Sunday, 21 December 2014

Steel Magnolias – Part 2 - From rehearsals to the stage

Beautiful designs by our resident Artist Jennifer Cooper.
I have attended a couple of auditions over the last couple of months. Something I have not done for over 15 years. The difference between then and now? Absolutely no nerves at all. Very strange. But I am not so sure that the next audition I attend will be the same. I have been thinking about our auditions and the process of elimination that we went through and I am seeing the auditions in a new light. Go figure. I should know better right? Any-hooo. Just as nerve wracking as auditions may be for actors the process of choosing the right cast, as directors, is scary. If you make a mistake it will affect the whole production and potentially the success of the show. We have said a squillion times over the run of this show that there were very many very talented actresses at the auditions and it was hard to get the short list together. Very hard. We agonized, well I agonized. Once the short list was in front of us though, Bryan was quite decisive. I was the ditherer. Mixing and matching actresses to parts and each other. We probably went around and around in a little dance for a good hour and eventually settled on pretty much the final list that Bryan had drawn up. And he was spot on. And very patient, and very kind and he was not smug for even a second. Well if he was he hid it very well. He really is a gem sometimes.

Now I don’t want you to think that the casting was all plain sailing. We had a couple of hiccups. Firstly the lady we cast as Clairee had to leave Dubai on the day that we cast the show. Bryan was not at all phased as we had a Clairee, that we adored in auditions, who was ,we thought at the time of casting, a bit young for the role. Well when you want someone in their late 60’s early 70’s almost everyone in Dubai will be young. We changed the characters age a bit and were good to go. I suggested several time to Ellen ( our Clairee) that she should give up sleep for the duration so that she could look a bit older. She did not take me seriously. I cannot think why. I sacrificed my sanity. I don't see what was so unreasonable about me expecting a cast member to give up sleep for a couple of months. Particularly someone who has worked professionally in the theater and understands what it is to suffer for her art. Honestly am I unreasonable?

The Cast Before Kat
Our very own Southern Belle
A couple of weeks into our rehearsals our Truvy had to pull out due to looming unexpected pressures of work. We were gutted. But as providence would have it I met a perfect Southern Bell with a bucketful of talent and experience who magnificently stepped in and became Truvy. WHEW. Kat was an absolute life saver. With our new Truvy disaster was averted and we could get on with the business of rehearsing with our marvelous cast:

Our Magnificent Cast
Our cast gelled beautifully and rehearsals were a dream. We did have some jiggling around photo shoots and people’s office hours and trying on costumes and remembering where we were rehearsing on which days. The upside of rehearsing in three locations a week is that your cast has to get used to whatever is thrown at them. I held on to this as a positive and sucked in the frustration of not having a home base. Fortunately in the last few weeks we had access to rehearsal space at the Dubai International Academy. What a dream it was to finally have a place that was close in shape and size to the space we would perform in. Complete with a stage door to enter from! We were enormously helped out by Liz Hadaway and her lovely husband Amit Kapur, who let us use their Theater House for many of our rehearsals. Cast members flung open their homes to our noisy rehearsals and in the process we met lovely family members and were spoiled with refreshments and cozy bonhomie.
The "Steel Magnolias" at rehearsal. Magda is missing from the picture as she was on tea duty in the kitchen.
Word learning was a little tricky. It was difficult to hold the high ground as cast and crew members, who had worked with Bryan, gave him pointed looks when the topic of word learning came up. It seems Bryan’s word learning skills are not quite up to the exacting expectations we had for our own cast. I am just saying. There was a point that I was a little worried. I avoided for as long as I possibly could telling our Ouiser and M’Lynn that they were not going to have a Prompt in the wings…. Something that DDG does not do. I think we freaked out the cast a bit. Not sure if that was the right way to do it, but, well, it is done now I guess and they were marvelous on stage and knew their words for the show. It was all right on the night as the saying goes.

This was a very collaborative show. We keep saying that all over the place but it simply was. The problem Bryan and I had, as directors, was keeping our cast in check. Knowing when to let them run with something and when to hold them back. I say problem, but honestly that directors could get so lucky that they can make that statement. There was no “pulling teeth” in getting the cast to deliver their characters. Bryan would throw cryptic instructions to cast members ( my instruction where never cryptic - of course) and they would nod wisely (I would be totally confused) and they would produce exactly what he wanted in the next run through. There were questions and discoveries and trying ideas out and rejecting things and picking up little gestures and saying YES! Keep that in. I was really worried about Bryan and I giving conflicting notes. And we did, believe you me. Occasionally there would be an exchange of looks between cast members or between me (glaring) at Bryan as he gave a note I did not agree with, but we all worked through these and found what worked best.
Notes at the end of a rehearsal - Bryan in the hen house.....

What I did not have fun with was finding a producer, a props person, a wardrobe person, and a set. I could have wept. I am eternally grateful for the help I got from the cast and various people that stepped in for a time and helped out in these areas. I realize now how spoiled I have been in the past were I simply have not had to worry about the back ground stuff. It happens by magic and as a director one just nods one’s head and says “Yes perfect, that is wonderful. You are wonderful now let me focus on my ego and being a director darling.”

I had a couple a few sleepless nights along the way trying to find hair salon furniture and hairstylists to train Katherine Spry and Jennifer Cooper to look convincing as hairstylists. Katherine trawled the internet to learn what she could. I in desperation placed a note in the forum of Expat Women and the splendid Rain Baxter stepped into the breach and showed our gals what was what and how to do it. Rain together with my own hair stylist, Rachel Mounsey (who re-discovered crimped hair, crimping her own hair into a fine mass of cringles over the course of the show) had our actresses’ hair  exactly as it should be. Kat’s beautifully bouffant 1980’s “It takes a lot of effort to look this good” hair was just dreamy. Jen’s wild crimped look so suited her character. On stage we had Truvy and Annelle doing hair and back stage our stylists helped with lightening quick changes. Our stylists were our security blankets. It was such a relief to have great people on board. Each night I was impressed with how Truvy did Shelby’s wedding hair and I loved Jen’s gangly getting on with business about the garage salon, both of them as if they had worked in the business for years.

Me (my goodness I did not realise how see through that top is) with Rain "The Stylist" 
I am so grateful to Judy Gray for putting me in touch with Transformbody Ladies Center. What superstars Pouria and Debbie were. We stripped the salon of chairs, shelving and product for almost a week. We bungled up their stuff and took it way. There are not many salons that would do that. And then on top of all that, Pouria helped me with the layout of the flyers. The artwork had been done beautifully by our own multi-talented cast member Jennifer Cooper but the stuff that you have to do to make it printer ready (who knew) Pouria and his IT man helped us with.


Everyone helped with costumes. We all raided our closets, had Sheryl Porbanderwalla step in and help us while she could with providing a pile of clothes and then we toddled down to Dragon Mart. What would we have done without that splendid emporium of tat of every sort under the sun I do not know. From wigs to hair pieces to hair washing stations to gaudy plastic jewelry to hat stands and carpets. Dragon Mart had it all. It was a very good thing that the visits we made were always under time pressures. Left to my own devices, I could get lost in there for weeks.

Between Bryan and I, with help of our production secretary Diana Duff and our prompt turned props gal, held the ropes of the rehearsals together with our cast. We painfully slowly got our props and set together - but we did get it done! You have no idea how hard it is to find the right size hair rollers and bobby pins.

We found a little gem in the shape of a DIA student Rohan Binoy to do our sound. He was cool, efficient and utterly unflappable. We loved him. His very strict mum also loved him so he was in and out of rehearsals based on a timetable that involved him being home in time to do his homework, but for the run of the show he was our man.

One area that we absolutely did not have to worry about was with our stage manager. Bryan and I had collared Toby (and Philip our son) in a pub (catch them in moments of weakness I say) and got them on board before we even started rehearsing. Whew. Philip did try and duck out of the show but I would have none of it. I am a half Greek mother. I have no problem with emotional blackmail. What is it about my family avoiding working with me?

The Back stage crew - appropriately dressed in black with smiles of course
 In a stroke of good luck, due mainly to her complete lack of knowing what she was letting herself in for, my friend Dolly Jitani agreed to be the props mistress during the show. She proved to be a no nonsense “don’t mess with my set” props mistress. Exactly the kind you want. I got an email everyday telling me what I had to remember.

"What am I letting myself in for?" Dolly in prompt mode.
Tiffany and Kylie Schultz from the Courtyard Playhouse held our hands throughout once we got into the space and Bryan helped with lights. With our stellar cast, totally sorted crew and the DDG committee looking after FOH I found myself pretty much redundant once we went on stage. I was relegated to selling popcorn and fetching sandwiches for the cast and crew between shows.

Sound, Lights - action
The Courtyard Playhouse is a delightful space to work in. It was the most charming of stage spaces, full of warmth. Our audiences loved the space. You could almost touch the anticipation as they climb up the quirky staircase into the heart of the theater. I loved the space. I just kept wishing we had more seats. Or maybe we should have had more performances. 20/20 hindsight and all that.

To get our audiences into the mood for a thoroughly Southern evening I asked Brent Jenkins to use his Texan accent to good effect for our show announcements. I was going to insert the sound clip here but the technology is beyond me. Sad I know.

The show was very well received, if I say so myself. I naturally thought it was the best show ever in terms of the casts’ performance. I thought our actresses were just the bloody bees knees and then some. They took the show and made it fly high. I just wish I could have given them a bigger audience and a better set. They so deserved it. I cannot express how grateful and proud I am of what they achieved. A talented group of actresses who gave us everything they had. The performances were strong, heartfelt and movingly convincing. I don’t think we had a single performance that did not have the audience tearing up if not crying in the climatic grieving scene and leaving feeling warmly affected by the heartfelt performances.

My fervent hope, as an outcome for this show, is that the cast, most of whom had not performed in Dubai before, do another show.

I am taking a break. Yes I know I have been on a very long break, years in fact until this season.  I don't think my boss will have the patience to put up with me if a direct another play any time soon. With all the will in the world it is impossible, for the level of commitment needed to be involved in a show, in this sort of role to not have it flow over into your day job. So I will lay low for a bit. Regroup, find another play...... and then we will see.

Below are a few links to promos that we had for the show:
Dubai Calendar                            Time Out Dubai

3 in This one was interesting. Not our logo not our pictures.....              

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