//Ad libs: Putting it together

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Putting it together

"It's gonna go places," a woman just said in an affectionate Southern drawl to one of my fellow "Puah" actors. Hey, our show is already going places. From Actors Theatre over to the huge church convention, then back to Actors Theatre, then back to the convention, then back to Actors Theatre ... aw, grits; you get the idea. Yesterday we did a full tech rehearsal at the convention, then a matinee at the theater, then an evening show at the convention. Or was that the day before? We've been rehearsing and teching and making last-minute changes for days, and this show-on-the-road-thing can make your head spin.

But audiences are loving "Puah's Midwife Crisis." People are telling us we're going places. People are laughing and crying (The Actors Theatre space is small. I saw them.). From my point of view, it's a thrill to see how much the musical has grown and improved since we performed it back in Portola Valley in March. Its creators have been refining it: adding songs, changing staging, etc., while we actors are finding new bits, new motivation, new meaning in our words.

Puah originally started the show with a long monologue about the Biblical saga that led our story to this point. It was informative and she sold the heck out of it, but it was exposition-heavy. So the creators, Cheryl and Karen, replaced it with a new song for Puah that they penned in their spare time. Tells the story in a cheerful way, works in an "oy vey" every now and then, and gives actress Emily Greco yet another opportunity to hold the room.

My favorite change has been the end of Act I. Originally the act ended just after Puah and her fellow midwife, Shiphrah, sang a ballad called "Your God is My God, Too." Powerful, regardless of your religious preference, but some people thought the end of Act I also needed more of a suspenseful kick, to make the audience come back from intermission wondering what would happen next. After all, Pharaoah has handed down an untenable edict: P&S have been ordered to drown all the Hebrew boy babies as soon as they're born. P&S have disobeyed him, but they've been caught. We needed the feeling that this is a turning point not only for S, who discovers God, but the whole world of Jewish slaves struggling to survive.

Now we all come out on stage at the end of Act I, dressed as slaves, fearful and trying to keep our faith with our eyes turned toward the future as we sing: "Are we chosen? If we're chosen, what will be our cue? Can God lead us out of slavery? Hard to see the view..." The staging is stark and our movements slow and simple.

This afternoon is our last matinee at Actors Theatre. While performing in front of 3,000 people at the convention was a hoot (especially having our faces blown up on Jumbotron-sized screens), I'm going to miss the theater the most. There's a proper theater smell of paint and sawdust. The tech folks here are welcoming; the lighting is bold; and the angles are wonderful. The audience seats slant up toward the ceiling.
Everywhere we turn on stage, there's a face following what we do, learning and feeling and living the story we're telling.

Pictured: Director Cheryl Goodman-Morris, right, working with actress Ginger Holt in the Actors Theatre. Photo by Rebecca Wallace.