Anatomy of a Work of Art in Progress Part III: The Crew
When we last left off, I was being convicted to not only take the script to a deeper, more vulnerable space but my acting as well, aaack! We now found ourselves in that beautiful theater space in tech rehearsals.
Now, when we rented the Goshen Theater, Jerry Peters came with it. It’s right there in the contract: “In signing this contract, as a bonus, you also receive a healthy dose of Jerry Peters.” Everyone needs a healthy dose of Jerry Peters. I first met Jerry in 1991…
JERRY: …29 years ago.
TED: Wow, that makes me feel…
JERRY: So, I’ll be there a bit, get the heat going, turn the lights on, run the spot if you need it.
JERRY: But mostly dropping in and out… checking in.
TED: Can you join us for a pre-production meeting via Zoom?
And he was hooked. See, we also wanted Jerry’s eye and imagination involved.
He’s done a little of everything…lighting, sound, set building, problem-solving, cameo acting, croissant runs…. and he’s the Goshen Theater Technical Director. Michelle told me he’s notorious for “dropping in,” like every rehearsal, with lots of great ideas, but nooooo he doesn’t want to be a director, he’ll just drop in and out, he’s got a lot going on…. and there he is. He likes it. We like him.
STEVEN: There’s a marquee out front right?
MICHELLE: What’s on it for the shoot?
JERRY: Title of the film?
MICHELLE: Do we have a title?
* All look at Ted *
TED: I’m sorry, was that question directed at me?
STEVEN: So maybe a title, what else?
TED: My name spelled wrong?
STEVEN: Fun, it could be a subtle thing, where you have to really pay attention to see what changes are happening.
MICHELLE: Is the marquee telling a part of the story?
JERRY: Is the marquee the “Greek Chorus” of the film?
TED: Who changes the marquee?
JERRY: I do…and you know, it does take a while to make those changes.
STEVEN: We figure that out when we are there. And we’ll have a title, right?
TED: I’m sorry, was that question directed at me?
Unbeknownst to me, prior to my arrival in Goshen, Michelle and Jerry had already been plotting about use of the space.
MICHELLE: Why do we have to stay on stage?
JERRY: No reason.
MICHELLE: We’ve got the place to ourselves right.
JERRY: Right, because…
ALL TOGETHER…”The pandemic hit and all performances were canceled.”
MICHELLE: We could have a scene in the dressing room.
JERRY: Which dressing room?
MICHELLE: There are options?
JERRY: We have the diva dressing room and the plebian dressing room.
JERRY: Wanna see the basement?
MICHELLE: Do I?!
JERRY: We could clear this part of backstage off. Or leave it.
MICHELLE: Let’s leave it for now, the mess seems right for the character’s brain… what’s this?
JERRY: Just a closet.
MICHELLE: We can use that.
JERRY: Ted will be coming out of the closet?
MICHELLE: Big changes in 2020.
In another production meeting, another fortuitous moment…
JERRY: You know, Jacob Claassen, a student at Goshen College, knows a whole lot more about the lights here than I do. Can we bring him on board?
MICHELLE: Jacob’s good.
TED: Sounds like a great idea.
We now had a lighting designer.
Michelle, getting excited (she might have been doing a little dance), watching Jacob play with the lights:
MICHELLE: You can do color?!
JACOB: Have I got color!
MICHELLE: Nice! Can we have that color over there?
JACOB: Yes and…
MICHELLE: …ah, I see, over there as well.
JACOB: And you can add this color, or this color, combine the three.
MICHELLE: Sweet! Can we add forestry wilderness upstage for the “backstage” scene?
JACOB: Deciduous or evergreen?
MICHELLE: Can we have them change in the middle of a shot?
MICHELLE: There’s a backstage scene. Can we light that?
JACOB: Yes! And! Yes, And! Also this and this and this… colors! patterns! Is this a dream scene, a memory, or “today”?
Jacob had lighting for it all.
On the first day of production, he was thrust into the sound production as well.
TED: Jacob, I picked up a new microphone along the way, here’s the box.
JACOB: Oh wow, toys!
TED: You got this, right?
JACOB: Got it.
And it was so. So nice not to have to worry about my own mic.
On the second day of the shoot…
JACOB: I was wondering… would you like a stage manager?
TED: Wait, we don’t have a stage manager?! Who’s in charge here?! Besides me, I mean.
Rabbit trail: There is a reason stage managing is one of the most marketable theater career paths. Despite the term, it is not the stage, but rather people they are managing… creative, distracted, passionate, volatile, sometimes temperamental, habitually late, talented, self absorbed, generous, wounded people. Wheww. They are often in charge of schedule, continuity, schedule, props, running rehearsals, communication, and schedule.
JACOB: No. We don’t have a stage manager.
TED: Is it noticeable?
JACOB: (simply stares at him)
TED: Sounds like a good idea. Can you do that?
MICHELLE/STEVEN/JERRY: Thank you!!!
And it was stage manager Jacob who reminded us of the schedule, who watched for continuity…it was lighting designer Jacob who made us all (and by us all, I mean me, the actor) look good, it was sound tech Jacob who noted “Ted’s shirt is rustling, we need another take.” He kept track of scenes, made sure sound was running, and…
JACOB: Ted, uh, don’t forget to turn your mic off when you go to the bathroom.
TED: Of course, have I EVER not done so?
JACOB: This morning.
JERRY: And in Oregon in 1991.
TED : Ok, Ok!! (Retreats to the sanctuary of the men’s room. Fumbling for his…off switch).
The budget grew, but more importantly the collaboration expanded, there were 5 minds free to throw ideas into a beautiful caldron of imagination and art. It was more complicated yes, but boy it was a whole lot more fun. In the post shoot debrief, we all expressed an appreciation of the spirit of collaboration. It was a shout out to “Yes and…” This phrase is a bedrock of improv comedy.
Rabbit trail: Why hasn’t Improv Drama ever caught on? Because surprise is so closely tied to comedy? Because we have enough drama in normal life? Or is it just a really horrible idea? Like trickle down economics.
Regardless, most theater people are familiar with the phrase “Yes And…” and try to honor it, responding to an idea with yes – keeping the creative channel open, rather than no – closing it off. It is also a great philosophy of life, “yes and…” How might society change if our impulses were to always say yes first?
So ‘yes and’.
In that celebration of collaboration we realized we had needed an addendum to this phrase. In the midst of a delightful ‘jam session’ we came up with, “yes and…but.”
As in, Yes, and let the lights change here to reflect a “dream sequence,” Steven nimbly circles Ted amplifying the moment, but flying Ted in from the rafters is probably not possible…in the time we have.
TED: And the budget….also I’ve heard those harnesses really bind you in the crotch.
This whole project was a surprising, anxiety filled celebration of unexpected challenges and delights. We were now ready to shoot. I was stressing about lines, vulnerable acting choices, whether I had planned dinners for us all, what was I going to do with my COVID hair?
But I knew I was in good hands.
…to be continued.