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And just like that, it’s over.
I can’t remember how many posts I started writing during these last two months, and had to ditch before finishing. They went out of date fast. The process of developing, rehearsing and staging this play consumed me – 5 weeks of rehearsal/development and a one month run where I was at the theatre almost every night. I will never look at independent theatre in the same way again, now that I know what it’s like to be part of that team, from the inside. I have newfound respect for everyone that plays their vital role in the process.
Regardless of any experiences I’ve had so far in my career, this one makes me feel like I’ve finally earned some stripes. I’ve never felt more exposed and vulnerable in my life than sitting in that first preview – well, every night really. As I sat in the audience as the first preview audience walked in (a full house), I frantically yelled at my producer (“Who are all these people? Why are they here?!!”) who consoled me, then I burst into tears (more consoling), then I sat literally shivering through the whole thing until the lights went down. I’ve had plenty of work on before, but I’ve never done that. I got over my random outbursts after that first night.
For the first time I got reviewed. On the whole, the write-ups were positive. I endured the day when my play was on Page 3 of the SMH in what I thought was a pretty average review, to be congratulated by everyone that it was actually quite good. I was consoled with horror stories from other writers who, of course, can quote lines from their bad reviews. In hindsight, the reviews for them were hilarious. At the time brutal. I feel like I got through that whole thing virtually scot-free. There was only a minority who had some really negative things to say, and I didn’t really care. I surprised myself as I’m your typical heart-on-sleeve Cancerian. The best thing I read during this time was from Lally Katz’ brilliant interview with the SMH:
Sometimes bad reviews can be like a battle scar and you feel kind of proud of them. I got one that said, ”If you ever wanted to see Lally Katz eat her own brain for two hours, see this play.”
I want a review like that! I decided they were my little ‘battle scars’ and I hope I get plenty more.
I’m proud of what we achieved. It really was in my opinion a solid production with strong direction, brilliant actors and a really professional looking show thanks to our amazing designers. We played for a month without a ‘dead time’, and huge houses throughout the run. By all accounts, it was a success.
However what I suspected to be true before the show, definitely turned out to be right – the first production is just the start. As a playwright recently told me “I don’t think a script is done until after its first production.” It’s after this that we know in our gut what works and what didn’t, what we should have fought for and what we were dead wrong about. The next production is the response to that – a playwright’s chance to present the work at its best.
The rehearsal process for us was imperfect, largely due to time. Although we’d been working on the play for a few years, it’s not until you’re in the rehearsal room that cracks really appear and need to be fixed. We fixed some, although due to limited time, decisions had to be made to sacrifice in order to at least PUT SOMETHING ON STAGE. Our actors were with us the whole way as they were literally given new script to work with every rehearsal for five weeks. We had what we called “the most unconventional tech week ever.” Throughout tech week we continued to change entire scenes, which mean re-teching whole sections of the play. The trajectory of the play was altered due to changes in the earlier draft (and significant changes to one character). The ending didn’t work anymore so we tried several. We premiered first preview without a final scene. We then spent hours in the bar afterwards talking to the audience about possible endings – one of my favourite ever experiences. The second night we tried two scenes. They weren’t quite right. The third preview we tried another. We were getting there. For opening night we found our ending and stayed with it for the rest of the run. By now I think the poor actors wanted to kill me (!) but we were all so passionate about the play and getting it right that we all hung in together. They even received a new cast member on the day of bump in. I know they said they’d never worked so intensively before on a play, but that it was completely satisfying and gave them great ownership of their roles and the story.
I was quite naive about the whole process before we begun. I thought “Oh I’ll probably rewrite for the first two weeks then they’ll have to start rehearsing!” So wrong. Nearly every single night over the five weeks, or morning before the sun was up, I was tweaking/re-writing/cutting/reshaping/clarifying. Sarah and I could never have prepared for what it was like, and being on this adventure with each other, we likened to being in a relationship. We debriefed for hours every night, deliberated changes, tested them out, admitted when something didn’t work, kept moving forward (not to mention that time in the rehearsal period when everything seems lost, but you know that it will all resolve itself just in time).
We put on a great show, and yet I know that we didn’t get everything on stage in the end. We literally lost at least 30 mins of the play in the staging of it through cuts and rewrites (and what a petty thing but it nearly killed me that some reviewers wrote about “Joanna Erskine’s short play” when I’d written my first full-length that just got significantly edited!) It also nearly killed me when reviewers or audience members said “Oh I wish this thing happened” or “It would have been great if this person had done this” and I wanted to tell them it had actually been like that in my script originally. Still, what I come out of this with, is a solid sense of the direction from here. I won’t pack K.I.J.E. away just yet. I have given myself some breathing time but truth be told, can’t wait to get stuck back into it and turn it into my ideal script. Some things that changed about the script in production were fantastic discoveries, some things I just want to take further as I’d originally planned. In speaking with a writing friend, maybe I wasn’t actually ever going to able to do everything I wanted in this first production. It was an ambitious concept, and I’m ready to really take it on now.
One thing is for sure, regardless of the ups and downs, I know for sure that this is what I want to do. Keep doing. For the rest of my life. I’ve chalked up the first proper notch now, and I can’t wait to add more.