Malvolio Production Diary: Wrap

      8 Comments on Malvolio Production Diary: Wrap

So. The show is over; Malvolio is no more. Nine performances, none of them went really badly. No missed entrances, no set collapses, no wardrobe malfunctions. Well, not within the meaning of the term; Viola popped a button on her shipwreck dress in the middle of the scene, but there was no unintentional skin revealed. I dried once, during the Prison Scene, and wept for a moment whilst figuring out where in the scene I was; I doubt anyone in the audience interpreted it as anything but Acting. Some shows were better than others—the best show of the run was definitely Saturday the 27th and the worst Friday the 26th—but those were a matter of timing and focus (and the audience, mostly the audience) rather than anything going wrong. So that’s all right. And now, the wrap-up:

The Positives

  • It was, I think, a good production. I’m as proud of this show as I have been of any show in quite a while. Rough Crossing may be the only other show I’ve been in that I think has been that well-done throughout. Now, I could certainly be wrong about its quality—I never saw the thing, after all, and it’s not as if anyone is going to come around after and tell me it was dull, badly acted and poorly lit. But it felt like a good production.
  • We sold some tickets. I don’t know how many tickets the place usually sells, but from a financial standpoint, it seems to have been not-a-disaster. It was pretty even through all the performances; I don’t think we went below a hundred or above two hundred. Call it an average of 140 and I won’t be too far off, that’s 1,260 over nine performances or a take of more or less $25K plus whatever the concessions take was, with a relatively cheap set and no royalties to pay. I would guess the theater at least broke even on the show, although I have no actual idea how much it costs to keep a place like that open.
  • In terms of a way to spend most of my evening for three months, it was a lovely experience all around. Everyone was supportive and kind, with very little personal unpleasantness. There were no assholes in the cast. Nobody showed up late all the time, or screwed around during rehearsals in a way that made it difficult for other people to work. Nobody messed with someone else’s props, went on drunk, or screamed at anyone else. Surprisingly little time was wasted, and most rehearsals broke up around nine o’clock. I didn’t make any new close friends, nor did I have a mad crush on anyone, but that’s probably just as well, really. We all worked hard, laughed a lot, did our preparation, and focused on putting on a good show. In addition, the crew and administration were largely invisible to us, which is frankly lovely—we actors are sufficiently self-centered that we don’t notice anything unless something goes wrong.
  • As for Malvolio, it’s a hell of a part and I think I did it successfully. For values of successfully that are pretty much as good as I can do plus with an appreciative audience. Many of my ideas stayed in the show, including the funny voice I arrived at, a few physical bits (a bit with a handkerchief, and a chair bit that evolved very nicely over the course of the run, and my interaction with the Prison Scene bars) and the shape of my geck and gull line. Others didn’t, which is good, too, if they weren’t working. There were suggestions by the director that pretty much always worked well, and in the one that I recall that didn’t, he ditched it and replaced it with something else. Most of all, when I got the part I had no idea what the hell to do with it, and I found a thing to do, and did it, and it worked.
  • Finally, and perhaps I’ve written about this before, I’ve come to believe that the primary job of an actor in amateur dramatics is to maximize the percentage of people involved with the show and the company that will afterward say yeah, I’d like to work with that guy again. One aspect of that, of course, is to be good on stage; if you turn out to suck at acting, people will not be inclined to cast you again. All the other aspects count, too, though; in a community as tiny as ours, when someone sits down to cast a show, they are likely to have input from someone connected with your old show, whether it’s the costume mistress or the Stage Manager’s spouse. If you are unloved backstage, people will know. And as far as I can tell (and I could well be oblivious to sniping behind my proverbial) I accomplished that goal: many of them have said outright they wanted to work with me again, and nobody seemed to be diffident or cold. And in fact I would happily work with any of them again, given the opportunity. So that’s all right, too.

The Negatives

  • We didn’t get a lot of positive reviews. In fact, there was only one review at all, and it was lukewarm. I like reviews. I know a lot of actors don’t read ’em, and it’s certainly disappointing when they suck, but my vanity is such that I like to get my name in print a few times. When I say suck, I mean either a negative review or just one without insight. Often people reviewing community theater for local websites spend more time on the plot than the production. To be fair, it’s not an enviable job, as any negativity is viewed as an unfair attack on people who are in fact volunteers, and a total lack of negativity is viewed as dishonest boosterism. But I have enjoyed reading reviews of shows I’m in, and there is little more delightful than finding that somebody gets what you are trying to do, and gets it professionally.
  • The director, who is I think not yet thirty, tends to give direction by reference to pop culture. I am old. We share a few references, but only a few. It would be as if I were to tell somebody to do a Mrs. Garrett, or to be like James Garner and Mariette Hartley. Except of course he was using references from the last twenty years, of which I know nothing. This didn’t prevent him from directing me, in the end, but it did make me feel very old. Plus the cast was young—the actor that played Sir Toby is more-or-less eighty, and the actors that played Maria and Feste are forty-glob just like me, but the rest of the cast is thirty-ish on down, with many in their early twenties and three not of drinking age. The tininess of our pop-culture overlap was itself a topic of my conversation backstage, and while the bulk of the time of disconnect was movie-related, it was also the case that my knowledge of musical theater ends around the time most of the cast were born. I don’t know the songs to Wicked or Shrek or The Addams Family; they don’t really know Best Little Whorehouse or Sunday in the Park. I mean, we all know Oklahoma, and it’s my fault that I don’t know Les Mis and Phantom. Still. Old.
  • While a lot of people came to see the thing, including family members and friends from out of town and a few co-workers, most of my co-workers and even more of my local community-theater friends didn’t. The latter was a surprise and I think mostly a coincidence of timing, with several getting their kids situated at college this week or of course being in shows themselves. Of the co-workers, well, after nine years and ten shows, I should be inured to their lack of interest. And yet, it still rankles. Particularly, I must say, for those people who I know do go out to the theater now and then. Although those folk mostly see musicals, I suppose.

Anyway, I may write a few more notes about Malvolio before letting it go. There are a couple of things that I might enjoy writing up, if I find the energy (coincidentally, the show ended as the semester began, which is much better than trying to do the start of the semester and rehearsal simultaneously, as I so foolishly did last year), and of course if any Gentle Readers want to ask anything specific, I could write it up. It was a good experience, all in all, and I’m glad I did it, and now I’m tired and want to spend my evenings at home and go to bed early.

On the other hand, there’s another group doing Hamlet this winter…

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

8 thoughts on “Malvolio Production Diary: Wrap

  1. Chaos

    I recall really liking Wicked, though it’s been a number of years and even if i liked it that doesn’t necessarily speak to whether you would. Still.

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      So, my favorite musicals became my favorites largely through listening to the cast albums over and over. I did that a lot as a kid and a teenager (listen to albums over and over, I mean, both shows and pop/rock) but don’t do it anymore. I listened to the Wicked album once, thought it was okay, but never listened to it again. That’s pretty much been true for everything new I have listened to since 1991—either I haven’t liked it at all, or I’ve liked it OK but haven’t bothered to listen to it enough to love it.

      I’m not saying that the shows I memorized are better than the shows the younger generation have, in any sense of better other than earlier. The line really is in 1991, when I graduated college. Between City of Angels and Falsettos, which I’m pretty sure was the first one I liked but didn’t memorize. The line for pop albums is later, for some reason, but even for the recent Elvis Costello or Mark Knopfler albums, I picked out the songs I liked rather than listening to the whole album again and again.


  2. Chris Cobb

    I’m glad it was a good run!

    Have you continued to add new favorite books or movies, or has your experience of them shifted along the same lines as the shift in your experience of musicals and pop music?

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      Books, definitely, including continuing to find new authors and also new ‘comfort’ books for frequent re-reading. Movies… I don’t know that I have continued to find new favorite movies, but I do find movies that I like, even like a whole lot. What I don’t have any more is the urge, when I enjoy a movie, to see it again within a short period of time, to re-enforce my memory of it. I never watched movies again and again, the way I listened to albums, but there was a time when if I enjoyed a movie in the theater, I waited for it to come out on (VHS!) video so I could watch it again.
      These days I have absolutely noticed that I have little patience for watching a movie multiple times within a few years, even if it is an old favorite such as Raiders or The Sting.

      As for books, when I enjoy a book a lot, I often feel an urge to re-read it after a few months; I try to resist until a year has passed, to try to get a new perspective, but I often give in to the urge. These new books (purchased in paperback, mostly) only sometimes join the regular re-read crowd, but it does happen. Among my frequent re-read authors are folk such as Bujold and Novik, who I didn’t start reading until comparatively recently, and even Paretsky, most of whose books came out after my college years, along with the beloved books of my youth (Renault, Francis, Wodehouse, Tolkien, Sayers, Asimov, etc).

      I’m curious if any of y’all have (or have had) similar experiences. It’s common enough, I would think, for us middle-aged folk to stop trying to keep up with new works, but wonder if it also had something to do with the 20-year dominance of the LP matching up with my first 20 years (before I had to spend the bulk of my day in offices and such).


  3. Chaos

    Man, i don’t reread *anything* as much nowadays as i reread almost everything i read as a kid. I’ll go back to a childhood favorite book that i haven’t cracked the cover of in 20 years and find that i still have a bunch of it memorized.

    It’s sort of too bad – my memory for fiction isn’t very good, and e.g. i’ve read the Ancillary whatsit trilogy twice and enjoyed it both times, but still barely remember any individual things that happened. It would probably take four reads before i started to be able to e.g. bring scenes to mind at will.

  4. Jed

    Yay for good run!

    And thanks for the writeups. Interesting.

    You said the crew was largely invisible to the actors; did you just mean in terms of what they did during rehearsals and performance, or was that true in downtime as well? I guess I mean, did you socialize with the crew?

    I am surprised that any discussion of musicals these days would leave out Hamilton. Oh, and what about Disney musicals, like (say) Frozen?

    I was only halfhearted about the songs from Wicked that I heard, but then I saw the show live and quite liked it. (That was also true of Into the Woods for me, though I saw that on PBS instead of live.)

    I don’t really have any interest in seeing the musical of Shrek, but I *love* Fiona’s song “I Know It’s Today.”

  5. Vardibidian

    Jed—(a) we didn’t socialize much outside of rehearsal, or at least I didn’t. There wasn’t the coordinated going-to-a-pub-after that there sometimes is (and that I usually don’t go along to), and even after the performances, there was only very limited hanging around in the green room. The Stage Manager was there for pretty much all of the socializing I am aware of, and of course she was not invisible to the actors—the lights and sound and props and costume people and the PiBs were invisible in the sense that they didn’t take up much of our time in their business, and in truth we didn’t socialize with them much. They didn’t hang around rehearsals when the weren’t actually needed, just to hang around, so they weren’t part of the social unit of the cast. Neither were we part of their social unit, I think; most of them do most of the shows at that place, so know each other, and while we actors come and go, they tech folk remain.
    I’ll also mention the set builders, who at this house are largely retired men who come in during the mornings during the week and who the cast doesn’t meet until strike. There is a tradition there, though, that the last show is a Sunday matinee followed by strike, at which the cast is expected to participate, and then strike is followed by the party, which is not allowed to start until the crew have finished strike and cleaned up and come downstairs to the party room. This means that as soon as the actors are done acting, instead of being petted and made much of, we are ordered around by a bunch of people we don’t know, to do things we aren’t good at, which is quite humbling and probably salutary.

    2) I haven’t yet made it through all the Hamilton album. At some point I will see the thing, probably not for eight or ten years, and then maybe I’ll like it, but I couldn’t get interested in the songs at all. And I didn’t like Frozen at all, honestly—and my kids didn’t like it, either, so it wasn’t on the TV on repeat (to the extent that we allow that, anyway). I don’t think I’ve ever listened to any of the Disney musical soundtracks, except when I was very small I had their Alice on vinyl. If I remember correctly.



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