Monday, July 25, 2011

Theatre on Ice

Reading "Life on the Edge's" post about music made me laugh. I've been there, just not in a skating sense (yet.) I had a Director hand me a Heavy Metal CD to play as opening music for her rendition of "The Visit," one of those shows that is notoriously hard to do well, and I asked about rights. She blinked at me and I dropped the subject. "Play it loud," she all she said.

It was one of those Stage Managing Gigs where the SM did everything, Lights and Sound, so I popped in the CD and cranked it. Since the music really wasn't being played for the benefit of the audience, but more for the Shadow Actors who were hammering away in time to the music backstage, the Audience got blasted while the actors whined that they couldn't hear it well enough. I asked about backstage monitors but was told it wasn't in the budget. Oh well.

With Stitch gone, I'm at a loss for material, here. We talk on the phone every night, and I told him that one of the compressors was down at the rink this past weekend. He was upset to hear about all the water on the rink, but laughed when I called it "the world's coldest slip and slide."

"You should have seen this kid fall, he was dripping when he got up," I said.
"I hope it's that way this weekend!" says Stitch.

He's back for a few days, but then gone again. The Rink Staff asks me all the time how he is when I come skating on Saturday nights. I say he's fine; bugbitten and eating marshmallows. While he'll never admit to it, he misses school. I can tell. I told him we would search for a mosquito net for him while he's here, to take back with him, and go skating to assure his friends he's fine.

I wonder what the fall has in store for us. Another round of classes and little competitions. I'm already investigating new costume ideas, getting a sheet together for Coach so she can circle which design she prefers. While I'm busy cleaning and doing research on our old Theatre project and being hot, I miss the Rink. I miss it the way I miss doing shows. Yes, I whine a lot and complain endlessly, but really, the more I complain, the more fun I'm having.

Life on the Edge, and the concept of one facet of a performance being completely incongruous with the rest of the act, made me remember The Bunny Show.

The Bunny Show. Where do I begin?

I had done some work with this Theatre Company in the past. I was PM for a big show they did which was The Gravel Show, and some other little One Act Festival they did in a store window which was fun, but this was to be their big experiment in a "real theatre." I told them that I was doing a full time gig in the suburbs and couldn't devote a lot of time to them, but the Director said she liked me and wanted me around "as a consultant." So, we agreed on a small stipend for my time, and I wasn't SM, or PM or anything specific, I was just around to give general advice.

I arrived late in the rehearsal process. I got to the theatre on the first night of Tech, actually. Tech Rehearsal is when everything in a show gets together; Lights, Sound, Costumes, Actors, Scenery and so on, and it's traditionally the most painful process of any show, because for some reason Actors and Directors lose their minds when the pretty lights come on. (If you're rinkside and hear me say, "Wet Run" or "Dry Run" to Stitch, those are Theatre terms from Tech.) To be fair, I knew about the Bunnies. I had heard the idea of Bunnies tossed around in production meetings, but I always thought that common sense would hold out and there would be no live animals on stage.

How wrong I was. I got to the stage door and opened it, heading up into a darkened stage area which was in the thick of tech. I lowered my voice and asked the nearest warm body where we were in the script.
"Act one," she said. "And watch your step. The bunnies are loose."
"The bunnies are loose," she repeated herself in a hoarse whisper.
"I think I'll see a white rabbit," I replied.
"No, they're all black. It's all the animal company had."
"So," I stopped whispering. "There are BLACK rabbits, on a BLACK stage against BLACK drapes running loose on a DARK stage? What the hell?!"
"SHHHHH!!" she whispered.
I went out into the house and found the PM (Production Manager.) "Black rabbits? How many?"
"Fifteen," she said. "Director wants them running loose."
"They're going to die."
"No, they'll be fine. What's back there that can hurt them?"
"Everything. You are going to have casualties." This was this company's first run in a true proscenium house with a fly rail, many stairs to nowhere, lots of dark corners and a dock door that opened a full twelve feet off the ground. "Does the animal company know about this?"
"Losses are built into the rental fee," she admitted.
Well, okay, but I hoped they didn't expect me to attend any bunny funerary rites. I talked to the Director. "Why loose?"
"Because the magician has lost control of himself," she said, wide eyed in some artistic fit. I knew there was no talking her out of this one.
"Does it have to be all fifteen?" I asked.
"That's all we could afford," she sighed. "I wanted more."

Yes, black bunnies everywhere can thank the company's limited budget to save them from certain bunnicide. I was relieved. "You have to inform the crew to count them out and in, before and after each show," I warned the SM (stage manager.)
"Oh, it'll be fine. We'll know if we lose some," the SM shrugged.
I sighed, and went to inspect some loose connection on the houses' ancient dimming system and a protocol converter box.

The tech went on. Two days into it, the lead actress came center and complained. "The bunnies are pooping and peeing everywhere. I keep stepping in it," she said.
"Wear shoes," said the PM, tired of worrying about her and her annoying habit of walking everywhere barefoot.
"But I don't like to wear shoes," said the thin little actress, the darling of the Director's eye.
"Do something!" the director glared at the SM and myself.
The SM, trying to be helpful, tells me she's heard of bunnies being litterbox trained. Perhaps we can try that. I go and do research, learning that rabbits can be litter trained, but only through years of work that begins at kittenhood. (Did you know baby bunnies are called kittens?) This was not an option for a three week run, so the actress had to choose between shoes or poo.

She chose shoes.

On the fourth night, the night before first preview when the press arrives, the Director poked me. "Do something!" she hissed.
"What? Do what?"
"Stop them from doing that!" she pointed.
Two bunnies were doing what bunnies do best, right downstage center as the lead was giving a crucial monologue. I couldn't help myself, and laughed. "What should I do? Set a stagehand in the front row with a water gun?"
"I don't care, just do something!"

Honestly, to this day I don't remember what the show was about anymore. To me, it was a show about Rabbit Control with a magician in it somewhere. And poo.

I remember that the show was widely panned in the papers and drew weak houses. It closed early. But the Director, ever the delusional optimist, said this actually fit in with her "artistic vision" because the characters in the show would have played to thin crowds anyway. "It's perfect!" she said, as the PM paled at the Box Office receipts.

At load out, two dessicated bunny bodies were found. One wedged under the fly rail, another in the dock door. No one ever knew they were missing, but the company congratulated itself on getting a contract which planned for bunny loss. They wouldn't be able to afford a proscenium house again for a long time. I firmly believe the Bunnies killed that show. The Actors on the Bunny Show both claimed they had great rehearsals until they got into the space, until The Bunnies showed up and stole the spotlight. I never doubted them. An element as unpredictable as live animals had no business in a straight play, and all their hard work was lost. Possibly their reputations tarnished for being on such a bad show. That made me feel bad more than anything.

A performance has to fit itself. Everything has to work together or none of it works. If the costume or music seems wrong, it all seems wrong. A lopsided performance makes an audience wonder what's wrong, and they get so wrapped up in determining the "wrongness" that they forget to watch the show. I hate hearing badly cut and plain bad music during skating practice and shows, because that's work lost on an otherwise good skater. Bad Choreography makes me cringe, and bad costumes can make me leave the rink completely.

I'm not saying it has to be perfect. It's a rare performance that is "perfect." What I'm saying is; step back. Look at it. Look at it objectively, and see if it makes sense. That blip in the music will jar the audience. That fray in the skirt detracts the eye. The stopping to hop on toepicks stops the flow. Honestly ask yourself, "does it make sense?"

If the answer is "no," better look again.

Remember the Bunnies.


  1. "one of the compressors was down at the rink this past weekend"

    And you didn't warn us via wiki?!

    Fortunately the ice was quite hard at 2:30 PM Saturday and 9:30 AM Sunday (well, slightly more wetness than usual right after the cut). I know because my elbow got scratched instead of soaked. In fact, we were discussing how fortunate we were that we were not experiencing the melting going on at rinks in even hotter locations.

  2. Never occurred to me to "warn" anyone, and here's why; Talking to the other skaters that night, this happens with some regularity. While it does change the skating a bit, it's still do-able.

    Warning seasoned people about "You might get wet!" seems like Diva behavior to me. Everyone who skates gets snowy and wet, it's only a matter of degrees. That's what the hand dryers in the bathrooms are for.

    Besides, like you said, it's worse at other Rinks. (Can't wait until Rink Across Town reopens!)

  3. Me, I can't wait for the costume room post...