Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Sunday, 4 June 2006

Oliver!

Well, the last two nights were the performances. They went pretty well. We had some technical difficulties the first night with the backgrounds. We're working with a severely limited stage, and have no way to change backdrops quickly. Having seen how the powerpoint demonstration worked in the 2nd Annual Ground-breaking Ceremony for GWA, I suggested to Joe that we use them to change our backgrounds. Joe ran with this, and it performed superbly, albeit with some hitches. Actually, without Joe, this performance wouldn't have worked at all. He looked up the pictures and put them into a powerpoint; put in sound effects; found all the stage pieces and built them or got them built; found most of the props and gathered them together; helped adapt the music and performed it on the piano; and ran the grips. He found near perfect matches for different backgrounds for the play, and set it up so it didn't interfere with the actors. It allowed us to quickly and easily change sets. There were some problems when the computer we were using the first night suddenly flashed up on the backdrop that it was hibernating. And we had to restructure lights so it didn't interfere with the backdrop. But otherwise it worked.

We worked around the stage we had- right off a new cafeteria designed for bad acoustics. We got long banners hung up a couple days before the play, and put up dividers, and then friends of the Merzacks, parents at the school, generously donated their time and equipment for sound and a bank of lights so we could actually see and hear the students. After the intermission, before the 3rd Act, in the Rose Seller song, we had the grips draw back the partitions and open up the entire auditorium. When they audience sat down for the 3rd Act, they were suprised to see cast members coming from all corners of the auditorium, singing acapello, carrying milk, strawberries, roses, and knives. Bill's death scene is difficult to do with our limitations, but Joe came up with the idea of using some scaffolding that was stuck in a corner with a rope tied from it to the top of the 2-story roof of the cafetria, so that it went unnoticed by the audience. With the return of the partitions, a gap was left open, so that at the end, suddenly the action shifts to the audience's right, where Oliver and Bill are climbing up the scaffolding, and the Bill swings Tarzan-style across the gap, only to be shot by the police officer.
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The grips performed great too, and after only a few weeks of training were quickly and smoothly moving a huge amount of sets for 27 total scene changes. Elissa ran the music and worked long and hard on the student's voices to accentuate already fabulous singers like Nessa Plant, and those others that needed work and showed dramatic improvement, especially in the last few weeks. Nessa has the voice of a nightengale, and the applause was approrious both nights whenever she had a substantial singing part.

The production wouldn't have been possible also without Jodi Smith, who got props together, did choreography (something neither me nor Elissa knew anything about), and got all the costumes together through all-night sewings, putting different people's wardrobes together, and very cheap purchases. If I had been the only one directing this, there would have been some acting, with some ragged clothes, a couple chairs, and no singing. Jodi had natural dancers like Harriett and Julia (of the previous ballet fame) twirling their stuff on stage, and those that weren't as used to dancing learning some basic steps far in excess of what they had previously known. She also made the play look like a period piece, with actors dressed in a multitude of costumes, so much that Katelyn Luckey actually had 11 costume changes!
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Unfortunately, with only 11 continuous actors to deal with, every one had at least 2 roles, and most about 4. So Nessa played an orphanage girl and Nancy. Noor Al Yassine was Miss Bumble and a pickpocket girl. Jared Plant was a director and Mr. Brownlow. David was the Judge. Julia was Bet, an orphanage girl, and Mrs. Sowerberry. Nikhil was Mr. Sowerberry and Bill. Tsai-Ho was Fagin and an orphanage girl. Sara Jamaiwas Nell and Rose. Sharif Zayer was a director and police officer. Rachel Martin was an orphanage girl and Dodger. Katelyn was the Widow Corney, a pickpocket girl, and Brownlow's friend. Steph Plant suddenly showed up to visit her family, and was quickly drafted in for some bit parts, based on her excellent portrayal of the rich girl in last year's production of Breakfast Club. Shimmer, a dog owned by Katie Ried, was Shimmer. And Harriet was Oliver. With an nearly all-female cast there was some serious restructuring of the play, with only parts like Brownlow, Sowerberry, and the Judge, which had to be male for that time period, going to the guys.

The technical difficulties were thankfully fixed the second night out, and everyone performed superbly. Nearly all the requests for minute changes I put in after the first night were acted upon by the cast. I saw either great acting or great improvement from every single member of the cast. It was recorded by a few different people, including the first night, when suprisingly a man who does hiring for the multitude of Hollywood companies that come to Morocco to film. Their looking for Americans to play roles. He came here to (with our permission) film the play, to show perhaps to directors to let them know what kind of talent is available. So we had our very own talent scout in the audience the first night!
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Those that deserve special mention include: Sara who always following directions without argument. Julia who was an island of tranquility and maturity for the entire cast, and helped out her mom immensely with the choreography. Tsai-Ho who has an amazing memory, showed radical improvement in her solo and superb acting skills, with an uncomfortably accurate deviousness in her portrayal of Fagin. Nikhil had to fill in half-way through the semester for a student who wasn't working out, and at first was warming up to the role. By performance time, he was just mean. This is a student who is the nicest guy, always trying to help out. His grandmother was in the audience and shocked at how mean he had become. He really stretched himself. He got severe rope burns in the process of his performances due to his not wearing gloves, but did not once complain, and gamely went on with the show. That is true acting and dedication to the craft. Steph can't get on the stage and not act, even for a small role. And Harriett was Oliver. She doesn't act at all. She becomes a part. She had people near tears at times, and smiling joyfully at the portrayal of a small orphan on stage- you forget entirely that it is Harriett.

4 comments:

Adam said...

Good stuff, Abdul Muhib. I'm proud of you, brother! Job well done!!

Sheena said...

awwww! glad it went so well. what a huge story to put together on stage, but i wish i'd seen it now...especially the 'who will buy' song. it sounds like you had a blast.

Joe said...

Muhib, thanks for the props (no pun intended). A few weeks ago I was afraid I wouldn't be very proud of the production. I'm glad it's over, but I am also very pleased with the outcome. Thanks for keeping the vision alive!

E.T. said...

Way to go, Abdul Muhib!