Not long after I wrote my last post celebrating the 1 year anniversary of Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras, I was catapulted into two new worlds: Neverland and Oz. I’m only just now coming up for air, even while still in the midst of my travels to Oz.
In late January, I directed a production of Peter Pan Jr. for the Worthingway Arts Program in Worthington, OH. I worked with about 30 seventh and eighth graders to put on the show. That’s the cast and crew in the pic above. I’m ridiculously proud of what the students accomplished. And, yes, what I accomplished. Not just as a director, but as a teacher. And as a human.
I was doing my best to prove a point to myself and the students. I wanted to prove to them that a director doesn’t have to be a jerk in order to get a great performance from someone. I wanted to show that silliness and kindness is at the heart of theatre as much as drama is. Drama stays on stage. And the reason that it can stay on stage is that the theatre is safe and hospitable to everyone.
I remember throwing things when I directed my first show. Yes, I was a high school student. Yes, I was immature. But that’s what I was taught. I learned that directors get frustrated and shout and yell and throw things. During Peter Pan Jr., I did my absolute best to protect everyone in the process. I wanted the actors and crew to be physically safe and emotionally safe. At the start of tech week, the crew was confused when I was sitting calmly on stage, not panicking, not looking stressed out of my mind. First of all, I was exhausted. Second, as I told them, “we’re just doing theatre.” And that’s it, isn’t it? We’re just doing theatre.
I don’t say that to belittle the art form that I love so dearly; I say it to get at the core of what we’re doing. We get caught up in tech or costumes or performances or precision, but it’s just theatre. It’s putting a story in front of an audience. It’s a connection between the people on the stage and the people in the seats. That’s all. If you have that, then so what if a transition takes longer than I want it to? So what if Peter Pan or Wendy say a line in strange way. Are they telling the story? Are they connecting with each other? Are they connecting to the audience? Are they having fun? Is that fun palpable? Yes? Great. Boom. Done. It’s just theatre.
It was a meaningful and enervating experience for me. I’m still recovering from it! I would leave the house at 6 am to get to work at 6:30, then would leave work at 3 pm to get to rehearsal at 4 pm until 6 pm. Sometimes I would go home after that! In April, I started going to rehearsals for The Throne of Oz after Peter Pan Jr. rehearsals.
It wasn’t every night; I was glad to only be the playwright and not the director! I wish I could’ve been more involved in the process, but the director, Joe Bishara, and the cast and crew have created a beautiful and epic production! When I write plays for all audiences, I tend to think of writing a Disney or Pixar movie. I try to write comedy for small children and adults. I try to keep the proceedings light and bouncy and silly. With The Throne of Oz, I thought I had written a comedy with a laugh a minute, zany and silly. I was wrong.
Watching the audience, I was confused. They were quieter than I had expected. Then, I realized it’s not a silly comedy. It’s an adventure! It’s not a Disney movie! It’s a Star Wars movie! Silly me. I should’ve known. When I was writing it, I was studying Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens with the Storyclock Notebook. I was trying to figure out how to tell a story with new characters and tons of backstory that could stand on its own. I wanted the new characters to be just as interesting, if not more interesting, than characters from the original story. Tip was Rey. Jack Pumpkinhead was BB-8. Mombi was Kylo Ren. I should’ve known!
I eavesdropped on parent conversations, hearing things like, “she loved it” or “she was over the top for it.” So, I know it was having an effect on the audience. One father even brought his daughter to Joe after a show and said, “She loved it so much, she wants to know how she can be involved in a show.” Joe introduced me as the writer of the play, and her eyes grew to the size of pumpkins. She was in shock. Hopefully, she didn’t think I was L. Frank Baum...
The audience reactions mean a lot to me. Seeing kids come down to interact with the characters after the show, posing for pictures, smiles across their faces, it’s unreal. I can’t wait for more audiences to see the show this weekend. Then, I can finally slow down a little. It’s been wonderful being a part of so much theatre. Next year, I’m directing Singin’ in the Rain Jr. and will hopefully be visiting Baker Street.