Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The Zoo Story part of DDG's "Friends and Other Strangers" the long story

Bloody brilliant Actors - Toby Masson and Sanjeev Dixit
About a year ago I was up to my eyeballs in rehearsals with Toby Masson for “The Evils of Tobacco” for the Dubai Drama Groups short Play evening “ Chekhov’s Cigarette”. Last month we heard that “Chekhov’s Cigarette” had been shortlisted for the Dubai Timeout Nightlife awards in the Best Theatrical Performance category. I have already harped on about this but hey that will not stop me from doing so again in an effort to entice you into coming and seeing our next endeavor together.

In my blog post last year about “The Evils of Tobacco” I mentioned that the show I had desperately wanted to direct was Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story”. Last year I was lucky enough to find that Toby Masson had a burning desire to act in the show, having directed it a squillion years ago himself. All we had to do was find a second cast member. Not a big ask you would think, after all the show only requires two men. But that was not the case. I am a very fussy director. Well I am a director who HAS TO HAVE THE BEST ACTORS because I need them to make me look like a better director than I am.  I don’t think this is an unreasonable expectation. Strategic alliances are everything.

But back to the story: I had brilliant actor Toby and after various mini dramas surrounding casting I only had Toby. You cannot put on a two hander with one person.  Consequently Toby and I tackled “The Evils of Tobacco”. We loved the process of preparing for the show.  It was wonderful to be back in the saddle and working with such a dedicated partner. Toby was magnificent, magnificent enough for us to contribute to the success of DDG’s shortlisting in the Dubai Timeout nightlife awards. See how I slipped that in again?

Fast forward to the almost here and now. It was time for DDG to look to this year’s evening of short plays and both Toby and I were very keen to get our Zoo Story project back on track. Once again I faced problems with casting.  Seriously it is getting hard not to take this personally. But I am egotistical enough to think “Naaaa it can’t be ME” and plough on. I was nervous about holding auditions as I had an idea in my head of how I wanted the casting to work.  I do not understand why I do this to myself over and over again.  I have a vision. The vision is bad. I cling to the vision like it is a bloody life raft in sea infested with hungry sharks. I had a whole bunch of pairings in my mind. I called all the likely candidates and what with one thing and another landed up in the same position as I was in last year.  I had magnificent Toby. But no one else could work with me “at the moment”. I started to wonder if maybe I was the shark.
DDG co-chairperson Jonathan Siklos suggested that I piggy back auditions on the DDG’s production of “Boeing Boeing” audition. I put on my brave face. Yes I would hold auditions even though I know I am useless at them and I was starting to take it personally that no one “could’ work with me - small stomp and sulk. I landed up in a space between two corridors, near an echoing stairwell auditioning men for “The Zoo Story”. I felt truly bad for the actors auditioning in these less than ideal conditions, but, I needed a second cast member and the space between the corridors was about the most private space I could find that did not intrude on the hijacked audition.  Needs must my darlings.  

I struck gold. I never even considered approaching Sanjeev Dixit to play in “The Zoo Story”. Remember my vision? Mind you in this case I will lay the blame at his door because I assumed that he was a dyed in the wool “ Third Half TheaterGroup” man. I am so very lucky that he auditioned. When I told Toby that I had AT LONG BLOODY LAST found our second cast member he was cautiously optimistic. He knows how important the dynamic is between the two characters, and believe you me if I had not found the “right man” I would have walked away, again, from putting on the play. When I told Toby it was Sanjeev he was thrilled. He was beyond thrilled. He was childishly excited, and rabbited on about how he really wanted to work with Sanjeev, and this was just brilliant, and when were we getting started, and who was playing who.

Yes you read correctly. I had kept Toby on a string over which role he would play for a year. He is a good sport, that man. I had my Jerry (Toby) and my Peter ( Sanjeev). I breathed a sigh of happy, content relief.

We have been rehearsing like demons. My dramatic duo have been a pleasure to work with. They had their scripts down in record time.  They put up with my tweaking and fussing and being demanding. We have agreed, and disagreed, and agreed to disagree.  I have taken on board their many, much better than my, ideas ( it hurts a little to admit that) and I have clung to a couple of my own ideas tenaciously. By the way if you are looking to pacify and bribe your cast members, as I have (in the absence of hard tack, this is Dubai after all) I suggest plying them tea and the best yummy biscuits money can buy, that would be Marks and Spencer’s in the case of what my money buys. Free advice, the jam biscuits and chocolate covered ones work a treat.

For much of the rehearsal period I have had my head half buried in the script. Switching from watching to note taking to reading. It is not an ideal way to direct. I wanted, at least, a Prompt so that I could focus on watching and note taking  - you can’t give dictation notes in the space we rehearsing in. It would be distracting to the actors. I sent out a call for interested peeps and was really lucky to have the lovely young Chineme Prince arrive on the Dubai scene. A drama trained young man new to Dubai fresh from Nigeria who wants to Do Stuff. He has kindly taken up the thankless task of prompting and is every bit as pernickety about prompts as I am about notes. Our poor actors are pounded by me with notes and then bombarded by Chimeme with “You said is instead of it.”  They are pretty good, our actors, so really what we do is knit pick!

A few weeks ago I took the cast out for a “performing rehearsal” so that they could experience an audience. With the support of the Lovely Phil Ridley from the American School in Dubai we presented our show to a handful of students and some adults. My "up for anything" actors took time off work, took a deep breath and dived into a performance two weeks off the show start date. That is how good they are! It was delightful to get the feedback from the teens and it was great for the actors to feel an audience.

There have been moments of utter magic in the rehearsals that are leading up to  dynamic performances by these two experienced talented actors. They work well against each other. I am excited about opening night. I can’t wait for you to see them.

Now remember, Zoo Story is part of a double header being produced by Dubai Drama Group “Friends and Other Strangers”. Our companion piece is Vaclav Havel’s “Unveiling” More on that on my next post.

In the meantime keep free an evening between the 8th and 11th of April. Come down to the Jam Jar for a 7.30 start for some mighty fine theatre! Go on book the dates in your diary. Tell your peeps. Spread the word.
Photo credits for the lovely picture of Toby and Sanjeev and the inspired design of our poster goes to Tamas Antal and Juliska Szik the dynamic couple from Home Time Productions
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