Thursday, July 08, 2004

Patience is a Virtue

Good theatre makes it look easy. But the reality is far more, dare I say it, tedious than you could possibly know.

The opening number of "Ragtime" is a ten minute epic that introduces you to every group: the New Rochelle WASPs, the Harlem ensemble and the Immigrant huddled masses, and to each of the individual characters too. Eventually you have all 56 cast members on stage, and the action is dynamic and nearly cinematic. You have the feeling that a camera is zooming in on the group or characters on whom you should focus, then zooming out again and on to the next.

When you come to see "Ragtime". this number will fly by. I remember it vividly from each production of "Ragtime" I've seen.

You will have NO idea what went into creating it.

At some point in the rehearsal process of every big staged number, you have to take a night and cement every single "stage picture". You have to take every moment and make sure the picture, comprised of your cast, is balanced; that people can be seen; that focus is on the right piece of action; that people can get from picture #1 to picture #2 without major traffic jams or falling into the orchestra pit. You don't want flat lines or planes. You don't want it too static. You don't want it to visually messy.

And you've got to do all this with nearly 60 people. And 60 people are pretty hard to keep quiet, and keep from fidgeting. Yet fidgeting will absolutely ruin the point of doing this fine tuning.

And that was the rehearsal I was lucky enough to pop into last night! It reminded me why being in big musicals requires the patience of a saint...on the part of the actors and the director, not to mention the poor musical director...who must have been plaintively thinking, "why oh WHY did I pick tonight to give my rehearsal accompanist as a night off?" as she played the same sets of measure repeatedly.

So, when you see the stunning Opening number, I hope now you will have an appreciation of the hours of effort that go into those minutes of beauty.

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