Monday, June 23, 2008

Inside peak to the decisions after "Design Run"

The Neverending Story
June 15, 2008

Towards the end of the second week of rehearsal, we reach a point where Designers and other Imagination Stage staff are invited in to see a full run of the show in the rehearsal hall. It is an important milestone for everybody in the production process. A day that the company works towards; a day when the actors try to be completely off-book and that the company works towards, a day when the actors try o be completely off-book and get the blocking and stage business as true to what has been rehearsed. For the first time, we have a small audience. We can feel the flow of the whole play, the journeys of the characters, catch a glimpse of what the show will look like in performance and discover what parts will be the highlights for our audience. It is also an important day for our designers -- lighting, sound, and set -- as well as the builders of costumes, props, and puppets. From the design run, they learn where lights will have to be focused. They spot potential problems: does one actor need a pocket in her costume for a prop? Will the furniture as designed work with the movement performed? They hope is that we can make adjustments before tech week when we move into the theatre and pull all the production elements together into a pretty package.

Here are some changes we made during the process that followed the design run:
  • Artax's (Max Lawrence) horse's behind, as designed, could not work with Atreyu (Andrew Sontag) riding piggy back. Costume designer Kathleen Geldard and I talked. Sadly, the behind had already been built by props designer Dre Moore. It seemed criminal to lose her beautiful work. Suddenly Kathleen recalled that Cairon (Carl Randolph) is a centaur in the book! Thus Artax's behind was moved to Cairon.
  • Initial plans for the set included an elaborate pulley system for Bastian to ride down from his perch in the attic in order to enter Fantastica at the climactic moment of the play. During the "cost-out" for the set, we discovered that this structure was going to put us $1500 over budget. I asked Choreographer Leslie Felbain if she thought the company could "catch" Bastian (Michael Nguyen) if he was brave enough to jump onto the stage from his 8-foot platform. Leslie, who includes circus work in her long list of movement credentials, said "sure." I also took precaution of calling Michael (a sophomore at Walt Whitman High School) and asked him about it. He chimed in "sure," too. Rehearsals have therefore included several sessions of Michael jumping off an 8-foot ladder so he won't be surprised by the height of the platform once we're in the theatre June 18th.
  • Puppeteer Eric Van Wyk has been working on the build of several puppets for the show and training the actors to tuse them. We discovered during design run that Eribo's hot air balloon was not reading quite right, the Sassafranian Father was too short for easy operation by puppeteer/actors MJ Casey and Julie Garner, and that the shields that make up the shell of Morla the Turtle were heavy and reading more like a wall than a turtle's humped back.
  • Eric made some modifications and returned to rehearsal the following Friday to help us make the most of the puppets. It is hard to describe the difference between a puppet that comes to life and one that doesn't. The slightest adjustment can make a tremendous difference. I'll be watching the scene and suddenly this paper mache and wire construction becomes a complete being with thoughts, feelings and designers! True theatre magic.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Neverending Story: The conflicts between good & evil


Pinch-punch-first-of-the-month of June at Imagination Stage means turning a page on our Production Calendar and starting to build the world of this summer’s ambitious extravaganza, THE NEVERENDING STORY. Best known to American audiences from the 1984 movie adaptation, this brilliant fantasy mystery and adventure was written by German author, Michael Ende, in the years following World War II and published in 1953. Like its British counterpart, C. S. Lewis’s better known CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, Ende’s book deals with bold conflicts between good and evil, an imaginary world full of eccentric characters, and the journey of some youngsters against enormous odds to ensure that the positive forces prevail over the bad. That’s where the parallels end, however, because in Ende’s world view, there is no Aslan willing to sacrifice himself for a flawed humanity. Instead, Ende repeatedly shows his leading characters faced with profound difficulties—the death of loved ones, lack of faith in the abilities of the young, adult apathy, self-interest and outright vengefulness. Yet the author draws us through the perils and pain of dark characters and events as a way, in the end, of affirming the light. He affirms each person’s ability, and indeed his responsibility, to choose peace over violence; bravery over cowardice; generosity over meanness; and action over inaction.

This is a fantasy with a great contemporary feel with many great lessons the children of today.

These are the ideas that we began with on Monday in our first rehearsal. A company of 9 actors has been assembled in order to populate both the real world and the world of Fantastica. As you can imagine, there has to be a great of deal of doubling and fast costume changes in order to realize the 37 characters in the script. (And even this represents some fraction of those in the novel.) During the Design Presentation to the company, Set Designer Dan Conway showed a model of the set. This involves a circular playing space with four trap doors, a metal bridge with a spiral staircase and a huge projection screen that is decorated to look like a printed page from the book, THE NEVERENDING STORY. Dan showed the group several images on his Mac laptop that are being photoshop-ed in order to create the lush and varied backdrops for the scenes in Fantastica. Puppeteer and Puppet-maker Eric Van Wyk showed the cast his sketches of puppets that he will build for the show: hand puppets that are The Good Fairy and Eribo; Bun Raku puppets for the Sassafranians (who grow young instead of old) and the Night Hob, VoshVazool, who brings news of The Nothing to the Magnolia Palace, home of the childlike Empress. Eric demonstrated his work-in-progress, Vooshvazool’s bat whose wings are crafted from half of a black umbrella! Costume and props presentations were made by Kathleen Geldard and Dre Moore respectively. Because the cast will be onstage most of the time playing everything from pedestrians on the street to aspects of the landscape in Fantastica, Kathleen has chosen to put most everyone in a base costume that matches the sepia tones of the big page of the book on the set. To this many different pieces will be added or changed throughout the show in order to create all 37 characters.

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