Friday, 1 March 2013

Gently, gently, evidently we are safe so far...

So I directed a show last week.
And apparently it was pretty good.

Hang on while I remind myself of how I usually write my show posts...
OK. Talk about the show.
Princess Ida, or Castle Adamant started as a poem by Tennyson called The Princess. Gilbert wrote a play of the same name which he called "a respectful (per)version" of the poem. Later, he turned the play into an opera in collaboration with Sullivan. The main impact of this interesting writing process is that the dialogue of the show is in blank verse. Well, that and there's dialogue which was cut from the play when it was turned into an opera, but which can potentially be reinstated if the director feels so inclined. I suppose in this context at least that's more relevant than the blank verse, since we did edit the script a bit, whereas the only concession made to the blank verse was that I mostly tried to maintain the meter while editing the script. Certainly we never told the cast to pay any attention to it.

Dramatis Personae:

King Hildebrand - Baritone. Big and booming, imposing. The most dangerous person in the show and everyone knows it. Whenever he's onstage, he is in control of the situation (if not always in control of his temper).

Hilarion (His son) - Tenor. Romantic lead. As you might expect from that combination in a G&S. Flouncy and emotional. The only easy similarity to draw between him and his father is that of stubbornness - he refuses point blank to give up on his love for Ida, under any circumstances.

Cyril (Hilarion's friend) - Tenor. Incorrigible flirt and inveterate womaniser. Part dashing rogue, part irresponsible drunk who doesn't take anything seriously.

Florian (Hilarion's friend) - Baritone. Hilarion's best friend. As my co-director put it, Florian is "the Sam Gamgee character". He's defined primarily by his incredible loyalty to Hilarion. In our prodduction, there was certainly a sense of him being generally awkward and uncomfortable with the situations in which he found himself, but obviously he wouldn't leave his best friend and so he deals with it all as best he can.

King Gama - Comic baritone. On for about half an hour and steals the show. Pretty much the epitome of a creepy old man. Loves to criticise everything and everybody except his own family, and can find fault with absolutely anything.

Arac, Guron, Scynthius (Gama's sons) - Baritones/basses. Supposedly great warriors. Actually great idiots. In our production we had the amusing idea of making Scynthius a woman in an obviously fake beard.

Princess Ida (Gama's daughter) - Soprano. Ambitious, intelligent, precocious, strong but a bit wild. In my opinion, one of the best female characters in all of G&S; she has so much range, from the confident and secure ruler of Castle Adamant, to a woman secretly in love with a man but unwilling to admit it because of internal conflicts, to the ruthless leader of an army of women, to the wild and distressed defender of a lost hope.

Lady Blanche (Professor of Abstract Science) - Alto. Formerly Ida's teacher, generally fits the archetype of the scary old battleaxe of a teacher who gives out the harsh punishments. Also she really, really hates men. Really.
Plus, ambitious, egotistical, driven by envy to some extent, and prone to reeling off incomprehensible speeches about abstract philosophy.

Lady Psyche (Professor of Humanities) - Either soprano or mezzo, I'm not sure. Ida's best friend, Florian's sister. If Blanche is the teacher who scares the kids, Psyche is then the more gentle and understanding one who they like, though she still carries herself with authority. Somewhat timid and demure if taken out of her comfort zone, however.

Melissa (Blanche's daughter) - Mezzo-soprano. Think rebellious teenager - particularly in her attitudes to men. Because men are forbidden at Castle Adamant and especially by Melissa's mother, they are therefore exciting. Plus she's curious and excitable.

Sacharissa, Chloe, Ada (Girl graduates) - Minor characters, a couple of little bits of speaking each, as originally written one singing line for Sacharissa, but we gave them a couple more bits which were originally Melissa's.
In our production we also kind of divided the female chorus into three groups in terms of how they acted (and who they interacted with), with one of these three per group. Sacharissa was with Melissa and that group was much like her. Chloe's group were demure and bookish and very much particular followers of Psyche. And Ada's group were very much followers of Blanche, more aggressive and stern.

Kings Gama and Hildebrand.
Florian, Hilarion, and Cyril.
Scynthius, Guron and Arac, with Gama.
Lady Psyche, Princess Ida, and Lady Blanche.
Melissa and her clique of girls.

Rapid Plot summary:

Here's the plot summary I put on the facebook event:
Twenty years ago, neighbouring kings Hildebrand and Gama eased a tense diplomatic situation by marrying their infant children to each other. Now, when the Prince Hilarion and Princess Ida are to be reunited, Ida has abandoned her father’s court to form a women’s university with the goal of proving “That Woman, educated to the task, can meet Man, face to face, on his own ground, and beat him there!” However Hilarion, undeterred, sets out for Castle Adamant himself to claim his promised bride and win her affections by any means necessary – up to and including dressing up as one of her students.
But while Ida knows not mercy for men in women’s clothes, Hildebrand is a peppery kind of king and Gama hasn’t anything to grumble at, so something must give one way or the other when anger spreads his wing!

Slightly more detail, Gama turns up late, with his three sons, but no Ida. After insulting everything he can see, he explains where she is and is locked up for his troubles. Hilarion, Cyril and Florian leave to go to Castle Adamant. That's Act 1.
Bye guys!
Act 2, we see the university as it generally is, then the men turn up and dress as women. They manage to fool Ida (Fortunately for them, the only man she's seen since she was 1 year old is Gama, so she can't figure out they're men), but can't fool Psyche (She's Florian's sister and knew them all as a child), Melissa (She overhears them with Psyche) or Blanche (She's actually met  men in her life and is not an idiot). However Psyche and Melissa will keep the secret because they realise men aren't actually that bad, while Blanche is persuaded on the grounds that if Hilarion takes Ida away to be his wife, then she can take over Castle Adamant. Unfortunately Cyril gets drunk and gives the game away and Ida is unforgiving even after she falls in the moat and is saved by Hilarion. However at this point Hildebrand turns up and threatens to a) attack the castle and b) kill Ida's father and brothers if she doesn't surrender.
Finally, in act 3 it turns out the women other than Ida (And presumably Blanche) are all too terrified to fight the men. Also Gama explains that everyone at Hildebrand's court has been being nice to him so he has nothing to grumble at; so to save her father from this horrific torture, Ida agrees to let the matter of her marriage depend on a fight between Hilarion Cyril and Florian on one side, and her brothers on the other. The three brothers, being idiots, decide their armour is too restrictive and remove it all before the fight. They lose, everyone gets married (Except for Blanche, Hildebrand and Gama), it's a G&S ending. Hooray!

Just a brief thing I want to say at this point - I understand some people dislike the ending of Ida, because, well, the men win. Obviously potentially troublling from a modern perspective. The thing is, personally I don't see it quite like that. As I see it, both sides are portrayed as flawed, and indeed laughable. The correct side in this is the middle. Compromise, equality rather than either being on top (Yes, that's an innuendo, I know). And I feel that's what is being moved towards at the end. Ida abandons her original idea of making all women abjure tyrannic Man, which, as pointed out, would have led to the extinction of the human race, but she maintains her belief in the strength of Woman, and indeed it seems to me Hilarion shares some of those feelings. So it's all good.
(Tl;dr - I like the ending of the show and don't think it's terribly anti-feminist or whatever so long as you look at it the right way)

So. That's how the show goes. As to this particular production, well, since I directed it, I should have something to say about it... obviously I've already mentioned the splitting the female chorus of acts 2&3 into three cliques, and I've mentioned that we had a female Scynthius (Hilarious especially because the first sung line we gave to her was in the song when the three brothers enter "We are warriors three, Song of Gama Rex, Like most Sons are we, Masculine in sex...")

I suppose since I anticipate this blog post being read by a decent portion of the cast, I should mention first that they were all amazing. While there were a couple of difficult decisions in casting everyone the night of the auditions, once those couple of issues were resolved, everything just fell into place really nicely.

The big thing One of the big things about the experience about directing was simply the fact of it. Looking at things from the other perspective. Things which obviously I've been aware of in other productions, but I've never been the person who had to deal with them, and which you don't necessarily consider when you ask to be a director. Obviously I expected that I'd have to tell actors what to do on stage, think about set, props, costumes and so on (Though, makeup and hair were things I kind of failed to think about until we were in the theatre and then there was a certain amount of "um, er, I guess?"), but I didn't consider that of course there are also issues for the cast as people as well as actors/singers. Such as dealing with when people have attendance issues for whatever reason, small disputes but unexpected things, trying to make sure everyone gets on, miscommunications or lack of communication between significant people...

Another thing was just masses of stress at mostly random points - sometimes it made sense. Obviously I was stressed before I started in case I screwed it up, and obviously I was stressed before the first performance because I hadn't been entirely satisfied with how some of the dress rehearsal went, but also sometimes there seemed to be no real rhyme or reason to when I was stressed about the show. It just happened. And of course sometimes it made sense but was related to issues which I couldn't have forseen so it was just suddenly dumped on me with no warning and AAAAA.
Did I mention I wasn't the only director? No? Well, I wasn't. This being my first time directing, I was very glad of having a co-director working with me to share some of the load and the stress (Well, except in the instances where he caused the stress - then obviously I wished I was solo directing so I could just do things my way without having to compromise or argue about things, but those times were outweighed by the positive aspects). That said, in some ways I feel like one of the most difficult things about directing the show was figuring out how the two of us would work together while both being definitely involved and without stepping on each others' toes too much. It worked though! Everything worked, and we came out with a show we were both proud of and we don't hate each other!

Hmm. Well, one thing which actually I mentioned to our Ida last night that I've found in the context of writing, and possibly other contexts as well, also held true in directing - often having a problem to solve with an idea will lead to something amazing which you would never have thought of if you didn't have to think of it to solve the problem (There must be a shorter way of phrasing that...). Unfortunately I've forgotten the example of this I was thinking of earlier while writing a different section, but there definitely were a few cases of "Oh wait, that doesn't work because this character is here... wait! Get him/her to do this, that solves the problem and also will be hilarious!"

Erm, let's see... Pride. I'm proud of the show. As my co-director put it, watching the show happening, every time someone does something and the audience like it, you as a director get that happy feeling of "I told them to do that!" Except in the cases where we didn't tell them to do that and they just came up with it themselves, but even then it can be a case of them building on stuff we did tell them, and it still kind of worked for me because I obviously thought these guys were amazing and so I was really glad to have those opinions validated by the audience agreeing with me.
For that matter, I think I've mentioned before in other blog posts how impressive it can be how a show comes together, from sloppy, unpolished, disparate elements into a cohesive whole which just flows. I've always liked that, but I've never been really responsible for it before.

Anything else? I was pleased to find out I was able to direct a show up to standard. I've thought of doing so for a while. I figured that in principle, for the acting direction at least, it's just the same sort of thinking you do as a principal character in a show - "Why is my character doing this? How do I feel about this? How do I say this line?" - but applied to everyone rather than just yourself, and putting a bit more thought into how it all looks to the audience (An area in which I may be a bit lacking, since I've been in more shows than I've seen...). And then there's choreography as well.

I'm not sure what else I can say without getting in-depth either about the script, the direction or the people involved. In general, it was an amazing show. Even people who I know tend to be rather critical of shows were short on negative things to say. The post-show blues are here for me, though I'm coping reasonably well. I loved the show, I loved directing, I really want to do it again some time and I'm incredibly proud of everyone who was involved in Princess Ida.
Can't thank you all enough.

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