Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Ephemeral Nature of Theater

Carrie the Musical closed over a week ago. I'm still sad.

I wrote this as a Facebook status after Chicken Heart closed in July. When Carrie closed, I thought about it again. I had intended, before re-posting it here, to embellish it a little to include the tender feelings I have towards this most recent theater experience, but I don't know what I should add or change. The feelings of writing/directing/producing a show and acting in one are very different, but both are deeply personal and extremely delicate.

Oh, I should say that I stole the title from a comment made by Robert Trussell when I originally posted it: "This is the best essay I've ever read on the ephemeral nature of theater." Thanks, Bob.
Theater is a funny art form. We work for weeks, months, even years toward the singular goal of putting up the best production we can. We must put so many everyday-life elements on hold during that time: adequate rest, relationships, regular meals and other self-care, other work, house work, any semblance of free time... We hope that we are able to communicate our intentions for the play, and worry... that we won't. At the first audience laugh, we exhale... just a little. But there's the next laugh line, the next visual gag, the next tense moment, the next calculated reveal... And before each one, we pray that everything we've done up until that moment was the right way to do it, and that audiences will find your work, in some way, moving.

Then, it's over.

That's the nature of the beast. Theater is temporary. That goal, that has consumed our lives for so long, is just...gone. Forever.

So we clean up the detritus of the production that strewn all over our homes and cars, and we try to get back into "real life," without The Play. Laundry and grocery shopping and social functions and family, oh, a meal, served on plates, eaten with forks, sitting at a table at home.

But there's been a death, of sorts. A major part of your life is no longer there, and we have to bury it before we can get back to the land of the living. There is a mourning period when it's gone. Sometimes it's just a flash, a minor adjustment, but sometimes, it takes longer to get over the loss, and it hurts.

Theater is a funny art form. It's exhausting and frustrating and joyful and challenging and delicate and maddening and beautiful and triumphant and a will-o-the-wisp and a siren song and a phantom and a mirage. And it's why I have such a long, long list of projects, always waiting for me to come back to them.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Performance Reviews for "Carrie the Musical"

Yesterday was Review-reading Day. I did not read reviews of the show while it was still running. Even if they're good, reviews affect a performance, and I want to concentrate on doing the job I've been training for during the rehearsal process. A review is just one person's opinion.

Still, it's nice when you work so hard at a job, and get positive recognition for it. Everyone loves to be validated.

Robert Trussell, Kansas City Star:
"Chief among the show’s pleasant surprises is that Tara Varney, perhaps best known as a director of original work at the annual fringe festival, possesses a formidable voice, which she demonstrates as the religiously obsessed Margaret White."

Steve Wilson, examiner.com:
"Tara Varney plays Margaret White, the overly controlling and religious fanatic mother of Carrie. Her acting is robust and deliberate, yet her singing voice is even stronger. Her interpretation of the mother makes you first despise her and feel even sorrier for Carrie. Later you can feel her anguish as she begins to lose control of Carrie."

Bob Evans, examiner.com:
"...Margaret White, craftily portrayed by Tara Varney..."

Kristin Shafel Omiccioli, KCMetropolis.com:
"Leading the pack is Fringe Festival regular Tara Varney as Margaret White, Carrie’s fanatical mother. Varney’s mature voice expressed a range of emotions from “the crazy” to overprotective to even tender and regretful."

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/10/06/4535479/egads-theatre-companys-carrie.html#storylink=cpy

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Most Magical Place

I was pacing in a corner backstage during "Carrie" last week, running lines, when I came out of my circle of concentration for a minute and looked around.

I saw people in costumes, getting ready to go onstage, and some were coming off. I saw people in tech blacks, setting props. I saw blue-light silhouettes and shadows, weaving in and out of each other. I saw ropes and pulleys and run lists and set pieces. I saw costumes laid out for upcoming quick-changes. I saw masking. I saw props tables laden with incongruous items like a basketball, a candlestick, a laundry basket, a chopping knife, a skateboard, a pin cushion, drug pipes, a tiara, plates of apple pie, and empty beer bottles.

People were running to get where they needed to be on time. People were waiting for their cues. People were quietly joking with each other. People were hugging. People were tucked in corners, trying to get focused.

I sat in a chair behind the set and looked up at the two levels, joined by steep escape stairs. I saw screws and staples and stage light filtered through "window" coverings. I saw the shadows of actors onstage, and listened to their amplified voices singing, so richly. I imagined the stage manager in the tech booth, calling cues to the light board op and the sound op. I thought of the spot ops in their crow's nests, above the audience's heads. There are a lot of tech cues. A lot.

Backstage is not pretty. It's plywood and 2x4s and glow tape, stitched together in workable, but decidedly unattractive ways. It is usually crowded and often dirty. I get splinters constantly.

I took all this in, the sight of a place I've been thousands of times before, and I started to cry.

All these people, working together to create something that the audience won't ever completely understand the workings of. Even if they're in the industry, if they're not backstage, right now, they have no idea. And I don't either, when I'm the one sitting in the audience.

It's amazing. It's mysterious and inspiring. The energy and passion represented backstage during a performance is staggering. The whole of the production process is hidden away behind the curtains and flats. It's this massive, delicate secret that even the people involved don't always realize they are inside. It's fragile and ugly and chaotic and really, the most gorgeous, magical place there is.