Monday, 31 March 2014

How to choose a short play or rather how I came to be directing Anton Chekhov’s “The Evils of Tobacco”


Anton Chekhov
For some time now I have been an amateur theatre critic via this very blog. You may have noticed that I have an inordinate amount of fun doing this; however, I have had, for some time, a little niggle of guilt. I should have been born Catholic for all the guilt I carry around. What it takes the Catholic Church years to instill I was born with. But I digress, as usual.


I did know that at some point I would have to stand up and be counted, as it were. I really could not keep on as I have been, going about telling people what I thought of their productions and acting ability. I could not, in all good conscious, keep on criticising the very heart of people’s creativity without, at the very least, giving my fellow Drama Darlings the opportunity to return the favour. Which poses a dilemma because, I would prefer not to put myself out there at all - being the reclusive sort. Not shy, please note, just reclusive. Add the fact that I have not done any theatre work for quite some time and  have in the back of my mind the fear that if I don’t get back into it I will lose whatever expertise and ability I may have had. Or worse I may have lost it already. With this going on inside my head I had to have a stern talk with myself “For heaven’s sake, get a bloody grip you silly woman.” I admonished my inner wet blanket. “It is way past time that you got back into the theatre properly”


Having been roundly self-flagellated I was on the lookout for a play, a place and a producer. At about the same time as I was mulling all this over I saw that Dubai Drama Group were calling for directors for  an evening of short plays. Good (or is that bad?) timing. A short play to get my hand back into the game was exactly the ticket. Excellent! I contacted the Dubai Drama Group and was sent the link to the web page and saw listed  there a handful of plays; a combination of Chekhov  scripts and  modern plays. I already had in the back of my mind that I wanted to do Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story” and I tentatively approached DDG and asked if I could direct that rather than the plays on offer. I could! This had me very excited. My excitement was short lived.


Zoo Story is a hard play and casting has to be just right and I am not a good enough director to take a change with a two hander on unknown quality in terms of actor’s ability, especially as I have enough hubris to think that everyone that I have criticised is going to want to be able to do the same back. Oh my Ego. The audition saw several mighty fine pieces presented but I wanted actors that I already knew (from previous performances) could do the show. This is (I believe) a rather lazy trait in me. Partly as a result of this I could not cast my two men. I had  a combination of men in my head that would work but I could not get the pairing I so desperately felt I needed.
 
The auditions presented a number of very talented actresses auditioning for the other plays. Cliff Single, the Chairman of DDG, suggested that I put Zoo Story aside and see if I could find another play, possibly one that utilised some of the lovely ladies that auditioned. Good plan B I thought. I cast my net about for a short play with between 2 and 5 women. I contacted my peeps at Harare Reps Theatre. I contacted my Peeps in  Gaborone. I trawled the Internet. I contacted professional Drama Darlings in London and said “eek help”. I was put on to a play written by a friend of a friend so I logged on to Samuel French  had a part read of Henna Nights by Amy Rosenthal and loved what I read. I ordered the play foolishly thinking that I could download it……. Hummm delivery would take a while longer than I had available to me. I was pretty sure I would love the play from what I had already read but this being Dubai I could not commit to a show without knowing what the full script would contain. Oh dear, on and on and it goes my darlings. High drama before you even hit the stage.


With time running out and a need to get rehearsals started and knowing what other plays were already going to be included in the evening Cliff  suggested, ever so diplomatically, that I take up Anton Chekov’s “The Evils of Tobacco” as it was in line with two (already in the show) themes; Smoking and Anton Chekhov. Not the way I would normally choose a play but hey sometimes you have to switch it up. I am very glad that we did.


I was most lucky that Toby Masson, who I had already cast in Zoo Story, agreed to leave the idea of Zoo Story for a while and take up doing a one hander, something that was new to him. I have found over the rehearsal period with Toby that this production has become a very collaborative piece. I am a fairly dictatorial person so this was a bit of a departure for me. I think we have both rather enjoyed the process.


We have had a couple of joint rehearsals with the other productions. This has allowed us  the opportunity to see  all the plays performed that will share the stage with ours in a couple of weeks’ time. I can safely say that if you come down to thejamjar between the 8th and the 12th of April you will be treated to an evening of delightful and enjoyable theatre. This eclectic mix of dramatic styles will showcase two Anton Chekhov plays and two modern plays. Two plays that include smoking, one a bit tenuously and two that include romance, again one a bit tenuously.


I am trying to build up a bit of curiosity in you in a bid to get you to come down and see for yourself what I am rabbiting on about. Let’s not pretend here that I don’t want your bottoms in the chairs at thejamjar, because I obviously do. I want packed house every night. I want people banging at the doors begging to be let in.  Having said that I also know, in fact I am very sure,  true as bob and honest to god, that when (please note when not if) you come to thejamjar you will  thoroughly enjoy what we are putting on. You will leave refreshingly invigorated and wanting to see more theatre in Dubai.

 

2 comments:

frances said...

Oh Penny, I'd love to be able to come, but …
It might be worth asking Sharon if she wants a ticket. I reckon that if she starts after supper this evening, and walks day and night in her boots made for so doing, she could probably get to Addis and fly in for the opening night.

Penny Mackenzie said...

I think that Sharon has done enough walking for the time being. I suspect that if you mention walking to her at the moment she might start gibbering.......