Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tulip Fever Has Passed

The Tulipomania workshop has ended, the flowers have all been picked! I had such a good time. Not only did I get out of the house, I got to watch the growth of a play as well as bask in the talent of some great actors. After having worked with many of these actors in Candide, it was great to see them in different roles. The stage reading was well-received. I am always impressed when busy people can take time out of their day to watch a reading. It's so cool!

The first three days of the workshop were devoted to learning music and understanding the story. By the last day, however, it was an explosion of fully formed characters that suddenly sprang to life. Without any blocking, the actors told the story sitting behind music stands and yet, I believed them. One actress, Mary Martello, a staple on Philly stages, played the role of the housekeeper. She had this song, Ceremonium Mysterium, in which she disguises herself as a notary (rather Moliere-esque). By the final day of rehearsal, not only did she have the song down but she had infused it with such life that the other actors had trouble not laughing at her.

If Tulipomania is given a full stage production, it will be difficult to see different actors in these roles. Of course, who knows? If the Arden stages it, many of these actors might be back. Anyway, it got me thinking about different actors portraying the same role.

Coincidentally, I read this article in the New York Times about the three different guys who have played Bobby Gould in the New York production of David Mamet's Speed the Plow. Jeremy Piven left the role due to mercury poisoning (or as Mr. Mamet suggested, to become a thermometer). Ben Brantley, who wrote the article, enjoyed seeing the three different interpretations of the same character in the same production.

I have seen different actors play the same role when understudies have had to go on. When that happens, I am usually more focused on ensuring that the understudy knows where to enter, when to enter, and with what props. Only once did I get a chance to see two different actresses develop the same role.

Back in 2003, I stage managed a production of Harriet Returns for Us, a 45 minute one-woman show about Harriet Tubman that Capital Repertory Theatre toured to schools in the Albany, NY area. When they decided to re-do the show the following year (demand was high from the schools), the original actress couldn't do it so they hired Iris Farugia. We used the same costumes, same script, same props but the two Harriett could not have been more different.

At one point in a tech rehearsal, Ms. Farugia said, "I know I'm supposed to sit here but I don't feel it, I'd like to be standing." And her choice made sense for the Harriet she created; her Harriet was always on the go, moving forward. The original actress had a more introspective Harriet and so sitting worked for her. Both choices worked remarkably well.

Watching Tulipomania evolve and reading that article made me think of that little moment. It's odd how that happens, isn't it? A small thing happens, insignificant really but it stays with you forever. Perhaps I had one of the Aha! moments that Oprah is always talking about.

It will be interesting to see Tulipomania in its final form. As for the actors, I wouldn't recommend quitting their day jobs to work as a thermometer; I don't think it pays well.

No comments:

Post a Comment