the Law and the doctors,” any Christian coming to see the show will immediately know the actor is not a believer simply because of their familiarity with the Bible. Too many of those moments and the audience will lose interest. Of course, in live theatre, some lines just don’t come out right every single time. But it is important to break the habit of paraphrasing early on.

100_2164During the day, the set is constructed. Teams of people cut metal or wood, screw or weld pieces together and bring the set life based on drawings given to the staff by the scenic designer. His work has been done for weeks now, and he needs people to help him build it. The set is designed on paper weeks in advance and presented to the director for his approval. When the set is approved  the building begins. For Godspell we decided to put it in a Night Club instead of the junk yard that is commonly used as the setting for the show. We named the club Club Jericho and not only had a website, but a twitter account, an instagram account and a foursquare location. We reached out in a new and different way for Godspell, trying to generate hype and excitement long before the show had opened.

DSC03201Costumes are designed and built, or collected, fittings take place, then more fittings, and more fittings until the costumes are ready to be presented to the director in a costume parade. The full cast gets in costume and stands onstage in a line together. Each actor is called forward one at a time and the director responds to the look. If something isn’t quite right, this is the time for the costume designer to take notes on her work and fix them the following day.

The lighting designer, sound designer, and producer are invited to a Producer/Designer run through where we perform the entire show without stopping to allow them to see our work and respond. This is usually done at least two weeks before technical rehearsals begin. At this time, the Producer can respond to things with the director and cast. He will give his opinion and offer advice on how to clean things up, change things up or make it tighter. He will also respond to things he liked.

The final two weeks of rehearsal are spent cleaning up what we saw did not work in the Producer/Designer run through. And then, finally, the costumes are put on for the first time, the lights kick on, the band shows up, the mics are tested, the video runs, the follow spot operators climb to the top of the cat walks and we begin to rehearse the show with all the elements.

DSC03223Double Tech Sunday is not for the actors, it’s for the technical staff. We do what is called a cue-to-cue, meaning we run each technical cue and skip anything in between cues to streamline the process. Because Godspell was so technically involved, there wasn’t much skipping around in cue-to-cue. We pretty much just ran the entire show. We did the Prologue twice, not for them, but for me. The prologue had over 20 cues that all needed to be called in two short songs. I found myself getting tongue tied, so we did it again so I could get it right. Then we had a dinner break and came back and did the whole show a second time for good measure. From Monday – Thursday we did the show over and over again only stopping for things that needed attention. By Friday night, we were ready and we opened the doors to the public.

DSC03245For two weeks we preformed Godspell to the largest crowd our little Community College Campus had seen in years. The show was a hit. A glowing review was published in a local news paper. The audience loved every moment of it. It was a technical wonderland with a powerhouse of singers, a rocking band, and roaring audience.

Acting is hard, theatre is hard. Long hours, and a commitment to the success of the show is a must. Without the dedication of the 13 cast members and the 20 production staff members this show would not have been ready to open to the public.

I am overwhelmingly proud of the student actors, four of which were still in High School. They kicked ass, took names and put on a stunning performance.

And now, life has returned to normal. Your regularly schedule programming will commence next week with The Huntress. Special thanks to DJ for his patience with me as I just vanished for three weeks without a trace.

-Terrii

Click here to read the review of Godspell. 

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2 Comments to “How Godspell Ate My Life”

  1. *jacks his jaw back up again, and makes a firm note that stage management should be crossed off any future lists of possible aptitudes* One handy thing – if all the cast eat bad mushrooms or something, the stage manager could put on the show solo?

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