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27 January 2008 @ 02:28 am
Cogs and sprockets.  
There's been a number of discussions recently on other theatre-related blogs about the nature of "preview" performances, and what constitutes etiquette both on the part of the audience member (be they unaffiliated casual patron or professional critic) and the part of the producing company. The nutshell of the discussion involves (a) whether or not it is "fair" for audience to offer any sort of serious criticism of a preview performance, ie, say anything more than "I liked it" or "I did not like it," and (b) whether or not the theater company should itself make concessions to audience, such as discount tickets or otherwise.

The assumed character of a preview, then, is a show that's just on the cusp of being able to open...that what the rehearsals have been missing is a "live fire" situation, with audience constituting the final part of the process.

Contraption had previews on Thursday and Friday night. For our part, the Neo-Futurists referred to these performances as previews in most of our marketing, offered several complimentary tickets to groups and associates, and offered "Pay-What-You-Can" tickets to the general public.

Before actually going through preview performances, I had brazenly believed that calling a show a "preview" was an excuse of sorts, a way of covering for one's possible inability to adequately manage rehearsals. I was determined that the first preview would be a flawless final product, that people would get at the first public performance the same thing they could expect from a performance later in the run.

There's a reason hubris killed most of the classical heroes.

Thursday night we suffered a series of problems with the titular machine, both of which needed to be corrected by the next evening. In case the machine still failed, I hastily fashioned a short dialogue exchange that would allow the cast to acknowledge the failure and then move on with the end of the play.

Friday night the machine worked perfectly but we lost a sound cue due to an unfortunate programming mishap. Also, the theater itself was so cold that actors were forced to keep their shivering to a minimum while trying to remember lines and blocking...the rhythm of the piece got thrown off and was hard to get back. The cue was rebuilt.

There were also a number of minute notes I gave the cast and crew to work with; a tweak here and there to make certain moments more effective. However, I was also determined that I would no longer give notes after Saturday's opening.

Last night we opened to an oversold house (certain seats were blocked off for visibility and logistical reasons, but there seemed to be a communication breakdown between the show and the box office) and really, the only way it could possibly have gone better is if a specific sight gag hadn't gone messily awry...although even then, the cast had the wherewithal to play with the amusing error.

I have no more notes to give. The show is all that I imagined it could be when I proposed it just over a year ago, and moreso than that.

I was asked a few times what was next for me. The specific answer is that I jump back into Too Much Light for the next four weekends and that I start rehearsing for Vitalist Theatre's production of A Passage to India, opening April 8.

Beyond that, I'm unsure. At least a few times throughout the process of bringing Contraption to life, I have thought, and occasionally written out loud, that this might be the last thing I intend to do...that the action was so draining that it might finally be over after this show went up.

I don't feel that anymore.

More importantly, I'm glad that I don't feel that anymore.

Onwards and upwards.
Current Mood: satisfiedsatisfied
Current Music: Fountains of Wayne, "Red Dragon Tattoo"
nickkeenannickkeenan on January 27th, 2008 09:36 pm (UTC)
Your floodgates
That's really good to hear, Bilal. Really, really good.

I'm going to push you a bit on this issue now, even though I know very well how tired you are. So brace yourself. It's because I love your work and I'd love to see your voice thrive and you be happy and proud of the work you do. It's gonna sound like I'm patronizing you, and I apologize for that. It's stating things I know you know, with the intention of allowing some renewing creative energy to flow back in and make you limber and ready for next time.

Although I'm sorry for my part about the sound programming mishap - shit happens, and that must have been a very uncomfortable moment - I think whether or not you have technical mishaps or dropped lines are beside the point of a preview. I'm kind of amazed that anyone would ever think that they could finish a play without first understanding how the audience reacts to the show. Isn't that the fundamental difference between writing a play and writing a screenplay?

I've seen in your process several times (and it's certainly not just you, I shared this idea as well) that perfection is somehow achievable in a bubble of playwrighting solitude. That works of art are sprung from the heads of artists like Athena from Zeus. And that if you can't achieve perfection on your own, you're somehow less of a playwright.

What's amazing to me is that your play is ABOUT exploring and refuting this argument - you state it eloquently in your Edison vs. Tesla section, but although you understand it intellectually, I suspect it hasn't landed emotionally for you yet. I think you're on the verge of making that connection in yourself, and that's gonna be one of those Doc-connects-the-lightning-bolt-to-the-Flux-Capacitor moments, and I can't wait to see it. I'd love to see you push yourself as the second type of inventor aka playwright you describe in the play - a craftsman / tinkerer, and work towards accepting that your work doesn't get finished, you just stop working on it. Until the remount. And audiences enjoy it just the same. It really isn't unfinished to them, you're too good for that. I think that approach will make you a happier artist. And if you're a happier artist, you'll be a more easily productive artist.

Thinking that a piece is finished can also be a dangerous assumption. For instance, if you hear Ginger the cat talk of her invention of a chromaticly triggered mechanisim for opening cat doors and dropping Nuclear bombs, you'd think the thing was in the can. And yet it's a horribly flawed concept, a sketch of an idea that can only be revealed as cripplingly incomplete when held up to the light of outside eyes.

But of course Ginger is a loner. And insane. Also, she's a cat.

Contraption provides a great developmental opportunity for you because now that you've exhausted yourself in the creation of it, I think people will really enjoy it. Bask in it, brother! And that positive reaction will generate a lot of creative energy in you. Have you tried sitting through your shows and just watch how the audience reacts and tune out the technical elements and actors? Trying to sit back and understand how the show works with an audience, removing your own prejudices, and see when the audience gets keyed in to your words and your voice? See what moments work brilliantly every time because of the structure of the play, and cross reference the successful moments with the energy you had when writing those moments? This I think is the real value of previews. You get to see the things that distract you into creative dead ends, and understand more deeply the moments that generate what others perceive as brilliance.

But, of course, you know better. Those moments are just little clockwork gizmos made of scraps you had laying around in your brain.

Love you, man. Great work. And now we have a new uncomfortable dance to do when there isn't any music playing.
Bilal Dardai: Godotbdar on January 28th, 2008 05:13 am (UTC)
Re: Your floodgates
As always, I appreciate this sort of comment from you, Nick. You don't sound patronizing because I know you don't intend to patronize.

I have a longer post in the works about my theater education that touches on a lot of these things, so for this moment I'm just going to say that it's important for me to hear these things from artists whose work I respect and admire (as well as the artists themselves, as people). It should be noted that this is part of why Dana continues to insist I enter therapy. And I agree with her. I just haven't pulled the trigger.

More later. Thanks again.
Adamarettber on January 28th, 2008 02:26 pm (UTC)
Well, I quite enjoyed it. Out of curiosity, what was the sight gag that went messily awry? I didn't really notice anything that seemed like something had gone wrong.
jrstrausjrstraus on January 29th, 2008 03:19 am (UTC)
First, loved Contraption and will be recommending it to everyone I know.

So... I've been wondering something since I heard about the recent notoriety of this blog. Does it mean that you're going to be playing to the new audience? Is it going to be all about theater? Are you repurposing? Because I miss hearing your scathing political commentary and just generally what's going on in your world. Just curious.
Bilal Dardaibdar on January 29th, 2008 04:16 am (UTC)
I don't see a "re-purposing," no, but I do feel a pull to more consciously discuss theatre-related things. I know that it's very high on my mind right now. But I'm sure I'll get back to my regularly scheduled programming soon. I feel like I'm better able to unlock the rest of my thoughts again now that I don't have the entire staff working on Contraption.

911939911939 on January 29th, 2008 06:46 pm (UTC)
"The show is all that I imagined it could be when I proposed it just over a year ago, and moreso than that.

WOOOOOOOO!! Congrats!