Jun 21

39 – Show Diaries – The Path to London

I will be cross-posting some of these at www.yokohama-theatre.com as well.


So, we opened 39 in London yesterday.  Where to start?  Well, the show was plagued by technical problems, which is always a risk with a tech heavy show like ours… but, like 39 himself, I’m getting ahead of myself.


Let me start with a brief rundown of the events that led up to yesterday’s opening:


Jan, Feb, March, 2010: Kimberly Tierney and I rehearsed three days a week, using various techniques to create the world of 39 along with some key scenes.  As the March 26th show date in Yokohama approached, we wrote a brief description of each scene on index cards and laid them out on my living room floor, trying to create an order that made sense.  Once that was done, I hunkered down at the computer for a few all night sessions of writing.  The scenes we’d created in rehearsal frequently had no dialogue, so while the shape of each scene was there, there was still a lot of filling-in to do.


The show was originally envisioned as a two-hander, with the second actor changing in each new iteration of the show.  Each new actor would play a different character, and would be rehearsed in with me, creating new scenes collaboratively.


We didn’t have a lot of time with Monique Van Kerkhof, our second actor in Yokohama, playing the role of Ms. Umqhat, so I simply had to write her scenes.


The Yokohama production was plagued by trouble with our venue.  Since I started doing shows with YTG, our primary rehearsal and performance space has been the Yokohama Country and Athletics Club (YCAC).  YTG has a long-standing relationship with them: we own a storage shed on club property which houses our costumes and properties, and they use our lighting equipment free of charge for their functions, among other things.  Sometimes their cooperation left something to be desired (and I daresay they’d say the same about us), it has always been a reasonable venue to rehearse and perform in.  The fact that it was free space, outweighed the inconveniences of working there (getting bumped from room to room, club members sticking their heads into rehearsal or assuming their kids could play basketball through our dress rehearsal, etc.)


The club had generously allowed us to use hours and hours of time in their facilities for our weekday rehearsals.  We had booked our performance space in December for March.


A few weeks before the show, we were told that our 14:30 Sunday matinee would have to be moved to accommodate a Kids Easter Egg hunt.  So we moved (and re-advertised, after losing significant time attempting to negotiate) the show for 16:30.  Then, a few days before we opened, we were told that our matinee was cancelled in favour of a table tennis master class.  We managed to negotiate a 19:30 start time, but by then our publicity campaign was already shot to hell.


On top of all of this, we were kicked out of our workspace in the gym where we were building our set several times, at least once for a group that phoned to make sure we were kicked out and then NEVER SHOWED UP, costing us valuable set-building time.


The staff of the YCAC was always very kind and courteous to us, and they found themselves in a lot of difficult positions with scheduling conflicts caused by the switch from paper to computerized room booking: that wasn’t so much the issue.  The problem was and remains that the YCAC is becoming busier, which is good for them, but means that they are no longer a reliable venue for us.


The upshot of this is that we opened with the set only partially done, did a reading of the show in a smaller room in the 14:30 Sunday slot, and finally, a fully mounted Sunday evening performance with a scaled-down set.


So, when the team sat down to plan the Canadian tour, we made a few decisions:


  • Simplify the set: a single screen on a single flat
  • Drop the second actor and the idea of the show being different in each Festival and re-write as a one-man show


So, I went back to the drawing board and re-wrote (which I had to do anyway to make the show 60 minutes instead of 90).  The original script used the scenes with Ms. Umqhat to handle the structure and fill in some of the narrative gaps, so I ended up creating a whole new structure by setting the play at a trial, where 39 is arguing both sides to a room of disinterested judges.


This took some time, as my personal life got extremely hectic for a while after we closed Yokohama.  By the time the show was ready to rehearse again, Kim was off to the U.S. to visit her family, so we only ended up getting in two days of rehearsals (and lots of writing notes: damn you, Kim!) before I left for Canada.


Canada: a whirlwind.  Arrival, massive rewrites, LOTS of production-related running around, fundraising, a little bit of rehearsal, more rewrites, some rehearsal, cutting the last scene of the play, and then: off to London!


We left Toronto at around 6:15 AM and, singing snippets of showtunes and avoiding weaving cube vans all the way, we managed to arrive in London at 8:30.  We tech’d the show from 9:00 to 12:00, ate, and then rehearsed the show in a churchyard, much to the amusement of the locals.


And then, petrified beyond belief, worried that I was going to blank on my lines and drop the whole play on its fat ass, I stepped onstage.

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